Preparing for Amazon AWS Usage

In order to experiment with Amazon Web Services, I requested an AWS account and I installed a bunch of software to get started. Here is an overview of what I did to get up and running.

Setting Up an AWS Account and the EC2 Tools

I filled in the registration form to request a new AWS account. Then I followed the excellent Getting Started Guide. It explains how to set up an account, how to install the EC2 tools, how to run an instance, and how to create your own image starting from an existing one. I immediately felt the power to EC2.

The AWS Service Health Dashboard shows the status of AWS. It even shows the status history of about 1 month.

The account activity (you need an AWS account to see this page) shows the costs involved with AWS usage.

Account Activity

Installing Useful FireFox Plug-Ins

Although the EC2 tools provide everything you need to manage images, instances, and other EC2 resources, it is easier to have a nice management GUI.

Elasticfox is a FireFox plug-in for interacting with EC2, the Elasic Compute Cloud. When installed, it is available from the Tools menu. The plug-in opens in a web page and shows the avalaible machine images (AMIs) and your instances. Running an instance is as simple as selecting an AMI and pressing the Launch Instance(s) button. The list of public images is long. Elasticfox allows to filter the list.

The running instances show up in the “Your Instances” list. For each running instance, the public DNS name is shown, so that you can use that to connect to the instance through SSH, HTTP or other means. In the “Your Instances” list you can terminate instances when they are no longer necessary. Terminated instances are kept in the list until about one hour after termination.

ElasticFox showing images and running instance

S3Fox Organizer for Amazon enables access to Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service). It shows the contents of your buckets on S3 and you can download and upload files. Simply entering you account ID, the access key and the secret key, and you are ready to roll.

S3Fox showing upload to S3 bucket

Installing Desktop Access to Instances

When you want to use a desktop image, so that you can use a GUI to manage your instances, you need software to access the desktop of the instances.

First you need a desktop image. I chose an Ubuntu GutsyDesktop AMI, which is also available as a public AMI and listed in Elasticfox. I use a Mac, so I downloaded the NX Client for Mac OSX (you can download NX Client for other operating systems from the same location). In no time, I was able to manage the instance through a GUI.

I selected ami-0757b26e from the list in Elasticfox and pressed the Launch Instance(s) button. In the dialog window that appeared, I entered my key pair and pressed the “Launch” button. When the instance was running, I opened a terminal and entered:

$ ssh -i /Users/Koen/ec2-keys/id_gettingstarted-keypair root@ec2-75-101-241-111.compute-1.amazonaws.com

Using the provided information, user “root” logs in automatically. Then I entered:

$ user-setup

and followed the instructions to enter a user name (I chose “koen”) and a password. Then I started NX Client and configured it as follows:

NX Client login NX Client host configuration

After pressing “Login” and waiting for the connection to be setup, this was the result (I already opened the home folder before making the screen shot): the Ubuntu desktop in X11.

Unbuntu destop in X11

Cool.