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Tools: Managing Your AWS Environments

In the article “Increasing your Cloud Footprint” we discussed the phased approach of moving a traditional environment to Amazon Web Services (AWS).  You start with some of the low risk workloads like archiving and backups, move on to workloads that are a more natural fit for the cloud like disaster recovery or development accounts, and finally create POCs for production workloads.  By the time you reach production workloads and work out all the kinks you should be operating full time in the cloud! OK not quite, but you will have the experience and know-how to be comfortable with what works and what doesn’t work for your organization in the cloud.  Once the organization gets comfortable with AWS, it is a natural progression for more and more of the environment to migrate to the cloud. Before you know it, you have many workloads in AWS and might even have several accounts.  The next big question is, what tools are available to manage the environment?

AWS provides users with several tools to manage their cloud environments.   The main tools most people use when getting started are the AWS Console and the AWS CLI.  The AWS console gives the ability to access and manage most AWS services through an intuitive web based interface, while the CLI is a command line based tool you can use to manage services and automate actions with scripts.  For developers, AWS provides SDKs for simplifying using AWS services in applications.  AWS provides an API tailored to work with several programming languages and platforms like Java, .NET, Node.js, PHP, Python, Ruby, Android, and iOS.

Along with the regular tools like the AWS Console, CLI and APIs, AWS provides IDE Toolkits that integrate into your development environment.  Both the AWS Toolkit for Eclipse and the AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio make it easier for developers to develop and deploy application using AWS technologies.

The great thing about the AWS IDE Toolkits is that they are very useful even if you are not a developer.  For example, if you manage multiple accounts mainly through the standard AWS console, tasks like switching  between accounts can become cumbersome and unwieldy.   Either you have to log in and out of each environment through your browser, always checking to make sure you are executing commands in the right environment, or you have to use multiple browsers to separate multiple accounts. Either way the process isn’t optimal.  The AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio (or Eclipse) seems to solve this problem and can be handy for any AWS cloud administrator.   The AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio is compatible with Visual Studio 2010, 2012, and 2013.  To setup a new account you download the AWS Toolkit for visual studio here.  Once installed, you add a user through the AWS explorer Profile section seen here:

Explorer Profile

You can then add an account using a Display Name, Access Key ID, Secret Access Key, and Account number. You can add multiple AWS accounts as long as you have the Access Keys for a user with the ability to access resources.  See the Add Account box below:

Add Account

Once you have the credentials entered for multiple accounts, you will have the ability to manage each account by just pulling down the Account dropdown.  As you can see below I have two accounts “2nd Watch Prod” and “2nd Watch Dev”:

Account Dropdown

Finally, you can manage the resources in the selected account by just dropping down which account you want active and then clicking on the corresponding AWS resource you would like to manage.  In the example below we are looking at the Amazon EC2 Instances for the Ireland region for another account called “2nd Watch SandBox”.  You can quickly click on the Account drop down to select another account and look at the instances associated with it. Suddenly, switching between accounts is manageable and you can focus on being more productive across all your accounts!

Account Dropdown 2

The AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio is an extremely powerful tool.  Not only is it a great tool for integrating your environment for developers, it can also serve as a great way to manage your devices on AWS.  There are many services you can manage with the AWS Toolkits, but be warned, it doesn’t have them all. For example, working with auto-scale groups can be done using the CLI or through the AWS console as there is no AWS Toolkit compatibility yet.  If you are interested in AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio you can see the complete instructions here.

Overall, managing your AWS environment largely depends on how you want to interact with the AWS services.  If you like the GUI feel, the console or AWS Toolkits are a great match.  However, if you like texted based CLI interfaces, the AWS CLI tools and SDKs are a great way to interact with AWS. Lastly, using each tool takes time to learn, but once you find the best one for your specific needs you should experience an increase in productivity that will make life using AWS that much easier.

– Derek Baltazar, Senior Cloud Engineer

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