Up in the clouds

Enter Elasticfox, a Firefox extension originally created by the folks at Amazon and now released as an open-source project. This really is an incredibly useful tool, which provides an almost complete graphical front-end to the EC2 service via the Firefox web browser. So if you’d like to try out the EC2 service, either because you’d like to experiment with Linux or because you’re thinking of using it for real work, follow the rest of this column and we’ll talk you through the process of setting it up step-by-step. Our only assumption here is that you’ve already signed up for the EC2 service (go to http://aws.amazon.com) and that you have Firefox installed on your machine. This procedure will work on a Mac, Windows or Linux box with only a few small differences.

Up in the clouds

Download the Elasticfox extension from www.pcpro.co.uk/166os, and it will automatically be installed once you’ve confirmed that you want to do so. A quick restart of Firefox and there it is under the Tools menu, so just select Elasticfox and a few seconds later its window should load. The immediate impression you get from Elasticfox is that this is a heck of a piece of software, essentially a complete application running within Firefox, albeit one that’s written entirely in JavaScript.

The first thing you’ll need to do is configure some settings, so click on the Credentials button in the top-left corner, and in the window that appears enter your Account Name (you’ll find that at the top-right when you’re logged into aws.amazon.com where it says “Welcome, “), your Access Key and your Secret Key (which you’ll find under “Your Web Services Account” on the AWS page. The section to visit is “Access Identifiers”). Click “Add” and then close the window.

Next, you’ll need to generate a key pair, which allows you to log into an instance while it’s running, so click the “key pairs” tab and hit the green button to generate a new pair. You’ll be asked to give it a name and, after a few seconds, the key pair will be generated and can be saved to your hard drive. At this point, if you’re on a Mac or a Linux/Unix box, you’ll need to change the file permissions on the key file so that it isn’t readable by anyone but you, which you can do from the terminal by typing:

chmod go-r name_of_the_file

Windows users will be logged in via PuTTY, an excellent free SSH program, and the process for adding your key to PuTTY is a little more involved, so the best thing to do is follow the instructions you’ll find in the PuTTY appendix of the “Getting Started” document on the EC2 web pages.

Gentlemen, start your instances

Now that you’ve generated a key pair you’re ready to launch a new server instance. Click back on the “AMIs and Instances” tab and, under the “Machine Images” heading, hit the blue Refresh button. A couple of seconds later, you’ll see a list of available machine instances. There will be many of them, but for the purposes of this introduction we’ll use one of the standard Amazon images. Click on the Owner heading to sort by owner, and scroll down to find those instances created by Amazon: we’ll use the fedora-8-i386-base image, so click on that and hit the green button that looks like a “power” icon (the tooltip that appears below it says “Launch instance(s)”). The window that will appear asks for several pieces of information, but for now you can just select the key pair you created earlier from the KeyPair pop-up menu and hit Launch.

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