How to make log files cool
If you’re ever faced with a request for a “pretty” visualisation of a server’s log files – or if you just need something to keep your pointy-haired boss staring happily at his/her computer screen for hours – then glTail is exactly what you’re looking for. The website at www.fudgie.org has a YouTube movie of this software in action, so you can take a look and decide before you download it.
AWS Console and CloudFront
We’ve mentioned here before that we’re big fans of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and, more specifically, we love EC2 – the Elastic Compute Cloud. This is a pay-as-you-go service that lets you create multiple virtual servers almost instantly, which is great for those of us working on websites that need to scale quickly – and it’s also fantastic for people who have short-term or “bursty” needs for large amounts of computation power. Simply create an EC2 instance, use it for as long as you need, and then shut it down again.
We’re moving toward using EC2 instances for almost all the websites we manage here in the US, and away from having dedicated rented servers. EC2 is more flexible and, in general, it actually costs us less as well.
Over the past couple of months, Amazon has released two new features that have made using its services even easier and more convenient. The first is a content delivery network (CDN) called Amazon CloudFront. Simply put, a CDN is a set of computers scattered around the world to enable the fastest delivery of assets such as movies, graphics and so on, to browsers of your website wherever they may be based – your user’s browser requests, say a picture, and the CDN serves this up from the machine nearest that user’s geographical location. Heavy-hitters such as Akami have been providing this service for years, but CloudFront now means that even the smaller website can take advantage of CDN features, and since it’s pay-as-you-go there’s no large up-front commitment to make: simply sign up for the feature, upload your content to Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Solution), and register it with CloudFront. We’ve not used this service much as yet, since most of the viewers of our websites are based in the continental US, but in the future we plan more “global interest” sites and we’ll definitely be taking a closer look at it then. And when we do, we’ll report back here.
The other service that we are definitely using right now is the AWS Management Console. Regular readers may remember that in the past we’ve used the Firefox plug-in ElasticFox to manage our EC2 instances, EBS (Elastic Block Store) volumes, Elastic IP Addresses and the like, which has worked well, but of course requires us to keep using Firefox. If we happen to be at an IE-using client’s site and need to inspect something it means we have to install ElasticFox (and sometimes, even Firefox itself) on that client’s machine. No longer!
The new AWS Management Console is completely web-based, and offers a nice example of an interactive, Ajax-enabled web application. It enables you to manage all the features mentioned above and more, with extra functionality planned for the future. To use it, once you’ve signed up for AWS just visit https://console.aws.amazon.com and log in. You’ll be presented with a Dashboard view that shows you how many running instances, EBS volumes, Elastic IPs and so on you currently have set up, and clicking on the relevant section allows you to manage those assets – launch another EC2 instance, modify your Security Groups, assign an Elastic IP to a server and so on.