We knew this day was coming, and 8th of January was that day. Amazon, finally after years of providing just a command line interface to their web services, released a web based management console. Has it been worth the wait? In a nutshell, yes.
The first you notice instantly is how clean everything is laid out, choice of colours and controls just flow beautifully. The front page is your main overview page giving you the state of EC2 and the amount of resources you are presently consuming. Nice little 'refresh' button, that simply updates one of the inner panels instead of forcing a whole page refresh. This is the small details that carry on through - this is how AJAX should be used.
The bread'n'butter of this console is the management of instances, the bit that most people usually struggle with the most, particularly when it comes to finding an image to which to start. The selection of images from either the public list or the private list is clean and informative. Infact even I have noticed that Amazon have finally blessed Fedora 8 as a base image after holding onto Fedora 4 for so long.
After selecting the image you want, you are then presented with the necessary options to actually run up the image, optionally taking you through a wizard if you haven't yet created any key pairs or firewall settings. This is the bit that usually trips up AWS virgins; run up and image and left locked out of it figuring out how to get into it.
All other aspects of what EC2 touches are configurable from this console. This includes the Elastic Block Storage (EBS), Elastic IPs and Security Groups.
This console does not address any of the other Amazon Web Services, including S3, Simple Storage, and Simple Queuing Service. That I suspect is just a matter of time.
What about RightScale? Elastic Server?
Well it is not quite a fair comparison as each of these chaps operate over multiple cloud providers, but if all you are doing is Amazon, then it just got harder to justify the fee for RightScale if you don't need any of the other value add services. I know a lot of people use RightScale just for the convenience of a web based frontend instead of wrestling with the command line or the FireFox plugin.
Elastic Server doesn't have anything to worry about, especially as they are specifically geared towards the management and building of the images across lots of difference platforms. In fact this compliments their offering as only this week they released support for the KVM, the Linux Virtualization kernel.
Have we seen it before?
As I have commented in the past, their web ui is very sluggish and slow in parts. Having experience in GWT, I can tell its GWT that is slowing things down here and I think Amazon's choice of YUI was probably a wise one in this instance. Run both of them up beside each other and you'll instantly feel a snappish response compared to GoGrid's GWT version.
Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but the initial choice of framework is important as switching at a later date does require pretty much a complete rewrite.
So, was it worth the wait?
Amazon have delivered this console under the 'beta' banner, and if its anything like a Google 'beta' then we should be living with this for a number of years, so get use to that little logo!
It is infinitely more accessible than their FireFox plugin, which ties you to a single browser/single machine and it delivers in all the functional pieces to let you really utilise EC2. As more pieces fall into place, this will become the defacto standard way of managing your AWS account. I hope they also tie in the accountancy to the same console; I would like to see the cost of my services as I incur them. But Amazon does not offer any public API's to get at that information, so we may not see it here.
See for yourself