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How to navigate the AWS Management Console

This tip reviews the multiple services available through the AWS Management Console and the features available to help navigate it.

The AWS Management Console is becoming increasingly more difficult to navigate as the number of services increases. A few useful features of the AWS console can help streamline the time you spend navigating to find what you really need. These include high-level services grouping, a history list, a permanent menu bar and the option to perform tasks from multiple locations within the console. Here are some points to keep in mind as you navigate the AWS Management Console.

The AWS console is organized by types of services. The core types are compute, storage and content delivery, database, networking, administration, and security and analytics. Additional services fall into application services, deployment and management, mobile services, and enterprise applications.

The top level navigation page of the AWS console lists the several groups of services. Hovering or clicking on the name of each group displays a list of services. For example, the Storage and Content Delivery Group includes Amazon S3, Glacier, CloudFront and Storage Gateway. Some categories have up to six loosely related services. The Application Services Group contains Simple Queue Service, Simple Workflow, AppStream, Elastic Transcoder, Simple Email Service and CloudSearch. If you seem to use a trial and error approach to find the services you need, it is probably worth using one of the console features that offer more apparent access to services.

One of these convenient features is the history list which contains up to six of your most recently used services. If you regularly use several services, you can add them to the menu bar at the top of the management console. The top menu bar remains visible regardless of where you navigate in the console. This makes it especially useful if you find yourself routinely navigating to a particular service, such as AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM).

Some common tasks, such as managing security groups, are performed from multiple places within the management console. The IAM page is a logical place to manage users, roles and security groups. If you are working with security groups applied to EC2 instances or Relational Database Services then you have the option of creating and managing security groups for those services within their specific areas of the management console.

Not all services follow the same user interface design patterns for performing some of these common tasks. For example, in the EC2 area of the console, a menu on the left side lists AWS components that you can manage from that page -- this menu includes security group management. Other services do not always follow this useful side menu design. When you are working with the Elastic MapReduce console, you have to set up a cluster to display a configuration page that includes security group management options.

One of the most important pieces of information displayed on the management console menu bar is the AWS region. You must select a region in order to view and manage resources in that region. When you work with multiple regions, it is easy to forget to switch regions to view your full complement of allocated resources and components. Some services, such as S3 and IAM, are global resources and do not require a specific region.

The AWS Management Console is easy to use once you are familiar with the location of particular services and operations. It is especially useful when you are deploying new sets of services, or monitoring and reviewing the status of currently running instances. However, there are times when the management console is not the best tool to use. If you need to perform an operation repeatedly it is probably more efficient and consistent to write a script that employs the command-line interface. If you prefer to work with your favorite scripting language, you can use cloud scripting libraries, such as Boto for Python and Fog for Ruby.

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What issues have you encountered trying to navigate the AWS Management Console?
I work with a group that does most of their development work in US-West, but occasionally has a random resource in US-East to test redundancy. Because the GUI shows things on a per-region basis, they had forgotten about a US-East resource and let it run for a long period of time - essentially unused. Visibility of a broad set of resources can be complicated to view.

Got a $1000 bill. They will be spinning up Cloudability accounts now. 
Thanks for sharing, Brian. How does using Cloudability vs. AWS reduce the risk of this situation reoccurring?