Making Use of Amazon Web Services for Your Web Development

 

You, as a web developer, may very well be aware of Amazon’s Web Services for hosting web sites and services. Depending on your skill level, some of what Amazon has to offer may seem daunting or out of reach. I’m here today to give you an idea of some rather novel uses of AWS that require a minimal skill level to attain. This can range from hosting files to hosting a complete site merely by dropping files into your AWS account. The best part is that most of what I will go over will be covered in Amazon’s free tier of service, meaning the service will be entirely free for the first year.

First you will need to create your AWS account which can be done here. From there you will want to go into your console, which can be accessed at the same page once you have an account. There is a wide variety of services whose uses range from deploying virtual servers, managing DNS, to deploying entire virtual networks of machines. We are just going to focus mainly on Amazon’s S3 service here which is used for scalable cloud storage, so you may ignore the plethora of other offerings for the time being.

Once you have made it to your S3 console there will be a button that says “Create Bucket”. S3 buckets are essentially places for you to store various files. Once you create a bucket you can store all sorts of files there with the ability to make them public or private. We will go ahead and create a bucket and give it a name that makes sense (this will be part of the URL at which you access these files).  Do not worry about logging, I will not cover this but you will want to look into AWS Cloudwatch to manage logging and the availability of these files.

Being developer you may be wondering what use you will have for yet another cloud storage service, but since AWS is publicly accessible at and essentially static domain (or even your own domain name, which I will cover briefly in a moment) you can use S3 to access files in other websites you are creating or maintaining. To do this we will want right click the bucket we created and click the website tab. Click “Enabled” and for the Index document, type in “index.html” and for the Error document type in “error.html”. If you are looking to host a website here in S3, you will want to actually create and upload these files, but if you are just looking to host files, they do not necessarily have to exist. Also, take not of the endpoint, this is now the link to your site or the domain prefix for the files you host. Next you will want to upload files which you would like to host, then once they appear as files in your bucket, right click the files and choose “Make Public”. They are now accesible via the browser or from other sites at amazon-endpoint-domain/your-file-name. If you would like to make this a site on its own with a domain name you own, you will need to make a DNS CNAME record pointing www.yourdomain.com to your S3 buckets domain name. You can find out how to do this by contacting your current host or registrar.

What you can do now is create webpages or Javascript libraries or files of your own using Dreamweaver and host them at your new Amazon S3 site. This is great for hosting a static website (no php or server side languages, just html, css, and javascript) or even as a CDN. CDN’s or content delivery networks are a common place to hold libraries of scripts in a single place. Giving you access to your scripts on multiple sites and aiding in cacheing these scripts for your end users.

Pay-Per-iView…Apple to get into the digital TV biz?

In November, it was leaked that Apple may be getting into bed with a few of TV’s major networks to begin offering a paid, subscription-based package of digital content using Apple TV. Apparently, for a tithe of about $30, subscribers will get to watch whatever they want using Apple’s existing network of streaming and downloadable content through iTunes. The latest seems to be that no major networks have agreed so far, but the larger question is: can Apple really compete with the likes of Comcast, AT&T, and DirectTV?

Not many people got really excited about the Apple TV when it came out; for sure, not enough people bought it for it to come down in price along with the rest of Apple’s line. Among the issues it carried in the door were enormous updates to install right out of the box, incompatibilities with various TV sets, and wildly variable streaming speeds. Nevertheless, their sales since then increased exponentially, and now it’s not that hard to conceive of a widely-used, Apple-based system for watching TV the way we already do. We’ll be watching to see which, if any, of the big networks sign on to become part of the new Apple TV Paid subscription system–and who signs up.

Cloud Computing then and now; a look at how far we’ve come

About a year ago (specifically last February), “Cloud Computing” was a fairly new techno-buzzword. In fact, when Jori blogged about it then, we got a fair few comments asking what it was. At the time, the “cloud” was a nebulous thing true to its name; when something went into the electronic “cloud,” just where was it going and how were you supposed to get it back?

For those who don’t know: the “Cloud” is the general name for the dynamic, functional space on the internet (so on servers all over the world) where data can be stored and accessed by anyone through the web. Think of your Gmail account; your messages live online somewhere, and when you log into Gmail to get them, you go out to the web instead of the messages coming to you. The same functionality can be applied anywhere, and we see it being used more all the time. Apple’s MobileMe (formerly .Mac) essentially rents subscribers a chunk of space on Apple’s servers to post photos, host a website, send and receive email, etc. Practically, the user doesn’t really do anything she or he didn’t already; you still put in a username and password and there’s your stuff, whatever it is–the difference is that all of that stuff used to have to be on a hard drive somewhere, and now it’s in the aether, floating around between computers, easy to access but impossible to locate-and for some, this is troubling.

But not everyone sees it that way; many respected institutions including universities, government agencies, and even corporations are beginning to see Cloud Computing as a way not just to maximize investment but a way to reach more people. In September of this year, the White House announced a multi-billion-dollar initiative aimed at streamlining the transition of much of its data into “cloud-accessible” form. Even NOAA (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) uses the Cloud, and in a way that would have been impossible without the architecture built by Google, IBM, Apple and others; Satellite data from multiple government agencies are aggregated together in “constellations”, or mini-clouds, so that anyone behind the firewall can see it all at once.

Speaking of making our jobs easier, I’d love to mention the success we’ve had at Ascend using Adobe’s Acrobat Connect, which in addition to being incredibly cool (think of a Wiki, only everyone can work on it at the same time), is incredibly useful. Ascend uses Acrobat Connect to hold online training sessions on Adobe’s own software–so now, thanks to the “Cloud” in which the class data and all the various users’ information can be temporarily housed, students in London can tune in and take a Photoshop class with students in Phoenix, which is good news, since most companies are going global faster than we can keep up.

Personally, I think the Cloud is awesome; I use MobileMe and Gmail for my email, PhotoBucket to share photos, and YouTube to express myself and get my daily dose of entertainment–but you know what? For the moment, I’m still making back-ups of it all on my external hard drive, and that sits on my desk…so I can keep an eye on it. Know what I mean?

For further reading:

White House unveils cloud computing initiative

Microsoft’s Azure

Adobe Buzzword: Putting the Squeeze on Google and Microsoft

 

- By Jori Curry 

Leave it to Adobe to be the dark horse when it comes to online document creation. Built in Flex,  Buzzword creates stunning documents both online and offline. While Google Docs may be adequate for those creating simple documents, Adobe Buzzword puts an unparalleled emphasis on graphics–and even allows for real-time text wrapping around images. If typography and precisely placed graphics are part of your agenda, Buzzdocs is one to watch.  

Buzzword allows users to collaborate with any number of co-authors and control versions easily. The table creating capabilities are nothing short of spectacular, and the document dashboard allows sorting by author, date, file size, or your role. Anyone can view Adobe buzzdocs without an Acrobat.com account by signing in. Buzzword feels much like it was created by graphic designers, FOR graphic designers. Not only does it bring an elegant interface,  but it’s impressively fast. Microsoft Word files can be imported as Rich Text Format (RTF) and saved out the same way. 

Adobe Buzzword is still in Beta, but for those that need more than Word or Google Docs offers, it’s the one to watch!

The Future of the Desktop: Cloud Computing and Adobe Photoshop

The Desmise of the Desktop: How will Cloud Computing Affect the Graphic Designer?

–by Jori Curry

I was at Adobe headquarters last February and there was much discussion about the future of the desktop. Adobe chief executive Bruce Chizen has recently elaborated on the shift in software from the desktop to the web, and speculates it should happen within 10 years. Adobe seems to be following the lead from the web based Google Apps, such as Writely, an online word processing experience, and Picasa which is an online photo manager. It seems that even Microsoft and IBM are jumping on the online bandwagon of “Cloud Computing.”

The whole industry seems poised to step away from buying product licenses, and moving towards the online-based subscription for software. Time Magazine February 2008 issue is stating that by the year 2010 the internet will slow to a crawl due to the video streaming that is growing exponentially.The question is: How will the graphic designer and developer be affected? Will the internet be able to handle the demands of the designer?

Adobe AIR

Another interesting aspect of the future of Cloud Computing is Adobe AIR. Adobe AIR, allows web applications from Flash and HTML be deployed as cross-platform desktop applications, and is taking the direction of “Cloud Computing” to the next level. For example, the AIR iPhone, by Ribbit, allows you to put a simulated iPhone on your desktop and allows you to make and receive calls on your desktop. It’s powered by the Ribbit platform, and includes a new feature called “Shout” which records voice messages and sends them to their email as an audio attachment.

How will our Design Process Change?

So the question is this: If Adobe shifts to free/cheaper online versions of Photohop and the other CS3 family (or CS9 by the time this comes to fruition), how will it affect us? Will it be completely free and advertiser driven, or come at a cost? Adobe has already dipped it’s toe in the water by adding online Express versions of some of its’ applications, but my two biggest questions are firstly, how will we deal with large file sizes, and secondly, security? Especially with the professional Photoshop user base, I think the complexity it takes to perform such tasks as Liquify or Lighting Effects would challenge the speed of todays’ broadband. If you’re anything like me, your Photoshop files can be extremely large, and the idea of relying on both a WiFi connection and a server out of my control leaves me a bit shaky.

Adobe has Adobe SHARE in beta format, which just fuels the fire that Cloud Computing is the wave of the future. Share is a free web-based service that allows you to share, publish and organize documents. You can share with a list of those you specify, or with anyone. You can host up to 1GB of documents, but not the ability to collaborate such as Adobe InCopy. Adobe does plan to include an embedded code with a Flash preview for all documents–not just PDF’s.

Possible Solutions to Online Applications

One solution to the issue of taking a monster such as Photoshop to a strictly online experience would be to break it down into segments. For example, most people that use Photoshop have “tunnel vision.”

The retoucher only uses a fraction of the tools to get their job done, the web designer uses it for laying out their site. Segregating the online version of Photoshop into the different markets, such as Photoshop: Web Design, Photoshop: Retouching, Photoshop: Special Effects might just be an answer to tackle this problem.

As a company, we at Ascend Training have recently started using BaseCamp. It’s an online project collaboration application that includes tools for those working on projects together. I will say that in a few short weeks, our work as a team has streamlined and projects are more on task. So as far as Ascend Training stepping into the online world of applications, so far so good.

While I do think that we are already on the speeding locomotive towards online applications, I do think that those of us that work with 70 MB files are very concerned about logistics. Until WiFi becomes as prevalent as electrical sockets, this future could leave us with nothing to do. While this might create more time to read a book, or have a leisurely dinner, most of those in the creative market are under deadlines and the idea of relying on an internet connection is quite daunting.