We decided to put together some tips and tricks for our Area 51 Management Console for AWS. By no means will this be comprehensive, and it will be ever evolving.
Area 51 wasn’t or isn’t designed to be fully documented. That was part of the reason we called it Area 51. A mysterious covert platform named after the Groom Lake US government version. It is designed to compliment, and in some areas superseded the AWS console. Making it invaluable for those willing and able to explore the depths of the dashboard.
We really want customers to explore and discover; however, we will call-out and document certain items to help guide you along on a path, and help you get up and running quickly.
Area 51 for AWS is sectioned into two areas: Basic and Pro. Pro is the paid version, and Basic is included with all aMiSTACX stacks. For what it is worth, we highly recommend Pro. The extra monitoring features for $20 per month are unbeatable. Many comparable services will charge you upwards to $100 or more per month, and for a few cups of Starbucks’ coffee you get it all.
The A51 power module is equivalent to the “flux capacitor” in that it is the key and central part of A51. When you first sign-in, and when you click the main dashboard, you are going to be set at the Power Module view.
From here, you can power cycle all of your aMiSTACX EC2 and RDS instances, and if you are a Pro customer, even cycle your non-aMiSTACX EC2s.
Note: Only premium aMiSTACX AWS EC2 stacks can be powered OFF/ON, basic stacks can only be rebooted.
This function is to prevent an accidental power-off event on a production system. A High Availability [HA] stack, more than likely, should or would be used with AWS auto scale, and can afford one node in the farm to be powered off by accident.
Note: It is important to note that when using teams, and NOT the A51 super user, that you will need to specifically grant power ON/OFF access privilege to the team member on the specific EC2 instance; otherwise, that user will not be able to power cycle the EC2. This is to prevent a developer or any other user of your team, with little knowledge of AWS, accidentally powering off a production system.
Advanced Power Options
Under the advanced column, you will have a drop-down menu that will allow the following functions:
- Instant backup of an EC2 via AMI image or snapshot
- Change EC2 instance type [Only allowed instances assigned to the stack]
- Change assigned security group
- phpMyadmin [Not shown because this only applies to LAMP/LEMP stacks]
You will also notice some other useful features. The Elastic IP [Blue Font] is hyperlinked to the AWS Console, and so is the AWS EC2 Instance ID. This makes it handy to use the AWS console in combination with Area 51 when required.
RDS Advanced Features
Two new very handy features as of [Dec 2019], you can now stop Amazon AWS from wasting your money on RDS instances that you are not using. AWS has an annoying feature that auto-starts all RDS instances every seven days. It is very easy to not know this and waste money on RDS instances not in use. [They know this too! 😉 ]
Enable Sleep Mode: When sleep mode is enabled, anytime the RDS is started, it will auto-stop. This will save you money over time as AWS won’t be able to bill you for RDS instances you forget about.
Run Protect Mode: Is the opposite of Sleep Mode. You prevent the instance from being shut down accidentally from Area 51; however, you can override this by turning it off or shutting it down directly from your AWS console. Perfect when using teams.
Area 51 TEAMS & RBAC
You will first create a team member, you will grant access rights to specific areas, e.g. Power, EIP, CDN, etc., then you may need to configure specific access levels to a specific instance. For example. assigning an EC2 for power cycle administration.
- Here you assign the account the Team Member will be allowed to administer.
- This is individual assignment of EC2 for power control.
- This is individual assignment of RDS power control.
- [Not shown, Pro Accounts Only] This is the individual assignment for monitoring instances.
Note: As of Dec 6th, 2019, for increased security, team members can only see assigned instances.
AWS Automated Backups
One of the most powerful features, and most useful features of Area 51 is the simplistic way of setting up an automated backup for your EC2 instances.
- Assignment of instances to be administered by your schedule.
- Interval Schedule = Yes. No = Calendar.
- Retention Period to auto remove the oldest snapshot. This uses a tag based system. In the above example, after 7 days, the first snapshot will be deleted.
- Make sure “Backup” is selected. The other options pertain to power cycles.
- This is the time and day of when the backup will cycle. Just click to add your selection.
Note: If SMS or Desktop notifications are turned on with “Backups” you will receive notifications; however, it is best to keep this as desktop only.
Cloudflare CDN Control
As Cloudflare [CF] is our recommended and approved CDN/DNS solution, not to be confused with AWS CloudFront CDN, we have extended the Area 51 console to include basic Cloudflare control via their published API. Simple features such as CF ON/OFF and cache purge make this a feature worth configuring for Area 51. No more dual dashboards, or having to give developers admin access to CF.
Follow these steps to configure CF for A51:
- Get your CF API Keys from the Cloudflare dashboard.
- Copy this key and your Cloudflare email address to your Area 51 Super User’s profile.
Basic Cloudflare Features via A51:
Here you will see the basic controls in the grid.
- Here you can turn the DNS record for the domain ON/OFF
- Purge Cache for your domain. Keep in perspective that this will purge all subdomains with the root domain and vice-versa.
A51 Pro Features
Power Management Reports
When you are managing a very large AWS environment(s) including more than one AWS account, it’s helpful to know what the heck is running. Introducing our new EC2/RDS reporting feature for Pro Accounts.
To enable, go to the reporting section of your profile. Then simply designate your preferred format, SMS or email, and set a time interval. That’s it!
Besides advanced monitoring, the Pro account features are worth noting as it relates to A51 Teams. With a Pro account you can send SMS alerts to team members and communicate directly with your team members from the A51 dashboard. This is almost a necessity with a production e-commerce system.
For example, say your production server goes offline, and an A51 health-check has been assigned to that instance. An alert will go to the designated Team members. Think of it as alerting your on-call staff in an automated way.