Amazon Web Services in Action Paperback – Oct 17 2015
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About the Author
Andreas Wittig migrated the complete IT infrastructure of the first Bank in Germany to AWS. He has a strong distributed systems background and started as a Java developer and was responsible for the first realtime online-banking platform written entirely in Node.js based on Websockets. He implemented DevOps into software teams to help financial industry customers create new products. Today, he runs a business with a focus on consulting and developing of AWS and web technologies.
Michael Wittig was part of the team who migrated the complete IT infrastructure of the first Bank in Germany to AWS. He has a strong algorithmic trading background using AWS to analyze Terabytes of historical financial data and for realtime analytics of financial data using a wide range of technologies and programming languages. Today he runs a business with a focus on consulting and developing of AWS and web technologies together with his brother, Andreas.
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The book provides a very detailed walkthrough of various aspects of AWS, from setting up your free developer account, spinning up an EC2 instance using various available AMIs, all the way to more advanced topics, such as auto-scaling, fault-tolerance and CloudWatch. A lot of attention is paid to securing your cloud infrastructure as well.
The high point of the book for me was the fact that the authors provide both graphical AND terminal walkthroughs, which may be very handy for users who come from a more Windows-oriented background. Most of the examples can be implemented using the aforementioned free dev account, and only a few will require you to whip out your credit card (these are also appropriately marked).
The book won't make you a certified AWS DevOps Engineer, but will get you well on your way to moving you infrastructure to AWS, or spinning up particular services as you need them for day-to-day work.
If you are looking for an ease into using AWS, or you are an experienced user who would like to review how others recommend using the services this is an excellent book to have in your collection.
The book was written at the right level for me. It has many excellent diagrams and lots of screenshots of where to click. When configuration settings are shown there are arrows pointing and explaining what the file does. I got a good sense of where to go with the project I want to put on AWS.
There were a few minor drawbacks to this book. The writing style is rather dry; it is written in tutorial fashion. Also, I noticed 3 typos while reading and I think the book can use some additional polishing. This was not enough for me to rate the book 4 stars though as the content is very good, and this is the first substantial book on AWS available.
If you are looking to learn AWS or expand your knowledge of your existing AWS setup this book is a solid choice.
Do I know what I am writing about? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. For the last two years I have been writing the software for nderground (a dot net domain). nderground is a private social network that is hosted on AWS and uses a number of AWS services that are discussed in Amazon Web Services in Action.
The power that AWS provides comes at a cost: an extremely steep learning curve. When you first sign up for AWS you are presented with a huge variety of services that you can use to build you application. Amazon does provide some documentation on application architecture, but it tends to be an overview. Amazon does provide a fair amount of engineering documentation, but it never seems to be sufficient.
The documentation provided by Amazon follows a pattern. The main page for a service appears to have been written by Amazon marketing and describes the service as "the greatest thing since sliced bread". Then there is the engineering documentation, which is complicated and, in some cases, incomplete. In the case of Amazon's Simple Notification Service I had to write code to implement an SNS service before I was able to understand what it could and could not do, since the documentation was not sufficient.
Amazon Web Services in Action provides a good complement to Amazon's documentation. Writing about AWS is a huge challenge since AWS is a vast and complex topic. The start of the book provides an introduction to Amazon Web Services, security and access control. In many cases they provide a step-by-step guide through the Amazon GUI. In others they provide examples of Amazon's JSON data structures that can be used to define system features.
Amazon Web Services in Action covers several core services: Amazon S3 (Amazon's highly reliable cloud storage), RDS (Amazon's managed database service for MySQL, Postgres and Oracle) and DynamoDB. They also cover application deployment using Elastic Beanstalk, the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud. The authors also discuss Amazon's deployment and configuration support: Cloud Formation and OpsWorks.
The last part of the book covers application architecture. The authors apparently designed and implemented the a banking system hosted on AWS and their experience shows in the last part of the book.
The text of the book is only 385 pages long. I write "only" because the authors are covering extremely complex topics. The section on DynamoDB, for example, provides an overview of DynamoDB. The complexities of implementing efficient access are only partially covered (the authors did not emphasize that a DynamoDB scan could be extremely expensive, in dollar and cents terms, because DynamoDB access is billed by the amount of data that is read). There is probably a short book that could be written on DynamoDB access in Java (or Ruby or Python).
Similar complexities exist with Elastic Beanstalk. With Elastic Beanstalk a web application cannot have any state that is only stored in an in-memory session variable since new servers may be deployed and taken out of service as application demand increases and decreases. Persisting session state is a critical and poorly documented topic. Options for session state persistence would be a nice addition to a future version of the book.
AWS in Action is a good complement to Amazon's documentation and a great resource to help you get started. However, there will still be a lot to learn when it comes to deploying an application.
A nice feature of AWS in Action is the screenshots that explain how to setup various services and security. This is helpful for a reader in 2015 and 2016, but may be less helpful in 2018 since Amazon may have changed the user interface. This means that parts of the book will have a limited "shelf life" unless the authors release updated editions.
Although I have been a heavy user of AWS for two years, this book is still a great resource and a welcome addition to my library.
Lots of pictures - both from an architectural perspective as well as screen shots of what the author describes makes the book worthwhile, easier to understand and follow and do the code example by hand using one's own private AWS account.
The only problem I see with the book is - as Amazon keeps adding newer services at an amazing pace - the book will need new editions faster - to keep up with the changes / additions and modifications to the AWS service ecosystem.
I book does not cover - Server Less Architecture and Lambda as well as CodePipelines the new things in the AWS Service list as of now - but that would make the book even more voluminous.
With the current content of the book - it does a very comprehensive and detailed work and is a must have for anyone trying to understand and work with the AWS services
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