The Uselessness of Amazon EC2 Instance System Log

Just a thought about AWS Console drawbacks. 

How is that possible that there’s no indication on what’s going on with an AWS EC2 Windows server when it is restarted? I’m talking about Instance System Log. It’s completely useless.

[UPDATE: June 2016]: AWS now offer the ability to generate and capture screenshots of the instance console. Well done Amazon!

The Case: Manual Windows Updates

It’s pure nightmare when you need to do manual Windows updates. There are cases where Windows servers cannot have automatic Windows updates enabled. You get the idea.

You normally install Windows updates during some agreed maintenance window, and restart the server.

However, as soon as you click the “restart” button, that’s it. Light’s out. You have no information on what’s going on with your server. Perhaps the server has restarted, and now displays a message “Please do not power off your machine. Installing update 1 of 172 …”. But you have no way of knowing that. AWS Console system log is blank.

How is that even possible that such critical information isn’t displayed on AWS Console? A server may be inaccessible for 20 minutes, and you have no idea of what is happening. Is it still applying updates? Or has it restarted again after installing them?

Having waited for 20 minutes, should you stop the server and start again? Or should you wait for 20 more minutes? If it’s still applying and configuring updates and you manually force it to stop, will it crash? Will it boot afterwards?

Perhaps it has already crashed, and you should start recreating the volume from a snapshot? You don’t know.

AWS CLI is as bad as WebUI in this case:

$ aws ec2 --output=text get-console-output --instance-id i-****b827
i-****b827 3/21/2014 10:22:08 AM: Waiting for meta-data accessibility...
3/21/2014 10:22:09 AM: Meta-data is now available.
3/21/2014 10:22:14 AM: Message: Windows is Ready to use
3/21/2014 19:49:03 PM: Waiting for meta-data accessibility...
3/21/2014 19:49:06 PM: Meta-data is now available.
3/21/2014 19:49:10 PM: Message: Windows is Ready to use

This is all you get between the 2 server restarts.

AWS CLI reference says that for Windows instances, the instance console output displays the last three system event log errors. This seems useless.