Introducing the Arvados Web shell
Arvados includes a full suite of command-line tools to create and query objects, upload and download collections, and run jobs and pipelines. However, not everybody wants to install these tools, especially if they're just trying out or getting started with Arvados.
One way we've made Arvados easier for them is by providing a shell box on each cluster. This host can provide an SSH account to any user, and it already has all the client tools installed. Users can simply SSH to the shell box, and use the tools already there. But even this solution isn't seamless. If you haven't already used SSH, you'll have to generate a keypair and upload the public half to Arvados, which can be a finicky process to learn. On top of that, Windows doesn't include an SSH client, so Windows users have to find and install a third-party client. All of this is still more overhead than we'd like.
We've just rolled out a feature to make it much easier to get to work with these Arvados tools: Web shell. Now you have access to everything you need, right through your browser. When you visit Workbench's "Virtual machines" page, you'll see a login button next to each shell box you have access to.
Press that button to open a shell in your browser. This is a fully-featured SSH client, so you can use all the same tools you would normally—even text editors and others that draw on the screen. That includes all the Arvados tools installed on our shell boxes, too, like the Keep FUSE mount.
If you're curious about the technical details, the way this works under the hood is that we've written a PAM module to authenticate users with their Arvados API token. It's an API client just like most of our tools: it uses the provided API token to query login permissions for the shell box, and verifies the user's access if the API token owner and login link line up. With that done, we just have to configure SSH to use the new module, and the Web shell client to pass along your API token automatically.
We think this feature will make Arvados more accessible to a lot of people, so we're excited for you to try it out and share your feedback. It's available right now on our public beta (you can sign up for an account if you haven't already). Let us know what you think on our IRC channel or mailing list.