Amazon EC2: My 131 cents

Early this afternoon, I got it into my head to try out Amazon’s “Elastic Compute Cloud” (EC2) service. I’m quite impressed.

The bill so far, after some playing around, is 1.31 USD. I’ve had the default “getting started” Fedora Linux box up and running for maybe 7 hours, as well as trying out machine images (AMIs) preconfigured for Virtuoso data spaces, and for Ruby on Rails. Being familiar with neither, I’m impressed by the fact that I can rehydrate a pre-prepared Linux machine configured for these apps, simply by clicking a button in the EC2 Firefox addon. Nevertheless I managed to get bogged down with both toolkits; wasn’t in an RTFM mood, and even Rails can be fiddly if you’re me.

I’ve done nothing very compute or bandwidth intensive yet; am sure the costs could crank up a bit if I started web crawling and indexing. But it is an impressive setup, and one you can experiment with easily and cheaply, especially if you’ve already got an Amazon account. Also, being billed in USD is always cheering. The whole thing is controlled through Web service interfaces, which are hidden from me since I use either the Firefox addon, or else the commandline tools, which work fine on MacOSX once you’ve set up some paths and env variables.

I can now just type “ec2-run-instances ami-e2ca2f8b -k sandbox-keypair” or similar (the latter identifies a public key to install in the server), to get a new Linux machine setup within a couple minutes, pre-configured in this case with Virtuoso Data Spaces. And since the whole environment is therefore scriptable, virtual machines can beget virtual machines. Zero-click purchase – just add money :)

So obviously I’m behind on the trends here, but hey, it’s never too late. The initial motivate for checking out EC2 was a mild frustration with the DreamHost setup I’ve been using for personal and FOAF stuff. No huge complaints, just that I was cheap and signed up for shared-box access, and it’s kind of hard not having root access after 12 years or so of having recorse to superpowers when needed. Also DreamHost don’t do Java, which is midly annoying. Some old FOAF stuff of Libby’s is in Java, and of course it’d be good to be able to make more use of Jena.

As I type this, I’m sat across the room from an ageing linux box (with broken CPU fan), taking up space and bringing a tangle of cables to my rather modest living room. I had been thinking about bringing it back to life as a dev box, since I’m otherwise working only on Mac and WinXP laptops. Having tried EC2, I see no reason to clutter my home with it. I’d like to see a stronger story from Amazon about backing up EC2 instances, but … well I’ll like to see a stronger story from me on that topic too :)