Getting Started with the Cloud: Amazon EC2 Cloud

Getting Started with the Cloud: Amazon EC2 Cloud
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Getting Started with the Cloud: Amazon CloudGetting Started with the Cloud: Amazon Cloud

As part of our ongoing IaaS Buyer's Guide, we take a close look at working with Amazon’s EC2 cloud and some of its related services.

You have probably read enough about cloud computing by now that you fall into one of three groups: you are already using the cloud, you’ve decided the cloud isn’t right for you at this point, or you are ready to get started but haven’t taken the plunge into cloud computing just yet.

If you fall into the last category then this article is for you. Actually, this is just the first of a series of articles just for you.

In this article we will take a look at working with Amazon’s EC2 cloud and some of its related services .In future articles we will work with other public cloud providers and wrap up the series with a summary comparison of major infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers.

Getting Started with Amazon

After the obvious steps of creating an account and providing a credit card for billing you are ready to start you first instance in the Amazon cloud. The management console is comprehensive but might be a bit intimidating at first - fortunately,  you will probably only need to work with a fraction of the services listed. The top level of the management console is organized in five groups of services: Compute & Networking, Deployment & Management, Storage & Content Delivery, App Services, and Databases.  

Selecting the EC2 from the Compute & Networking group launches the EC2 Console Dashboard which is where you launch and monitor instances.  From here you can manage instances, virtual machine images, storage and security.  You can create a default configuration to launch a commonly used virtual machine or you can walk through the process of selecting a virtual machine image, which Amazon calls Amazon Machine Images (AMIs).  You’ll specify the number of instances you’d like to create and the instance type. Amazon offers over a dozen instance types ranging from micro (1 CPU and 613MB) to High I/O Quadruple Extra Large servers (multiple CPUs and 60.5 GB) .  The cost per hour for these instances range from free (up to 750 hours per month for a micro instance) to $3.10 for the highest end server.

When you launch a device you will have the chance to configure the root volume and Elastic Block Storage  (EBS) volumes. The root volume is associated with the instance and by default is deleted on termination of the instance. If you need to store data persistently in the cloud you’ll want to save it to an EBS or S3 volume.  

EBS volumes are created in the EC2 console and are associated with machine images. S3 storage is machine image independent that allows you to store objects up to 5 TB in size. You can store as many objects as you want using a simple API.  Third party tools like DragonDisk  and S3 Browser  make working with S3 more like working with desktop and local network file systems.

Most of us are used to using passwords to authenticate to in-house servers but Amazon uses key pairs. A key pair is a set of two cryptographic keys (strings of apparently random text) that go together. One is a public key and anyone can see it and the other is a private key which you need to keep confidential to those who should have administrator access to your server. Amazon lets you easily create key pairs and store them in the cloud. You give key pairs names so you can manage who has administrative access to your servers.

For example, you might create a key pair for the human resources department and another for the finance department and name the HR_keys and Finance_keys, respectively.   The exception to the need for key pairs is cases in which you create and store your own machine image in which case you can define an administrator password for that image.

Of course you will want to control which ports are open on your new instance. Amazon uses security groups which are sets of firewall configuration rules.  The instance configuration wizard allows you to create custom rules or start with configure default ports of commonly used protocols.

Dan SulivanDan SulivanDan Sullivan is an author, systems architect, and consultant with over 20 years of IT experience with engagements in systems architecture, enterprise security, advanced analytics and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail, gas and oil production, power generation, life sciences, and education.  Dan has written 16 books and numerous articles and white papers about topics ranging from data warehousing, Cloud Computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration, and text mining.

See here for all of Dan's Tom's IT Pro articles.


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