Amazon Web Services review: Fantastic


Well that could be the whole review.  I’ve been using AWS for a couple of years and really wanted to use their Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service when it became available.  The machines available initially were all Linux.  I don’t mind Linux and we use it to run routers and the telephone system but the stuff I’m responsible for runs on Windows. 

So even when the AWS team plugged the holes by making fixed IPs addresses available, providing persistent disks that can be mounted on different machines it was not something I could use though I wanted to.  That led me to look at Go Grid (see earlier post) because they did offer Windows options.

However the introduction of support for Windows 2003 by EC2 at the end of October has made the set of Amazon web services really compelling.  It’s easy to start Windows instances and because you can configure and save images, the instances you start are already configured.

There are some services that will offer better prices if you bulk buy but the range of facilities such as the ability to run PCs an hour at a time, Cloudfront, disk snapshots you can use to create copies of volumes, assignable fixed IP addresses, the S3 backing store and so on make it a really useful service.  Security is built into the AWS network so you can create a virtual private network of machines.  Redundancy and backup is easy to create, multiple availability zones means you can have a backup available on standby in another zone in case the worst happens and one zone becomes inaccessible.

And now, they’ve opened availablilty zones in Europe.  Only Linux for the time being (deja vu all over again) but Windows machines are apparently only weeks away.

Like I say, fantastic!

Easy management using Elastic Fox & S3 Fox

All AWS services are utimately controlled using API calls.  For the most part the calls are straight forward because they are HTTP requests and responses.  We’ve used this to create our own control console to start instances and associate volumes, IP addresses and so on.  But the EC2 team has created an add-in to FireFox they call ElasticFox and which makes really easy to start instances, “bundle” a configured instance into a new, private image (AMI), create and attach volumes, define security and anything else you need to do.  It will even start Remote Desktop pointing at the correct IP address.

The only comment I have against it is that its not possible to name things (images, volumes, etc.) and its not possible to create a “package” of resources that can be applied in one go.  Currently you have to start the instance, specify the security options to use , assign an IP address then attach volume(s) when instance is running.  Each of these separate manual tasks.

S3 Fox is another FireFox add-in that useful.  This time it allows for easy manipulation of S3 buckets and files.  Private, configured and bundled EC2 images are saved in S3 buckets so the ability to manage them is essential.

Let’s give it up for Microsoft too

One the benefits of running Windows this way is that there’s no need to think about server licences.  Windows instances are 2.5cents/hour more expensive to run than their Linux equivalent but, for me at least, its a small price to pay not to have acquire and move server licenses around.  So let’s hear for Microsoft too who have agreed to play ball with Amazon and so help facilitate a really great Windows computing service.  Now, I wonder when/if Windows 2008 will become available?

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