Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Free linux cloud VM with Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Recently, Amazon announced that you can get a free linux VM for one year in their public cloud solution - Amazon Web Services (AWS). They call it a Micro Instance and it's got something like 1 vCPU, 600 MB of memory, and 10 GB storage, see specs here. You get full access to the VM via SSH but there's no console access as such.

So I decided to give it a try.

First, you need to create an AWS account (there's a link on the front page..). They need a valid creditcard for that. Then you log into the AWS Management Console. This requires you to register again. They had implemented a rather odd security feature where they call your mobile phone and you have to punch in a pin-number to confirm. I must admit that, for testing purposes, this wasn't the most smooth registration process.

Once into the AWS Management Console you're presented with a number of tabs. The first one is Amazon S3 which is an online file placeholder (i guess like an FTP server). To create your VM, go to the Amazon EC2 tab and click on Launch Instance (see below). This process is fairly simple. It is not quite easy, though, to see exactly which one is the free edition, but I just chose the minimum specs available to be on the safe side. And look for something like linux and Micro Instance.


Firewall rules are easy to configure via the web interface. You can add some pre-defined ports such as mail, web, etc. Port 22 is enabled by default.

A KPI keyset is generated (for authentication purposes) and you can download the .pem file to your local harddrive. They give an example of howto login via ssh from a console and use the generated key. Example:

ssh -i keyname.pem root@vmname.eu-west-1.compute.amazonaws.com

If you use this command will receive a login error as root cannot login directly. So just change 'root' in front of the @ with the, in the error message, suggested 'ec2-user'.

Once logged in you can execute commands as root with the 'sudo' command. It will not prompt for a password. Or alternatively use sudo -i to get a root console. But you can't su - root.

If you want to use Putty to acces the VM directly, then you have to convert the .pem file to a .ppk file. This is easily done using this guide.

To use the .ppk file, open Putty and go to SSH -> Auth and browse to the directory where you stored the file. And then you connect to the VM (saving the profile will save you some time at next login..). There's no password.

The same .ppk file can also be used for WinSCP which is handy for uploading files directly to the VM.

As you have a public DNS name, this can be used to create an eiasier to remember C-name DNS that you can point to the generated machine name.

So far so good. Now there's access via SSH. Then I tried to configure a simple web server. I'll describe that in the next post.

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