Cloud Computing - Trying it out for the first time.

I've been hearing about Cloud Computing and Cloud Servers, so I decided to give it a try.  There is a lot of marketing hype and vocabulary flying around trying to get businesses to believe that they need one and it is somehow better than having your own server.  To me, "Cloud" simply means "somewhere else, not on my network", and I am used to working on servers remotely. 

I opened up an account on Amazon's AWS Cloud Service and set up a virtual Linux server using their EC2 system.  Within a few hours, I was able to fiddle around and have my favorite version of Linux up and running an Apache Web Server along with all the trimmings I usually add to a Linux Box to provide for security protection.  I put a copy of this site along with a few others and sure enough, it worked.  The following are my initial impressions of Amazon's Cloud Service:

  • I have no idea how much it will eventually cost.  I signed up for their micro site and am trying to stay within their limitations so I will have a year to test it for free.  My feeling is that costs can quickly get out of control.  They charge for time, starting at around 2 cents per hour, so there roughly $170/year for starters.  Additional charges that can rack up include some magical units of CPU processing, disk storage, bandwidth usage over certain limits.  Some applications will charge an additional few cents per hour.  This is understandable considering the fact that there are some quality applications available.  This seems pretty expensive considering I have all kinds of computers sitting around that I can make a Linux Server out of, and I often do.  It makes me nervous to think that without certain alarms and limiters they offer but have to be configured, an attack of some type could result in my bill being delivered in boxes!
  • The Debian Linux server I have configured is pretty cool, except it is not 100% mine.  The first thing I noticed when playing around in shell command mode is that I have to log on as "admin" using a SSH key in Putty.  I do not have access to the "root" user and cannot change the password for user "root".  This tells me that I am not the ultimate owner of the virtual server and someone else has the master password to get in if they choose to do so.
  • I have read concerns about who really owns the information on the virtual cloud server and what rights does the cloud provider have to that information.  Can they look at the applications I am running and browse through their logs?  What happens when you terminate a server?  Does the information that was on that terminated server really vanish?
  • Obtaining a real live IP address and assigning it to my Debian Linux Server instance was easy enough, but if you want to run a mail server, what about specifying a host name for reverse DNS of that IP address?  I will have to go looking in their Management Console to see if it can be done, how it is done, and how much it will cost.
  • I am used to setting up Linux servers and installing various applications.  When I am done checking out the application, I simply wipe out the server and start anew.  This is good practice configuring servers for a guy like me, but I noticed when I went to set up my virtual cloud server, there were all kinds of pre-configured servers that are designed for various applications.  This is great if I want to try something out.  If I am shopping for a particular type of application, I can try them all out on different servers before I decide what to go with.  This is a big advantage until it starts costing me money.
  • Performance seemed to be OK considering the server is several states away.  I remember when there was a time when it was rare for a small business to have a fast enough Internet connection, and fixed IP's to accommodate a server, but connectivity speed is not much of an issue these days.  The server did seem to be slow at times, but what can I expect for free.  I have no idea how many other virtual servers were sharing the same physical server, but I would imagine that it would be several hundred.  Then there is the question of what are the other servers doing and will they effect my server's reputation.
  • I could have just as easily had a Cloud Windows Server set up, but unlike Linux, they have this thing called "Bring Your Own License" which means that the cost will be expensive and therefore not something I want to experiment freely with.  It would also be difficult to configure the much larger Windows Server operating system to fit within the limits of their free trial offering.

So far, I am happy with my Debian Linux Cloud Server running on Amazon's service.  I can see one of these coming in handy if someone needs a temporary backup server, but in the end, there is still nothing quite like having your own Server that has no incremental costs involved.  A server is still a server, no matter where it is, and someone needs to know how it works and manage it.

This website lives on a physical Debian Linux Server in Indianapolis, Indiana.  To see our main page served up from my experimental Amazon Cloud server in VA, click on for an live example.