Amazon AMI search

It’s interesting to me that there is no Amazon Machine Image (AMI) search.  AMIs are virtual machine images that you can run on EC2, Amazon’s cloud computing offering.  Sure, you can browse the list of AMIs, but that doesn’t really help.  Finding an image seems to be haphazard, via a google search (how I found this alfresco image) or via the community around a product on an image (like this image for pressflow, a high performance drupal).

I’m not the only person with this complaint.  The Amazon EC2 API only provides limited data about various images, but surely some kind of search mechanism wouldn’t be too hard to whip up, if only on the image owner and platform fields.

Does anyone know where this exists?  My current best solution for finding a specific AMI is to use the fantastic ElasticFox FireFox plugin and just search free form on the ‘Images’ tab.

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Notes from Tom Malaher’s cloud computing presentation

A former colleague, Tom Malaher, did an online presentation about cloud computing on Mar 11 at the Calgary JUG.  You can view the recording of it now.  It was titled: Cloud Computing and Amazon Web services (AWS), and was a great survey of cloud computing and then a nice dive into AWS.  I used to work with Tom and always enjoy the depth and breadth of his presentations.

Below are some of my notes.

  • This was their first online meeting, due to cash flow issues (lack of sponsorship), and to make it easier for speakers out of the Calgary area.  It was put on using Elluminate.com.  (This client was installed using JNLP; very easy to install and setup).  You can use Elluminate for up to three participants for free (but you cannot record your session).
  • Definition of cloud computing is in tug of war in vendor land.  According to Infrastructure Executive Council, cloud computing is elastic, multi-tenant, on-demand, usage based metering (no long term contracts), self service

Tom outlined a number of variations on cloud computing

  • Infrastructure as a service (s3, ec2)
  • Platform as a service (Google app engine, Microsoft Azure)
  • Software as a service (Google docs, salesforce.com)
  • Grid computing–more homogenous, but lots of overlap

Diving into Amazon Web Services, he outlined all the webservices that Amazon provides.  I had already heard of a number of these, but two caught my eye:

  • DevPay–pass through payment for Amazon Web Services.
  • Public Data Sets–public domain data sets easily available for computation on the AWS platform

Composing AWS services makes sense, since there are no bandwidth charges between Amazon service calls within Amazon’s data centers (e.g. EC2->S3).

He had some interesting figures from the IEC: 70% surveyed are not using cloud computer (40% aren’t even considering it).  Only 10% are hosting an ‘app’ on the cloud (with no definition of an app).  I asked a question of Tom about what is considered an app.  I have a client who is hosting backups and images on s3, and friends who regularly back up servers to s3.  Is that an ‘app’?  I don’t think so, but Tom didn’t have a definition of ‘app’ for this survey.

Tom also did an interesting cost analysis when he was looking at pros and cons for AWS.

The 1and1.com high end hosting agreement: 1gb ram 50gb hd, 2000gb transfer: $59/month.

For a comparable AWS instance, with an ec2 image, 1.7 MB ram, 160gb hard drive (ephemeral), 2000 gb transfer, persistent 50gb hard drive: worst case $479.50/month, but for one day: ~$16.

In my opinion, this is the key con of AWS right now, at least for full fledged applications. It’s simply not cost competitive with some of the hosting you can find out there.

And with regular hosts, you don’t have to deal with as much infrastructure overhead. Tools like ElasticFox and S3Fox can help.  I’ve used S3Fox and love it.
The development model is suprisingly similar (Tom mentioned building his demo on his home machine and using some of the more exotic services, like SQS; then, when he was ready for the full cloud deployment, he just moved his war file to the appropriate image after some setup).

Then Tom demoed an app built by composing a number of Amazon web services.  Starting an an ec2 machine image (AMI) takes a long time (but still less than building a machine from scratch :).  During entire presentation and demo (1 hour, 3 instances, some messaging, he was only charged 50 cents.

Other interesting uses: The NY Times used it to build a bunch of web friendly pngs from tiffs of papers past.
You can use a regular RDBMS, with Elastic Block Storage.

Someone asked: where does AWS fit in larger organizations?  Tom thought it was a good fit for small organizations…  But he was not really sure about large organizations.

In my opinion, many of the technical decision makers I know are willing to use S3 as a storage mechanism, but they still want a backup solution, in case Amazon is unavailable (as it sometimes is).  This unavailability would be even more damning if you had an entire webapp running off ec2 and the other services.

Buying your own dedicated server has its own risks, but many people are still used to that paradigm.  But, for quickly scaling, or for a special one time project that needs a lot of firepower (like the NYTimes project above), it makes sense.

Stepping back from AWS, the idea of cloud computing seems to be continuing to make progress and attack the issues of network connectivity, security and cost that make it a hard sell at the present.  I love the delineation of the variations (infrastructure as a service, etc), and not all cloud computing will look like AWS.
Overall, a great presentation.  If you have the time (I stayed for some of the Q&A, and left at the 90 minute mark), it’s worth a listen. Go ahead, check it out.

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Oracle AMIs for EC2

Many years ago, I did an internship with the database group at the company where I was working. I still have the printout on installing Oracle, and I remember it being at least 40 pages. There was a lot of voodoo with user accounts and kernel settings.

While I’ve worked with Oracle since, I haven’t been responsible for installing it; things may have become easier. But now, they definitely are easier. From the Amazon Developer Newsletter:

Oracle has produced four publicly-available Amazon EC2 AMIs with pre-installed and configured software for Enterprise, Standard or Express editions. In a matter of minutes, developers can have a fully configured Oracle Database computing environment running on Amazon EC2 that includes the web-based management tool Enterprise Manager Database Control and the web-based rapid development tool Applications Express (APEX).

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