When Amazon announced the release of Amazon Micro Instances, I was excited about how useful it will be for SMBs. Amazon Micro Instances + Open Source software solves one of the problems faced by SMBs. Some pundits outright dismissed the possibility of using Micro Instances for web hosting. Even though I agree that Micro Instances are not good candidates to replace traditional web hosting, what I was highlighting in my previous post was totally different. I was talking about some of the possibilities it opens up for SMBs which was otherwise not easily available to them. I was talking about how these Micro Instances solve a set of problems which shared hosting, VPS or dedicated servers could not solve at such a low cost.
EBS AMI Advantage
Having clarified the point I was driving home in my previous post, I want to highlight another announcement that came out couple of days back which could make setting up open source software on Amazon Micro Instances much easier. Two days back, Bitrock, the company behind Bitnami Studio that simplifies application deployment, announced the release of Amazon EBS backed AMIs for various Open Source Applications. These AMIs provides a great way to deploy open source applications on Amazon Micro Instances and use these instances in production environment right away because they have persistent storage and can be backed up using snapshot easily.
Different ways to deploy apps using EBS AMIs
There are many different services that makes deployment of applications on Amazon EC2 Instances much easier. Since the main theme of the post is about low cost deployments using open source software and Amazon Micro Instances, I am going to consider two free ways of doing it.
- One option is to use one of the Vanilla Linux AMIs available (including Amazon’s own Linux AMI) or use the AMI with the LAMP stack installed. Once you do everything necessary and launch the instance, you can manually install the application and configure it
- The other option is to take one of the pre-configured applications available as AMIs either from the community or from the vendors like Jumpbox, Bitnami, etc.
The problem with the first approach is that it is cumbersome, error prone and requires lot of labor. The second approach simplifies this process and gets the app running in minutes. However, the problem with these pre-packaged AMIs is that there is no way to verify the authenticity and integrity of these images (a fact Chris Hoff highlights in the Cloudfornication talks). Among the list of mostly reliable AMIs, there could be some harmful AMIs populated in the directory by people with malicious intent. If you trust someone fully in the community, you can use their AMIs. In the absence of such an option, one has to go to trusted vendors who package the apps as AMIs. Some of the examples are Jumpbox, Bitnami, etc..
Bitnami’s EBS AMIs and Two Minute Deployment
I am taking Jumpbox out of consideration because the theme of the post is low cost and they have stopped offering free AMIs. As far as I know, Bitrock AMIs are the only free EBS AMIs from a trusted vendor (at the time of writing) available in the EC2 ecosystem. The other available open source application AMIs are from Microsoft (for apps like WordPress, DotNuke, etc.) and I am leaving them out of consideration because the theme is still low cost options for SMBs.
Bitrock offers more than 25 open source applications such as WordPress, Joomla, SugarCRM, Alfresco, etc. in the form of EBS AMIs. All these AMIs are available free of charge so that anyone with an account on Amazon Web Services can deploy easily. The step by step tutorials for deploying these applications on Amazon Micro Instances are given here. I did try a WordPress deployment on a Amazon Micro Instance today. It literally took me 2 minutes to have a WordPress site running. There is absolutely zero configuration needed and everything needed for the initial deployment of the wordpress site was completely taken care off.
Let me briefly touch on the pros and cons of using Bitnami EBS AMIs
- Lightning fast set up. It literally took me 2 minutes to have a WordPress site running on Amazon Cloud
- Zero configuration
- 25+ Open Source applications
- Free of cost
- By default these AMIs create a 10GB EBS volume. It means that I have to pay for 10GB even if I use only 1 GB of the storage. I know that one can resize the volume using snapshots or, even, on the fly using resize2fs. I wish there are different images which created EBS volumes of different sizes so that we can start with whatever size we need. Even though a 10 GB EBS volume only costs $1 per month, it will be nice if we can cut even this to the bare minimum
- Even though it is not a negative comment per se, they only offer 25 applications right now which is just a drop in the open source ocean
Having said that, I also want to point out that Bitnami helps only with the deployment phase of the lifecycle. SMBs wanting to take advantage of this low cost open source + cloud computing combo are required to find someone who will do the updates of both the application and other software used in the instance.
As I told in the introduction, use of open source software and Amazon Micro Instances are not an ideal solution for SMBs. However, they do offer a low cost solution for certain needs that were not available at a lower cost in the traditional hosting world. Solutions like those offered by Bitnami makes the deployment of OSS on Amazon Micro Instances a child’s play. SMBs can definitely reap some benefits using these options. If you are a small business owner who took advantage of Amazon Micro Instances for any of your needs, please jump in and offer your thoughts. I am really keen on getting this thesis of mine validated.
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