Starting your cloud system

Introducing Amazon EC2

Amazon EC2 – EC2 stands for “Elastic Cloud Computing” – is a service by which Amazon rents you a remote computer on an hourly basis. The only access to this computer is over the network (which is why we covered ssh and scp first, because that’s how you have to interact with EC2 systems).

Setting up an account

Amazon provides a lot of services through what it calls “Amazon Web Services”. To get started, go to and sign up for an account; it can be linked to your Amazon account.

Once you have an AWS account, sign up for Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2).

You’ll need to provide a credit card to pay for your default account use, but (if you’re doing this as part of the NGS or BEACON courses) the course can pay for your AWS usage during the course.

Log in to Amazon Web Services

Go to

“Sign in to the AWS Management Console”. (You’ll need to sign up for an account if you haven’t already done so; it’s separate from your regular Amazon account.)

Enter your username and password, etc.

Ask Amazon to start a new computer up for you

You should now see the “Amazon EC2 Console Dashboard”. Click on “Launch Instance”.

Now, you’ll see a ‘request instances wizard’ window next. This will give you the option of selecting what kind of operating system you want running on the computer.

Select the “Community AMIs” tab.

Next to “Viewing all images”, enter “ami-ed16f984” (this might be a good place to copy/paste...) and hit “return”. You should see one entry, containing the text “alestic/debian-5.0-lenny-base...’ under “Manifest”, with platform “Debian”. Select it (button on the right).

The next screen lets you specify a bunch of stuff – “Number of instances”, or, number of computers to start up; “Availability zone”, or the region where you want this to be started; and “Instance type”, the size and speed of the computer. Leave these all as default, and click Continue.

The next screen, “Advanced Instance Options”, gives you additional ways to customize the computer. Just leave everything as default and select “Continue”.

The next screen, “create key pair”, lets you tell Amazon who has access to your machine.


The private keyfile will be automatically downloaded and placed on your machine; this will depend on where your Web browser places files. We’ll need it later, so you should track it down :)


Next, you’ll have to define security settings.


You’ll need to allow SSH connections in by “adding a rule” for SSH:


Finally, at the Review screen, you can see a summary – just click “Launch”.


Now you should see a screen that says “your instances are now launching”. Click “View your instances on the Instances page”.


Logging into your new instance “in the cloud”

OK, so you’ve created a running computer. How do you get to it?

You’ll need to install the software from either Using SSH/SCP on Windows or go through Using SSH/SCP on Mac OS X in the Terminal app first.

The next thing you’ll need is the network name of your new computer. To retrieve this, go to the instance view and click on the instance, and find the “Public DNS”. This is the public name of your computer on the Internet.

Copy this name, and connect to that computer with ssh under the username ‘root’.

On Mac OS X:

For example, on Mac OS X, you would start Terminal and type:

%% ssh -i ~/Desktop/amazon.pem

(but you have to replace the stuff after the ‘@’ sign with the name of the host).

Here, you’re logging in as user ‘root’ to the machine ‘’ using the authentication key located in ‘amazon.pem’ on your Desktop. Note, you will have to run

%% chmod og-rwx ~/Desktop/amazon.pem

in order to get ssh to use that private key file.

On Windows:

For Windows, you’ll need to download PuTTYgen, use it to open the amazon.pem file, and save the results PuTTY key as ‘amazon.ppk’. The result file can be used both by PuTTY and by WinSCP – to use it in PuTTY, edit the “Connection... SSH... Auth... Private key file for authentication” setting:


Assuming all of your authentication etc. is set up properly, you should be able to log in and see a prompt that looks like this:


Congrats! You have your very own cloud computer!

Before doing anything else, you should make sure to go through Installing your Amazon EC2 system (for the next-gen course). If you’re working as part of the BEACON course, see Building and installing Avida, instead.

Shutting down your instance

When you’re not using your rented system, you should shut it off. Amazon only charges you for the periods that your system is up.

You can turn it off in either of two ways:

First, log in to your system and type ‘shutdown -h now’.

Or, second, on the main EC2 instance screen, select the instance you want to turn off, and click on “instance actions”, and then select “Terminate”.

Important! After shutting down or terminating your instance, you should always go refresh the EC2 tab at to make sure it’s off!

A few notes

You only need to set up the key file and network groups once; then you can reuse them.

A couple of caveats

The main caveat is this: Amazon is charging you while your instances are running! For now, they’re just charging me (or this course, really) – but once you’re done with this class, they’ll be charging you. So make sure you shut down your computers when you’re done with them!

Another caveat is that each time you start or stop an instance, you lose all of the data there. We’ll talk about how to deal with that later; for now, accept it as part of the challenge.

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