Up in the clouds
Within a few seconds you should see the new instance appear under “Your Instances”. Initially, its status will be “pending”, as the instance is being created at this point. Click the Refresh button a few seconds later, though, and you’ll see that its status has changed to “running”, which means that your instance is now ready to use. The Public DNS column lists the address you’ll use to connect to this instance, so right-click on it and one of the options you’ll see is to copy the address to the Clipboard. Mac and Linux users can now switch to a terminal window to launch SSH and connect to the server. Actually, Linux people can do so directly by clicking on the green “Open SSH Connection” button, but this currently doesn’t work on the Mac (or, at least, it didn’t on my installation), so open a terminal window and type:
(obviously, substituting your actual key file path and public DNS address).
Confirm that you want to connect and – voila! – you’re in. Windows folk again will be using PuTTY for this, so again you should follow the instructions in the PuTTY appendix of the “Getting Started” document.
So far, so good, but there are plenty of other settings you can configure using Elasticfox. For a start, the only ports initially open to your new instance are 22 (for SSH) and 80 (for web access). This is controlled from the Security Groups tab, so if you need to open any more ports (such as 443 for SSL web connections) you can do so there. If you want a “permanent” IP address for your instance, which is quite important for web applications, you can have one allocated and associated with a particular instance from the Elastic IPs tab. Once an IP address has been allocated to you, you can assign it to any given instance you have running – but remember, if you have IP addresses allocated that aren’t assigned to any particular instance, you’ll still be charged for them.
Back at the “AMIs and Instances” tab, you can choose to reboot your instance should it hang (which is very unlikely, but possible) or else terminate it completely. Be aware, though, that if you terminate an instance all your data will disappear (data should persist through a restart), so you’ll want to save it first. Once you’ve configured a machine to your liking, you’ll want to save that configuration so that you can just start an identical instance any time you need to, and the EC2 documentation takes you through the steps to do just that.
To summarise, EC2 is an extremely interesting addition to the options available for Linux-based servers, whether for hosting websites or simply processing data. Elasticfox makes setting up and managing EC2 server instances a breeze, and if you’re at all interested in EC2 it’s a must-have product. There are commercial services available to manage EC2 instances, but this is by far the best freely available option. Do note that at the time of writing, Elasticfox works on Firefox version 2.x; a beta for Firefox 3 is available, but since version 3 of the browser itself is still in beta, so is the extension.
Shiny new VirtualBox
We mentioned VirtualBox a few issues ago, but the new release – version 1.6 – makes it a stable, usable, really rather excellent alternative to products such as VMware, especially for end users.
VirtualBox is virtualisation software; it allows you, in effect, to run a “computer within a computer”. You install the program, create a virtual hard drive (which is basically just a very large file on your own hard drive) and then install the operating system of your choice on to it. Once you’ve done that, when you start the virtual machine it acts just as if it were a real machine.