The cloud computer is here and you can have your corner of it for as little as 10 cents an hour. This was the message that author and consultant Chris Richardson offered to the SDForum SAM SIG when he spoke on "Developing on a Cloud: Amazon's revolutionary EC2" at the SIG's February meeting.
As Chris tells it, you go to the Amazon site, sign up with your credit card, go to another screen where you describe how many cloud servers you need and a couple of minutes later you can SSH to the set of systems and start using them. In practice it is slightly more complicated than this. Firstly, you need to create an operating system configuration with all the software packages that you need installed. Amazon provides standard Linux set ups and you can extend them with your requirements and store the whole thing in the associated Amazon S3 storage array. There goes another 10 cents a month.
Next you need to consider how your cloud servers are going to be used. For example, you could configure a classic 3 tier redundant web server system with 2 cloud servers running web servers, and another 2 cloud servers running tomcat application servers and a another cloud server running the database with yet another cloud server on database standby. Chris has created a framework for defining such a network called EC2Deploy (geddit?). He has also implemented a Maven plug-in that sits on top of EC2Deploy that creates a configuration and starts applications on each server. Needless to say the configuration is defined declaratively through the Maven pom.xml files.
So why would want to use EC2 for? Chris suggested a couple of applications that are particularly interesting for impoverished start ups. Firstly, EC2 can be used to do big system tests before a new version of the software is deployed. The start up does not need buy all the hardware to replicate its production systems so that they can do a full scale system test. Big system tests are done on EC2 saving considerable resources. Another use it to have a backup solution for scaling should the startup take of in an unexpected manner. Given the unreliability of ISPs these days, having a quickly deployable backup system sounds like a good idea, and the best thing is that it does not cost you anything when you are not using it.