If your company hasn't ventured an Amazon cloud deployment already, the day may be fast approaching. Amazon's pay-as-you-go cloud is no longer "just" a popular playground for developers, a magnet for technology startups, and the clandestine home of "shadow IT" projects. It's also increasingly a component of official IT operations.
Working with the Amazon EC2 cloud isn't especially difficult, but it is different. This quick guide will get you up and running and on your way to cloud mastery. When your company finally embarks on that Amazon deployment or the next stop in your career requires cloud skills, you'll be ready to answer the call.
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Learning your way around Amazon
A first look at the Amazon Web Services dashboard confronts a bewildering array of services. Where to start? The truth is that a few of these resources will do almost everything you need. Others you may use little or not at all. The following services are the ones that will loom largest on your radar.
EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud). EC2 instances are the servers on which you run your workload. Although you use a Web interface or API call to provision the servers and bring them into your collection, ultimately they are real computers with CPUs, memory, and access to physical storage.
S3 (Simple Storage Service). So-called simple storage, S3 is used for persistent and very cheap storage. S3 integrates with CloudFront, Amazon's content delivery solution. If you have website content such as graphics images and CSS, these files would typically be stored in S3 and fetched by your Web server at delivery time.
EBS (Elastic Block Storage). EBS is essentially a virtualized storage area network or SAN solution that all of your servers can share. Slice out chunks of storage for use by your instances as root or alternate volumes. You can then take snapshots of them to use for backups -- just as you would with Linux's LVM (Logical Volume Manager).
RDS (Relational Database Services). Amazon RDS is Amazon's managed relational database solution based on MySQL, Oracle, or SQL Server under the hood. When you launch a database instance, you choose the database engine you want.
ElastiCache. This is an Amazon-managed memcache solution. You can add and remove nodes easily, and with CloudWatch monitoring, you can have Amazon replace nodes for you if they fail.
Route 53. Route 53 is an Amazon-hosted DNS solution that allows you to associate names to your provisioned computing resources. Because instances in Amazon change their IP addresses whenever they are stopped and started again, reaching those boxes via names can be much more convenient and easier to support than relying on IP addresses.