How to take Amazon EC2 for a test-drive

With a few simple steps, you can stand up a capable virtual Linux server using Amazon Web Services in minutes. Best of all, it's free for a whole year

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Just about everyone I know in IT has gotten the dreaded phone call from a friend or acquaintance that begins: "Can you help me fix my computer?" If the person on the the line is persistent enough, the result always seems to be a late night drinking beer and cleaning spyware off a PC that was manufactured during the Clinton era.

Earlier this week, however, I got a more interesting query -- one that may be a sign of the times. A friend wanted to set up a customized forum and image-sharing website for a group he's associated with and wasn't sure where to host it. I could have pointed him to any number of Web hosting companies, but he had a few requirements that indicated he might need a server he could fully control. The kicker: It had to be cheap -- really, really cheap.

That last requirement ruled out just about every option except a cloud-based solution. I had used's EC2 before, but mostly to poke around and see what it looked like, never to actually work on a project. I figured we'd give it a try.

Getting started with Amazon EC2

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