EC2: Sign Up and Choose a Linux Distro

[This is part of the series: Getting Started with EC2]

Imagine this: A ginormous cluster of computers on an optical network running an OS similar to VMWare ESXi with some of the fattest connections to the Internet in the world. That’s basically what EC2 is. Every time you create a new “instance”, you’re launching a virtual server on top of that platform. It’s incredibly powerful, and you’re here because you want in! Let’s get started.

Signing Up

Signing up is the easiest part of the entire AWS experience. Head on over to the EC2 page on the AWS site and click  (or click that Sign Up Now button…it goes to the same place!). At this point, you can either log in with an existing Amazon.com account, or create a new one. After that, follow the instructions, enter your payment information and you’re signed up! It can take up to 12 hours for your account to become active, but usually it only takes a few minutes. See? Easy.

AWS Lingo

AWS does come with some lingo that you need to understand. Here’s a quick list:

  • Region: There’s 5 of them: US East (Virginia), US West (N. California), EU West (Ireland), Asia Pacific (Singapore), and Asia Pacific (Tokyo). You can choose the region on the EC2 dashboard. Choose the region closest to you.
  • Instance = virtual server
  • AMI = Amazon Machine Image; think of any imaging solution. It’s an image of a machine that can run on the EC2 platform. They’re numbered in a format like this: “ami-06ad526f“.
  • EBS = Elastic Block Store; These are essentially hard drives (Volumes). Volumes can be mounted and unmounted from different instances. They’re networked, so if this was a physical machine, it’d be like booting off of a SAN
  • Instance Store = the equivalent of a locally attached hard drive

EC2 Instance Types

EC2 Instances come in several different types. Each Instance Type has a different memory and CPU capacity. This size of your blog will ultimately determine the type of Instance Type you need. For most, the micro instance is sufficient; it’s also free for a year! You can see the full breakdown of Instance Type pricing and specs here and here respectively.

Access the AWS Management Console

Now that you’re signed up, it’s time for the Management console. This is where we’re going to do everything from here on out, so familiarize yourself with it’s general appearance.

It defaults to the S3 tab, but since we’re working on EC2, click on the EC2 tab. Here you’ll see a ton of information right off the bat: 

The most important things to look at are the Service Health and My Resources sections. It’s a quick and easy way to see the current AWS state as well as how many instances you’re running. As you can see, I’m running a single instance here and AWS health is in the green! That’s good!

Choosing a Distro

We’re not going to start an actual instance just yet for two reasons: that’s the next post, and there’s some planning on your part! Let’s look at the distro options. Click on Launch Instance. You’ll see a few options:

This is the Request Instance Wizard. It’s ultimately how you launch an instance, but it’s also how you choose a Distro to launch. You’ll see of top that you can launch an Amazon Linux AMI, which is basically a custom version of Red Hat, or you can choose Red Hat, Suse, and a few more. I’ve launched a few of these, and you’re more than welcome to assuming you know those distros fairly well. I usually opt for clicking on the “Community AMIs” tab and launching an Ubuntu instance. (Ubuntu is the distro I always use and the distro I recommend for Linux beginners. If you’d like the official Ubuntu AMIs, head to Alestic and click the tab corresponding to the region you’re in.)

Next Steps

Take some time thinking about the Instance Type and Distro that would be best for you. It’s very important to choose the right one the first time since starting over is never fun! After you decide, it’s time to launch the instance, log in, and set up LAMP! ..and that’s what’s coming next!