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I have a set of demos that I do for work to sell Enterprise Software and lately, the hardware requirements for these demos has started to get to be excessive for bringing a laptop into a client so I have to look at other options.

The one that seems like it would be the most cost effective and reasonable would be to remotely connect to machines in the cloud via a mobile broadband card and use those. A second and less desirable option is to buy a server that is as small as I can get it to bring into client sites. I'd hate to have to bring in a full network though.

My requirements are as follows:

I need a cloud based solution which will allow me to configure a set of servers to perform an Enterprise level demo. I don't want to pay for these servers when they're not running, but I understand the necessity of paying a monthly fee for storing them and that is acceptable.

The problem with Amazon's EC2 service is that there is no persistence between servers for installing software. The software I'm installing has to be configured extensively and it takes the better part of 2 days to get it right. Bundling won't work because they run Sysprep, which will screw up any machine I configure as a domain controller. It also screws up any SQL Server installations because those have hooks into the machine name for credentials. I'm not terribly familiar with other cloud based solutions exist.

I'm looking for a competitive solution that would allow me to configure a minimum of 3 machines with approximately the following specs into a domain controller/member server configuration:

  1. Windows 2003 with minimal compute power to use as a DC
  2. Windows 2003 x64 with 8GB or 16GB RAM, 30GB-50GB disk, up to 4 CPU's, but 2 would work.
  3. Windows 2003 x86 with 4GB RAM, 1-2 CPU's. 20GB-30GB disk space.

I absolutely need full image persistence between sessions and want the ability to power them down and take them offline until needed. If it takes 30 minutes to spin them back up, that's fine, as I can plan around that.

In terms of pricing, it's fine if I spend $50-$100 per demo with about the same spent in the initial setup. I don't do these every week, but when I need to do one, the hardware can be expensive. Anyone have any ideas?

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7 Answers 7

take a look at RackSpace Cloud. It does what you need. It's is cheaper on the low end than EC2 and the VM is persistent.

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I poked around there, but I didn't see any Windows options. –  Mike Taber Aug 26 '09 at 2:23

Look at www.gogrid.com, they recently launched a "snapshot" feature for servers. Their servers are persistent and they offer Windows machines.

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There are other companies that offer similar services to ec2, except that you can take a snapshot of a running instance and then "pause" it, much like hibernate to disk on your laptop.

You would probably be better off using one of those.

Or you could try the suggestions in this thread:

http://developer.amazonwebservices.com/connect/message.jspa?messageID=127015

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Unfortunately, the links in that thread are broken. Do you have any links to services like that? I've researched a lot of cloud computing options, but the majority appear to be based on a monthly charge, as opposed to being able to pause them, like you said. That would be ideal for me. –  Mike Taber Aug 26 '09 at 1:15

Short Answer:

If the server is rebooted all data is preserved. If the server is terminated the data is erased.

Long Answer:

As anything in IT, it depends. If you get an EBS (basically a virtual hard drive), your data is always preserved it does not matter if you terminate or reboot, or because a failure. Please keep in mind that you can accomplish this persistence in other ways.

A Windows Option:

You can always try to bundle the Instance using the Amazon Console EC2. The only drawback of bundling data with an instance is the time it takes when you want to start it again, it can take as long as 7-15 minutes for start. The bundle process is very simple, you need to give it a s3 bucket and that is it. You can start as many of this AMI as you want and access them from different URLs. Please read this post for more info on restarting.

I hope this helps.

Geo

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My concerns revolve around the applications that I'm installing. They take forever to install and configure. Just saving the data doesn't do a lot for me, because they hit the registry all over the place, install services, etc. I can back up the SQL Database, but what I really need is the ability to archive at least 3 machines that have been manually (and tediously) configured. –  Mike Taber Aug 26 '09 at 1:21
    
I did not read the post completely, to know that is a windows configuration. I will edit my post to add a windows scenario. Thanks for the comment. –  Geo Aug 26 '09 at 1:27
    
If I understand "bundling" correctly, it's the process of taking an image that is running and bringing it down gracefully such that it will run Sysprep on it and strip out all of the unique identifiers. Wouldn't this kill my Domain Controller? –  Mike Taber Aug 26 '09 at 2:13
    
Bundling in EC2 means, just making an exact image of the operating system configuration, not the state of the machine. The bundle will have an exact configuration of your source machine. My suggestion will be to turn on an EC2 windows instance, configure a very basic domain controller, bundle it, and try to start a new instance from that bundled AMI. After that you will be able to know if it fits your purpose. –  Geo Aug 26 '09 at 2:41
    
Thanks Geo. It's the state of the machine that I need. I read up on it and I don't think that what Amazon offers is going to fit my needs at all. –  Mike Taber Aug 26 '09 at 3:02

You could setup an image the way you want then use the amazon ec2 tools to create a new image of your sever. After that you can re-launch those images as a clean server.

Requires amazon S3 to store the images.

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Pardon the shameless plug, but check out bluelock.com

We'll work with you on designing it exactly the way you need it.

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How is security handled in this methodology? http://bygsoft.wordpress.com/2010/01/09/cloudy-combo-google-app-engine-and-amazon-s3-combo-pack/

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