Dave Winer yesterday announced EC2 for Poets, a step-by-step guide to help you create a server on Amazon's EC2. His how-to is so easy to understand that we had our own server up and running within the hour. Sure, it may not seem like much that this fairly uninteresting page is sitting out there somewhere, but for this writer, it was an amazing coup.
"It's time to stop thinking about these servers as being things for geeks and start thinking about them as things for people with ideas," Winer said in a podcast roadmap he created for this work. The technology available today is enabling anyone with even the slightest technical bent to get out there and create amazing new things; often taking the technology in directions than the company which created it could have ever imagined.
EC2 for Poets is named after a class that Winer took at the University of Wisconsin called Computer Science for Poets, where the idea of "taking something that's inherently technical, and instead of doing something that technologists like to do with it - which is make it more mysterious - is to try and take as much of the mystery out of it as possible, and make it easy."
Much like Winer, many people find it difficult getting involved with Amazon's EC2 because of the new ideas and/or new terminology it introduces: "running instances," "EBS Volumes," Key Pairs," Elastic IPs," "Security Groups," 'AMIs." Even the definitions are more often than not difficult to understand. However, once you realize that much of the wording is just in a different form to the names of ideas we're familiar with, it becomes a lot more interesting. For instance, the term "security groups," Winer explains, "is essentially a firewall."
We went through Winer's HowTo: EC2 for Poets, and within 20 minutes had set most of it up. But for two instances, it went smoothly.
In step 12 of launch your server, Winer explains
"You should see a single entry whose status is "starting." We're now waiting for it to change to "running." This could take as much as 10 or 15 minutes, depending on how busy the angels and elves at Amazon are."
When we got to this step, our status of "pending" took almost 30 minutes to resolve. No biggie, just useful to note that it may take longer.
The second time we got a little stuck was when trying to wake the server up.
"First, locate the Key-Pair file (mine is called Tahoe), open it with a text editor (Notepad on Windows, TextEdit on the Mac). Select-All. Copy. Close the file."
It took a few minutes to realize this is the file we had downloaded earlier in the process; most likely due to this writer getting hyper excited of having become, as Dave Winer points out in good humor "a cloud computing expert."
Our 'instance' or 'server' took 20 minutes to set up; then another 30 minutes was spent waiting for the Amazon gods to make it a reality. Amazingly, a virtual server in under an hour.
EC2 for Poets is a must read if you're interested in utilizing the cloud for your server needs. And even if the cloud doesn't excite you in the slightest, we highly recommend spending an hour with Winer, if for no other reason than to truly see how technology today really is made for everyone.
As Winer points out in his podcast, "there is nothing inherently more difficult about installing software on a server than there is of installing software on a Mac or PC - it's exactly the same thing."
"Where we need to be," says Winer, "and this happens early on in every technology, we end up relying on the tech companies too much. It makes sense at first; we need someone to set it up for us and make it simple, but then, it has its downside because we end up being controlled by them and they may be taking us someplace we don't want to go."
"Then the users break out and they do it on their own," he adds. And this is what EC2 for Poets can do for us. It can help us get out there and do it on our own a lot faster.
An important point to remember: if you do decide to try this out, make sure you shut it off when you're done; you'll be paying about $1 for every eight hours you run the server.
But now, having created this server in the cloud, the question remains, what next?
We have a server which is hosting a single Web page, but we're fairly sure the ReadWriteWeb community can think of far more exciting uses for this service now that Dave Winer has made it easy for all of us to understand. So, what would you build? Let us know in the comments.