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Building websites on the AWS EC2 free tier instance

Startups build a business in the cloud because it's fast, cheap and scalable. AWS EC2 free tier instances quickly spin up one-off dev projects.

It's estimated that by the end of 2014 there will be one billion registered domain names with 250 million active websites. Where do all these sites live? The majority of Web-based companies' resources are hosted off-premises -- at cloud data centers -- with AWS and IBM/SoftLayer listed as the top infrastructure as a service providers.

And many Web-based companies are starting up in Amazon Web Services because it's convenient and offers a broad portfolio of platform as a service choices. Additionally, publishing a website on AWS allows companies to scale according to business needs, pay for only what they use and is incredibly flexible. Spinning up a server of any variety is easy, which can give companies a competitive advantage and allowing them to quickly respond to customer needs.

For many companies, specifically smaller businesses or startups that are looking to get off the ground quickly, the ongoing capital expenditures and a dedicated IT payroll are too expensive and often out of reach. And while shared Web-hosting providers are inexpensive and easy to use, the results are shared resources, an inflexible technology platform and questionable security. Web-hosting companies such as Bluehost, HostGator and GoDaddy overcrowd shared servers, which is bad for business. When more than 1,000 domains are hosted on the same server, website response times can become sluggish, SEO rankings take a hit and companies have little ability to quickly scale to meet customer demand.

If you think AWS is right for your company, you may want to spin up an EC2 free tier instance and play around for a one-off development project. We offer the steps to configure a free EC2 instance and give birth to your cloud-based business.

Requirements for spinning up an EC2 free tier micro-instance

For starters, you'll need a credit card and a phone number. Our objective is to set up an Amazon Linux Instance using the AWS dashboard. We'll also use the PuTTY PC software application to SSH (Secure Shell) in the instance. We'll also need to use a few Linux commands to complete the configuration. The end result is a basic website running under the Apache Web Server on an AWS cloud Linux instance that's accessible to the world. What you'll need:

  • Internet connection;
  • PC running Windows;
  • Access to PuTTY, an SSH and telnet client;
  • Access to your domain name registrar, such as, to point your domain name to the new website.

After you create an AWS account, verify your identity and select the Basic support plan, it's time to configure your EC2 instance.

Configure an AWS EC2 free tier instance

Setting up the environment needed to run your website is like playing in a sandbox. To configure your first AWS EC2 instance, be sure to select "free tier" services. Remember, if you get stuck with a step or realize you want to change something, it's very easy to start over. Follow these steps to get started:

1. Log into the AWS Management Console and click on EC2.

2. Choose an AWS region by clicking the dropdown menu in the upper right corner.

3. Click Launch to begin configuring the EC2 instance.

4. Click Select next to the "Amazon Linux AMI" instance type and then select "micro instance" type, as shown in Figure 1.

AWS AMIFIGURE 1. Choose an Amazon Machine Image

5. Choose Next: Configure Instance Details.

6. Keep defaults as they are and then click Next: Add Storage, then Next: Tag Instances and then Next Configure Security Group.

7. Enter a security group name for this instance or use the default security group name (launch-wizard-1). Security policies define access levels to the cloud instance based on your intentions. Keep the pre-populated SSH type, but click Add Rule and then Custom TCP Rule and finally select HTTP. This is the Web server port that allows anyone in the world to access your website.

8. Click Review and Launch and then Launch.

9. When the "Select an existing key pair or create a new key pair" dialog box appears, you'll need to create a key pair. Creating a key pair gives you access to the EC2 micro instance via SSH to complete configuration.

10. Click Choose an existing key pair from the menu and select Create a new key pair.

11. Enter a name for the key pair, such as micro-security-instance and then click the download key pair button and save this file to a secure location on your PC. This private key file will be used to SSH into your instance.

12. Click Launch Instance to start your AWS cloud micro instance.

About the author:
Russ Vanderpool, MSCS and MBA, is a technologist interested in using cloud technology to deliver solutions, help companies better serve customers and to identify new businesses. He has hands-on experience as an architect/developer and a business adviser across the finance, energy, education, technology and nonprofit sectors. Russ has architected and built a cloud infrastructure for a green tech company and while working for Japan's largest system's integration firm, he developed proprietary object-oriented database visualization software for that market.

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