Embracing the Cloud

So work has me looking seriously into cloud computing, specifically Amazon’s EC2 ‘Elastic Computing Cloud’. Basic idea: virtual datacenter. Launch “instances” instead of real servers, and pay by the hour. Benefit: say you need five servers to handle your daily load, but twenty servers to handle Monday mornings – no problem.

Anyway, as with any new technology, there’s growing pains. I’ve been spending my last few days working with instances, building a custom instance based around CentOS 5.2, from scratch. The documentation makes it seem easy, but there are a lot of gotchas. For instance, you need to configure OpenSSH to allow root logins, which goes against both conventional sysadmin wisdom and the default configuration of OpenSSH. D’oh. That nugget right there represents a good hour of puzzling.

Another thing that I’m looking into is using Amazon’s S3 storage system for backups. I’ve downloaded and installed ‘JungleDisk’, a utility that mounts an S3 storage repository as a network share. It has a very useful backup utility built in, and it’s probably the first one I’ve used that actually works like I expected it to, and continues to work without any interference from me.

Now, the real question is how I can use a combination of these technologies to help rid myself of even more of the tethers to my household computing environment. Until recently, I’ve had four active computers in my house:

  • my “work desktop”, which has long been a laptop but for some reason I get more work done sitting at a desk, with the laptop up on a stand and a fullsize keyboard and a Bluetooth mouse attached.
  • my studio desktop, a proper PC tower running Ableton Live, attached to a MOTU 828mkII firewire soundcard and a pair of Mackie studio monitor speakers.
  • my “live-pa” computer, a custom-built 1U rackmount PC, similar to the studio desktop but hardened for use at clubs and raves.
  • my router/gateway, aka my old studio desktop, running CentOS Linux, acting as a fileserver for the house and running an instance of Windows XP as a VMWare host, for downloading torrents and the like.

I’ve shut down the studio desktop PC, and parted it out somewhat. The PC itself is still sitting in the studio, but I’m hoping to either find it a home, or perhaps sell it on Craigslist. Used computers don’t go for very much, unfortunately, so I don’t know what I’ll get for it. I’m not sure yet what to do with the household router box; perhaps I’ll pull the drives and put them into portable cases, or maybe I’ll just wipe the whole thing and sell it on CL as well. Ideally I’d like to leave the house with some form of internet, but that could just as easily be a LinkSys box in the laundry room.

I’d like to use the cloud for as much as possible. For instance, backups are now working just fine. My four email accounts are all stored in IMAP servers on Dreamhost, which I guess counts as “the cloud”. I haven’t yet signed up for Apple’s ‘MobileME’ thingy, but I intend to eventually – perhaps after I get an iPhone. The idea is to move as much of my data off of my personal computers and make it accessible from anywhere. There’s still a lot to sort out though.

Bah, it’s late. More later.