Amazon dumbs down AWS with appliances
Saturday, 26 February 2011

AWS CloudFormation templates provide easy-to-customise virtual appliances that you can run in the cloud. The good news is that it's free.


One problem faced by Amazon and other "cloud" providers is how to make what they offer understandable and easy to use. What you want is a virtual machine that is fully configured with all the resources your application needs including an IP address, storage and any application support software you need. A solution that has been around for quite a while is the idea of an "appliance" - a virtual machine image that you can install more or less by copying it. Appliances are a great idea but for some reason cloud computing providers have tended to avoid it - perhaps for fear of making their "cloud" efforts seem commonplace and dull.

Amazon AWS has at last found its way back to the idea with CloudFormation - and has also managed to add yet another catchy marketable product name to the ranks of ElasticBeanstalk, CloudWatch, Elastic Block store and so on.. The idea is simple - you can set up a template that defines the requirements of you AWS image. This doesn't sound particularly easy but there are some predefined templates for you to use. At the launch you can have any of:

  • WordPress
  • TextPattern
  • MoinMoin
  • Tracks
  • Gollum
  • Drupal
  • ReviewBoard
  • Movable Type
  • MantisBT
  • Hibari
  • Joomla
  • Insoshi
  • Redmine

So if you want an instance to run Joomla or WordPress say simply select the template and you have a fully configured machine. Of course to get anywhere you have to customise it but the appliance model has proved to work well and Amazon has gone a step further by allowing you to edit the templates and create your own custom machines. You can modify most of the parameters of the stack and change higher level details such as passwords, port numbers used by the installed applications. Once configured the template is used to generate a fully configured instance.


The good news is that CloudFormation is free to use to AWS customers. You have to pay for the instances and resources you use of course. CloudFormation has the same basic problem that virtual appliances have - they are only possible when the template consists of open source software. You can't try the same trick with licenced software for obvious reasons - hence the absence of any Windows based CloudFormation templates.

This simple fact is another of the pressures slowly eating away at the de facto dominance of Windows and the Microsoft ecosystem in general.

Further reading:

Amazon Beanstalk - just runs your app

EC2 GPU cracks passwords on the cheap

AWS launches Route 53 DNS

Amazon extends options for high performance cloud computing

Free Amazon AWS

Amazon Micro Instances - the cloud on the cheap

Amazon's cloud messaging

Cloud Security and Privacy


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Last Updated ( Saturday, 26 February 2011 )