Ubuntu 10.10 Maverick Meerkat in Amazon EC2

Don't be afraid of the cloud! Let Canonical and Amazon pick up the tab.
Okay, I like this. But it's gone in an hour, and I want more.

So, you've played with your server, installed other software, and monkeyed around with the preconfigured stuff on your server. You're hooked and want your own server, but you don't want to pay the full instance price of approximately $70 a month to run a server full-time. Not to worry! Amazon has you covered. It now offers a completely free “micro” server, called the AWS Free Usage Tier, just for new users. The micro instance isn't quite as powerful as the free test-drive server, but it's absolutely serviceable for a blog, mail server or other light-duty application. Another possible (and very useful) application would be an off-site Nagios or other monitoring instance. See Table 1 for a comparison of the free test-drive instance vs. the micro server.

Table 1. Free Test-Drive Instance vs. Free Micro Instance

 Free Test Drive InstanceFree Micro Instance
CPU1 EC2 Compute Unit (1.2GHz Xeon)Burstable to 2 EC2 Compute Units
Disk160GB of local instance storage10GB of Amazon elastic block storage
Memory2GB RAM613MB RAM

Unlike the free test-drive server (which is only 32-bit), the micro instance can be either 32-bit or 64-bit, though the low RAM of the system doesn't really make that distinction very useful. The Free Usage Tier includes some other useful services as well, measured on a monthly basis:

  • 750 hours of EC2 running Linux/UNIX on a micro instance (this is the server mentioned above).

  • 750 hours of elastic load balancing plus 15GB data processing (in other words, you can load-balance between servers, if you've spun up another instance, but you'd pay for that second instance).

  • 10GB of elastic block storage (includes one million IOs, 1GB of snapshot storage, 10,000 snapshot get requests and 1,000 snapshot put requests).

  • 15GB of inward bandwidth and 15GB of outward bandwidth aggregated across all AWS services.

  • 5GB of Amazon S3 storage, 20,000 get requests and 2,000 put requests.

  • 25 Amazon SimpleDB Machine hours and 1GB of storage.

  • 100,000 requests of Amazon Simple Queue Service.

  • 100,000 requests, 100,000 HTTP notifications and 1,000 e-mail notifications for Amazon Simple Notification Service.

The service does require a credit card to get started, but you're billed only if you exceed the usage outlined above. It's a great way to start learning how cloud services work and what they can do for you.


If you've never tried any cloud services before, or if you've been leery of giving your credit card to a provider, try the free Ubuntu 10.10 server. It's a great way to dip your toe in the water at no cost to you. Likewise, if you're familiar with the cloud, but you've not run Ubuntu before, give this test-drive a shot. You'll get enough time with Ubuntu to decide whether you want to pursue it further, but you won't have to take the time to spin up a machine of your own. Just let Canonical pick up the tab for the demo.

Once you've made up your mind as to whether the cloud is for you, take a look at the new AWS Free Usage Tier. For a personal server, sandbox or off-site monitor, the micro instance is up to the challenge, and the price definitely can't be beat.

Bill Childers is an IT Manager in Silicon Valley, where he lives with his wife and two children. He enjoys Linux far too much, and probably should get more sun from time to time. In his spare time, he does work with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, but he does not smell like garlic.


Bill Childers is the Virtual Editor for Linux Journal. No one really knows what that means.