Thursday, July 12, 2012

Amazon EC2 learnings

Yesterday I discovered that Amazon AWS offer a free tier which basically means I can have a free server (possibly more than one) in their cloud for a year!

Awesome, I'll have some of that :)

I decided to see if could get our 5Live hangout project up and running there. Figured it would be useful as our free heroku plan limits us to a 16MB database!!!! On AWS I can have up to 30GB of storage for free :)

Of course I'll have to be my own sys admin to get it though. So that's where the adventure begins. This is what I needed to setup...
  • A server
  • Some storage
  • Install Node.js
  • Install MongoDB
  • Install Git
  • Open ports to allow access from the interwebs
In figuring this stuff out I probably created and terminated about 20 EC2 instances. There's the first 2 things I learned...
  • Amazon refers to it's virtual machines as EC2 instances
  • Amazon calls deleting an instance "terminating it"
    • When you terminate an instance it does not go away immediately (takes about 20 minutes) but it is not recoverable
    • There is an option for termination protection which I haven't tried but might be a good idea :)
Only a limited number of the virtual machine types are covered by the free tier but that's ok I only actually tried 2 of them. Didn't think I'd be interested in running my stuff on windows so I only tried the Amazon Linux and Ubuntu 12.04 images. Both of which are free in the micro configuration (1 core, 613MB RAM). After switching between the 2 a few times I settled on Ubuntu mainly because it is more familiar to me. However my research suggests that the Amazon Linux images might be better optimized for EC2.

Now for the real purpose of this blog post, which is mainly for my own notes, these are the steps to setting up the above list of requirements.

Create an Amazon AWS account

First we need an AWS account
  1. From sign up for a new account if you don't have one and verify with the fancy phone call verification
  2. Wait for email confirmation of the new account

Create an EC2 instance

We need a virtual machine

Choose the free tier eligible machine type
Keep the default machine options

Create a new security group

  1. Head over to and sign in with your new account
  2. Select the EC2 link
  3. Select the Instances/Instances link on the left hand side
  4. Click the Launch Instance button
  5. Choose the Classic Wizard option and click Continue 
  6. Choose Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS 64bit and click Select 
  7. Keep the default options for the machine type as pictured above and click Continue 
  8. Keep the default options for for the machine features as pictured above and click Continue 
  9. Enter a name for the instance (this is only used for display in the AWS console and is not the machine name) and click Continue 
  10. Next you will have to create a key pair - this is used instead of passwords to log on to the virtual machine using SSH (If this is not the first instance on the account then you can reuse an existing key pair). Enter a name for the key pair and click Create & Download your Key Pair - keep this somewhere safe but accessible. Then click Continue 
  11. Create a new security group with at least port 22 open so that you can SSH to the instance as pictured above. I have decided that it is best to create a new security group for each EC2 instance as it is not possible to change to a different security group after the instance has been created. However it is possible to change the rules in a security group, so if you want different instances to have different rules then you need to create different security groups for each instance. Then click Continue 
  12. You will then be presented with a page to review so just click Launch and on the next dialog click Close 

Create an EBS volume

We need an Elastic Block Store volume so we can separate our MongoDB data from the OS volume
  1. Select the Elastic Block Store/Volumes link on the left hand side. Notice that there is already an 8GB volume for the EC2 instance OS. Make a note of the zone for this existing volume (eg. us-east-1d), we will want to create our new volume in the same zone so the EC2 instance can be attached to it
  2. Click Create Volume 
  3. Select the size of the volume (eg. 10GB) and the same zone as noted in the last step. Don't select a snapshot. Click Yes, Create 
  4. Right click the newly created volume and select Attach Volume 
  5. Select the newly created Ubuntu instance and leave the Device field to the default. Click Yes, Attach. This will actually attach the volume to /dev/xvdf and not /dev/sdf on this version of Ubuntu, as noted on the dialog

Start the instance and log on using SSH

We're going to need our key pair file in the next step. On OSX and linux it can be supplied to the ssh command using the -i option but on windows I use Putty. Putty does not accept *.pem files as generated by amazon so it's necessary to convert it to a *.ppk file using PuttyGen. Anyway follow these steps to logon...
  1. In the AWS console go back to Instances/Instances on the left hand side
  2. Select the instance and on the Description tab scroll down until you find the Public DNS entry. This is the public host name of your server. As an aside it also contains the static IP address in case you want to know what that is - eg.
  3. Launch Putty and paste the Public DNS host name into the host name field
  4. Prepend the host name with ubuntu@ so that you don't need to specify the user name when connecting (the default user is called ubuntu)
  5. On the left hand side select Connection/SSH/Auth.
  6. Under Private key file for authentication browse for the *.ppk file generated by PuttyGen from the *.pem file created and downloaded from Amazon
  7. Go back to the Session section at the top on the left hand side and save the session with a sensible name
  8. Click Open and you should just be logged in as the ubuntu user (after accepting the public key)

Format the EBS volume and mount it permanently

We want a nice efficient file system and it seems that it's de rigueur to use XFS. XFS is supported by the Ubuntu 12.04 kernel but the tools to format volumes are not there by default. Anyway here are the steps to follow at the command line...
  1. sudo apt-get install xfsprogs
  2. sudo mkfs -t xfs /dev/xvdf
  3. sudo mkdir /mnt/data
  4. sudo nano /etc/fstab
The last step will start nano so that we can edit the /etc/fstab file to ensure that our volume is mounted whenever the machine reboots. Add the following line...
  • /dev/xvdf /mnt/data xfs noatime,noexec,nodiratime 0 0
Write out the file with ctrl-o and exit with ctrl-x.

Now we need to mount the data volume. At the command line...
  • sudo mount -a

Install the latest stable Node.js

At the time of writing the default Node.js package available in Ubuntu is 0.6.12 and the latest stable is 0.8.2. In order to get the latest stable release do the following at the command line...
  1. sudo apt-get install python-software-properties
  2. sudo apt-add-repository ppa:chris-lea/node.js
  3. sudo apt-get update
  4. sudo apt-get install nodejs npm

Install and start the latest stable MongoDB

At the time of writing the latest MongoDB was 2.0.6 and that is what we download in the following steps. Check with to see if there is a newer version. At the command line...
  1. cd ~
  2. curl -O
  3. tar -xzf mongodb-linux-x86_64-2.0.6.tgz
  4. cd mongodb-linux-x86_64-2.0.6/bin
  5. sudo mkdir /mnt/data/db
  6. sudo chown ubuntu /mnt/data/db
  7. ./mongod --fork --logpath ~/mongod.log --dbpath /mnt/data/db/
  8. cd ~
  9. tail -f mongod.log
This will start the MongoDB daemon in the background and output the logging to ~/mongod.log. The last command allows you to check that the daemon starts up ok. Once it has completed the startup sequence then it is safe to ctrl-c out of the tail and mongod will continue running. To stop mongod, the safest way is from the mongo client. At the command line...
  1. cd ~/mongodb-linux-x86_64-2.0.6/bin
  2. ./mongo
  3. use admin
  4. db.shutdownServer()
The last command shutdown the server and prints out lots of stuff that looks like errors but it should be fine and it should be possible to start the server again as before.

Install Git

I use GitHub and all my code is up there so I need git to put it on my new server. At the command line...
  • sudo apt-get install git

Opening more ports

While developing Node.js applications I usually use the default Express port of 3000. You will remember that when we created the server instance we only opened port 22 in the security group. In order to hit the server on port 3000 we have to add that to our security group too...
  1. In the AWS console select Network & Security/Security Groups on the left hand side
  2. Select the the security group created specifically for the server instance
  3. Select the Inbound tab
  4. For Create a new rule select Custom TCP rule 
  5. For Port range enter 3000
  6. For source enter 
  7. Click Add Rule 
  8. Click Apply Rule Changes 
It should now be possible to connect to services running on port 3000 from the internet. Remember that the host name is the Public DNS entry under the EC2 instance description.


  1. Awesome guide. I'm starting my own service using mongoDB on AWS too. Question for you: are you being charged for use of mongoDB on your EC2 instance? I ask because they list mongoDB on the AWS marketplace at $0.02 an hour.

  2. Thanks! Glad somebody else has found it useful :)

    No, as far as I know this is all covered on the free plan as I set it up myself on a free virtual machine. I'm hoping that it will continue to be free as long as i stay within the traffic limits and that i don't get any nasty surprises :o

  3. Great quick study and thanks for this. Very helpful in putting all the pieces together within EC2.

  4. Thanks, nice tutorial