Living in a state of accord.

Amazon EC2 As A Webhost

We need to move our company wiki and JIRA instance to a server with more RAM and CPU to spare as they're pretty slow on the current overloaded virtual server, so we've been looking at a few different options. One that came up was using Amazon's EC2 and S3 services. We knew straight off that we didn't need the scalability they offered but getting some experience using them could be beneficial and we really didn't know anything about what they actually offered so it was worth a quick look.

Those familiar with EC2 won't be surprised to hear that we won't be going with the service for three reasons:

  1. It's at least as expensive as the dedicated server we'd need.
  2. The filesystem gets reset everytime the server reboots (S3 provides a REST API to store and retrieve data, not a filesystem)
  3. The server gets a new IP address every time it reboots.

The cost only applies to us because we don't need scalability – our needs are really quite consistent so we're not avoiding purchasing large amounts of redundant hardware. We also have the ability to just pay a hosting company to set up one dedicated server for us instead of setting up our own server farm. If you were offering software as a service however, Amazon's offering is likely to save you a lot of money.

The filesystem resetting is a challenge for deploying most existing web applications, but not for software designed to run with S3. For instance, it's pretty easy to imagine a wiki implementation that uses S3 as it's "database" for storing data directly (probably with some local caching etc). Wikis are somewhat ideal for this because search is about the only query you perform on the data – otherwise you just retrieve pages by name which S3 is perfectly suited for. The fact that so many wikis use flat files instead of databases is an indication that it'd work pretty well. There would be a few hurdles but nothing insurmountable.

The dynamic IP however is a real pain. There are examples of using dynamic DNS to work around it but the lag in DNS updates seems like a problem to me. The better solution would of course be to have a load balancer in front of your EC2 instances – the load balancer would have a static IP address and the EC2 instances would just register with it when they start up. Unfortunately this means you have to have a server outside of EC2 to do the load balancing which means another hosting provider to work with and it just seems odd to have the load balancing server in a different data center to the rest of the servers. If Amazon added an option to build an EC2 machine that could only ever have one instance but had a guaranteed IP address it would be the perfect solution.

It's certainly something interesting to play with – I'll have to chase up a corporate credit card and see if I can get access to do some experimentation some time.