Posts Tagged ‘EC2’

The perils of running servers at Amazon EC2

Last week, some of our developers complained that they could not access our server that we have hosted at Amazon Web Services (AWS) / Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) environment intermittently every few minutes, but I was having no problems.

The next day, I was now unable to get to the server.
HTTP, HTTPS, SSH all failed.

Cloudwatch showed all metrics as “flat” for the few minutes after I stopped getting a response.

I would like to note that we have been using this server for approximately 6 months without any problems whatsoever. We have a very standard procedure for accessing the server, and we had tested many things before reporting the problem to Amazon. We were sure that we were not mis-typing the SSH host name, and were using the correct instance ID.

Additionally, I saw lots of other posts in the Amazon EC2 support discussion forum which were similar to this post about suddenly not being able to access their server that same morning and/or the night before.

The end result was that Amazon notified us that quote: “There does appear to be a problem with the underlying hardware.” and “I would relaunch the instance using your latest AMI. Since this instance is not EBS, what ever changes you made may be lost.”

Here are some hard lessons that I learned from the experience.

A) As redundant and high availability oriented we thought Amazon was, IT IS NOT.

B) Amazon’s support in such incidents is actually just a discussion forum for the various services that it offers. In this case, it is the EC2 discussion forum, where you are lumped in with thousands of other people running potentially hundreds of other AMIs that contain unlimited number of “popular software” on several popular operating systems. In other words, there is alot of traffic on there because of people running Windows, Oracle, WordPress, Linux (all the flavors you can think of), etc. etc. etc. The traffic is so high that your chances of getting responded to depend on the Amazon staff manning the forum, and whether your needle doesn’t get lost in the high traffic hay stack.

C) Amazon does offer phone support, but this is only available from the Gold and Platinum support levels. Gold costs $400/month, so unless you are enterprise, you can forget it. Bronze and Silver cost $49 and $100/month respectively.

Full details:

I was really surprised that there was nothing for the average joe running a couple of servers. It costs me more a month to run at Amazon than it does my dedicated server hosting company, yet at least I can get someone on the phone at the dedicated server hosting company.

D) Amazon’s attitude in their response and the response I’ve seen many times since having this issue is that you should never rely on an instance whatsoever. Count on it going down at any time. Instead, have load balancers and custom built, EBS boot AMIs ready to go at any time.

This is a difficult philosophy to totally grasp, but one that must be grasp if you are moving to the cloud.

E) We actually had an EBS volume attached where our /var/www and MySQL resides. We had previously tested disaster recovery in the event the instance went away and had successfully detached, spun up a new instance, and re-attached the volume and ran a script to let the server know where the /var/www and MySQL data was.

This is a good practice for the data, but it should also be the case for the server.

F) Instance store is no way to go, unless you are literally spinning up a temporary test server to run for a few minutes or a few hours, or you are spinning up an instance for the CPU cycles.

G) EBS Boot instance should really be the rule of thumb, and generate a master AMI from it. If you make changes (periodic operating system updates, etc.) – also periodically re-bundle your AMI.

H) Make sure your data is also stored on a separate EBS volume, and make automatic nightly snapshots of that EBS volume. Think of EBS snapshotting in the same way you think of incremental backups in the tradition IT infrastructure sense.

By having your data on a separate EBS volume, you don’t necessarily have to re-bundle your AMI every night.

Someone out in the websphere correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that snapshotting a data EBS volume every night is easier than re-bundling your instance every night in the case that you store your data on the same EBS volume as your instance operating system and software.

Thoughts and feedback appreciated.

Problem creating an AMI from a running instance with ec2-bundle-vol

I’m writing this blog post in the hopes that some wise soul out there happens to read this post and responds with the answer. I am truly stumped.

I’m running an instance store instance at Amazon. I would like to bundle a custom AMI in case something happens to the instance as it did to our instance a few days ago.

Our instance is built from a high availability, high performance AMI built by Pantheon. After we spin up the instance, we still have a bit of customizations. Namely setting up the mail/mailboxes, setting the hostname, installing Webmin, etc. etc.

We wanted to bundle our customizations into a new AMI in case something happened to the instance again and we could simply spin up a new instance from the AMI, change the public DNS and MX record, and re-attach the EBS volume where our /var/www and MySQL data is located.

After searching various and sundry locations on the web on how to re-bundle an AMI from a running instance, I came up with the following commands.

I’m using this command where 123456789123 is not my actual Amazon user ID, and I’ve copied my Amazon private key and certificate to the /mnt/ids directory.

$ sudo ec2-bundle-vol -d /mnt/amis -k /mnt/ids/pk-*.pem -c /mnt/ids/cert-*.pem -u 123456789123 -r i386

I get the following:

Copying / into the image file /mnt/amis/image...
1+0 records in
1+0 records out
1048576 bytes (1.0 MB) copied, 0.00273375 s, 384 MB/s
mkfs.ext3: option requires an argument -- 'L'
Usage: mkfs.ext3 [-c|-l filename] [-b block-size] [-f fragment-size]
[-i bytes-per-inode] [-I inode-size] [-J journal-options]
[-G meta group size] [-N number-of-inodes]
[-m reserved-blocks-percentage] [-o creator-os]
[-g blocks-per-group] [-L volume-label] [-M last-mounted-directory]
[-O feature[,...]] [-r fs-revision] [-E extended-option[,...]]
[-T fs-type] [-U UUID] [-jnqvFKSV] device [blocks-count]
ERROR: execution failed: "mkfs.ext3 -F /mnt/amis/image -U 2c567c84-20a1-44b9-a353-dbdcc7ae863b -L "

Here are the results of df -h, so I know I’ve got plenty of room on /mnt:

Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda1             9.9G  2.1G  7.4G  22% /
devtmpfs              834M  124K  834M   1% /dev
none                  851M     0  851M   0% /dev/shm
none                  851M   96K  851M   1% /var/run
none                  851M     0  851M   0% /var/lock
none                  851M     0  851M   0% /lib/init/rw
/dev/sda2             147G  352M  139G   1% /mnt
/dev/sdf             1014M  237M  778M  24% /vol

Does anybody have any clue what the mkfs.ext3 errors are all about? I’ve posted this over at the Amazon EC2 discussion forum and the Pantheon Drupal group with no response and I have scoured google and I can’t find anything like this.

Simplifying SSH command to access Amazon EC2 server

If you are like me and you have to push the up arrow in your terminal window each time you need to remember exactly what the command is to access your Amazon EC2 server, here is a time saving SSH configuration trick for you.


$ cd ~/.ec2
$ ssh -i davidskey.pem

You can create a config file in your ~/.ssh directory to include your identity file for individual host names.
If your Amazon server has a public DNS entry which points to the long Amazon public DNS name, you can make this even easier.

$ cd ~/.ssh
$ ls -al (if you don't find a file called "config" you can create one using the following line)
$ touch config
$ nano config

Add these lines: (assuming that is a CNAME DNS entry which points to

IdentityFile ~/.ec2/davidskey.pem

Host IdentityFile ~/.ec2/davidskey.pem

Now you can SSH to both domain names using only the following. Also note that you do not have to change to the ~/.ec2/ directory to issue the SSH command anymore.

$ ssh
$ ssh

One final note, is that this would work on any host that you use a keyfile to access via SSH. This is of course, not limited to Amazon EC2 server access.

Using Linux Ubuntu 10.04 Lynx server

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entry asking the community about your thoughts on Fedora/CentOS versus Debian/Ubuntu.

In the end, I decided that there was so much discussion going on about Ubuntu that I wanted to give it a try. So I’ve been using Linux Ubuntu 10.04 Lynx server. I’ve setup an instance at Amazon Web Services (AWS) Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2).

Overall, things seem pretty straight forward and there seems to be quite alot more documentation out there about how to use/configure Ubuntu. There is definitely a larger community. I’m coming from cPanel (on CentOS 5) to Ubuntu, so I’m really coming from the cPanel discussion forums/”How To” blogs to the Ubuntu discussion forums/Blogs.

Working with EC2 has been quite a steep learning curve, but there are loads more possibilities, such as the ability to detach a storage volume, shut down a virtual machine, and start up a larger, more robust virtual machine and re-attach the volume in just a few minutes with little planning or preparation.

It is a little tedious working with the sudo command however. I’ll have to admit that it is hard getting used to using it all the time.

Are there any others out there using EC2 extensively?


I'm currently available
for Lotus Notes / Domino consulting engagements.


Connect with me: