the on-demand Windows desktop

A few days ago, Amazon announced that they would be supporting Windows on EC2. IMO, you’d have to be mad to dream of running a server on that platform, so I was totally like “meh”.

However, James Murty pointed out the perfect use case that I’d missed:

Although I much prefer “Unixy” platforms for my own development, I can imagine situations where it would be very handy to have a Windows machine easily available — such as for running those vital but irritating programs that are only made available for Windows. Australian Tax Office, I’m looking at you…

He’s spot on! This is a great use case. If you need to do a little ‘doze work, a quick recompile, or a connect to another stupid platform-limited service — indeed, like the Irish tax office’s Revenue Online Service, for that matter — simply fire up a ‘doze instance, do your hour’s work, SDelete any private files, and shut it down again. All of that will cost 12.5 cents.

This will save me a lot of pain with VMWare, I suspect…

More techie details at RightScale; a trial run.

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  1. Posted October 24, 2008 at 11:54 | Permalink

    I’m also thinking those automated web-browser testing services will get a kick out of EC2 Windows support. Fire up some Windows instances and test IE6, IE7, IE8 and then shut them down when you are done.

  2. Posted October 28, 2008 at 10:21 | Permalink

    I’m not sure if the use case makes enough sense compared to the alternatives.

    Seems like if you don’t have windows, you’re probably in the mac or linux market share. Assuming this, then your ‘run windows’ options are (vmware or parallels) or (vmware, qemu, etc) respectively. I can’t speak for the mac side, but Red Hat has got a decent virtualization manager (libvirt and friends) that makes getting a windows VM up and running a few clicks, and is free, and also works in non-redhat distributions. Ignoring libvirt, qemu is pretty easy to use by itself.

    I’ve used EC2 quite a bit for a past project, and the overhead to getting windows remote (set ec2 firewall rules to allow rdesktop/vnc/winrs/whatever, etc) going there seems like a loss given the free-and-local alternatives in Linux.

  3. Posted October 28, 2008 at 10:41 | Permalink

    @Jordan: Windows VMs are never free. The VM software might be free but you have to own a Windows license for every VM instance (if you fire up two VMs and you have only bought one Windows license then you are pirating.) As far as I can tell Amazon EC2 factors the cost of the Windows license into your EC2 costs.

    If that is the case then EC2 gives you a cheap and easy way of firing up Windows instances without having to buy licenses.

  4. Posted October 28, 2008 at 11:12 | Permalink

    Jordan: actually, until I read this, I was staring down the barrel of a VMware reinstall, not looking forward to it at all. No matter how easy libvirt makes things, it still involves setting aside a large chunk of disk, rebuilding kernel modules, installing XP (which itself is time-consuming and awkward), and dealing with the generally cranky build quality of VMware Workstation on Linux.

    I haven’t tried qemu; VirtualBox I tried, but it seemed like a slightly less polished VMWare, so I gave up.

    All in all, it would have been a night of time-wasting and a sunk cost of wasted disk space. an on-demand EC2 node fits my needs much better.

    In fact, as Paul notes, it’s a moot point now. Since my current laptop is a Mac, I didn’t pay the Windows Tax when installing — so I no longer have a copy of Windows to install legally anyway! ;)

  5. Posted October 29, 2008 at 03:28 | Permalink

    @Paul – Neat. Seems like they’ve solved the “crap nobody wants to deal with” part of on-demand windows needs. That’s excellent :)

    @Justin – I’m a big fan of qemu, but I’ll agree the setup costs are nonzero with any option these days and you might just end up fighting kernel/module problems. Having this trivial in EC2 sounds promising especially for those who don’t have an unused license laying around.