Having worked at Stackdriver for 3 months now, I feel that I have become as knowledgeable in IaaS as anyone can without having actually used it. So it seemed now was the perfect time for me to roll up my sleeves and spin up an instance or two. In order to make it constructive, I decided to do this on the industry’s 2 most popular platforms – Amazon Web Services “EC2” and Rackspace “Cloud Servers” in order to test how easy they are (or aren’t) for newbies. Since first publishing this article, I have also tested and rated Windows Azure by Microsoft.
The Sign Up
I found both relatively simple to set up, with the usual personal information and credit card details requested. An automated AWS system called me to verify my identity, but this only took a few seconds. A Rackspace “Racker” called me personally within minutes of setting up my account to field any questions I had, which I thought was a nice touch.
I noticed that Rackspace’s interface was much simpler than that of AWS (possibly because of fewer options and features), and I requested a server with two or three clicks. Once requested, my server (Ubuntu 12.1, 512 MB RAM, 20 GB disk) took 5 minutes to be ready. EC2 was a bit more difficult, but did offer me the option of using either a quick launch wizard or their classic wizard. After going through pages of intricate options (many of which I didn’t understand), my AWS t1.Micro instance was ready in about the same amount of time as Cloud Servers.
Connecting to the Server
This is where my inexperience really began to show. Both provide browser-based and terminal connections. To connect to my Rackspace server, I used iTerm, an SSH-compatible terminal. I then ‘pinged’ my server (apparently this tells you that it exists) and then successfully connected to the server using a username and password given to me. All of this took about 15 mins. The EC2 server seemed to be more complex, and thus I decided to use the in-browser applet. Firstly, I had to download a key pair for SSH and, after the maze of options I’ve grown to expect from Amazon, I connected to my server.
Although I found both to be novice-friendly, Rackspace was definitely easier for non-technical people. Connecting to my server (although it involved using terminal commands) was seamless, as was spinning up the server. Even if their UI wasn’t as simple to use as it was, I had a “Racker” waiting on the other end of the line to help. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure AWS deserves to be market leader with its rich feature set, but in this instance it may be this asset (and the endless choices that go with it) that make life harder for greenhorns like myself.
Although it beat AWS, Rackspace didn’t surpass Microsoft’s IaaS platform – Windows Azure, which I have since reviewed.