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Stressed by seasonal spikes? Cook up an Amazon EC2 instance with vCAC

Dealing with workload overload? You may want to lighten the load off your servers by using an Amazon EC2 instance with help from VMware's vCAC.

More companies have found buying hardware to tackle seasonal workload demands wastes money when that equipment will sit idle for most of the year. One way to manage those peaks and minimize costs is to use a cloud service, such as an Amazon EC2 instance.

This tutorial will walk virtualization administrators through the basic setup of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) with version 5.2 of vCloud Automation Center (vCAC). This may go without saying, but all management of virtual machines should be managed through vCAC, not the EC2 interface on Amazon.

Getting started with EC2 in vCAC

Start by going to Enterprise Groups in vCAC and creating a new enterprise group. See Figure 1. Name it and fill in the credentials. For this test, I used my domain admin as the enterprise administrator. We have not defined the compute resources yet.

New enterprise group
Figure 1: Create a new enterprise group in vCloud Automation Center.

Next, add the Amazon resources to your vCAC setup by going to the vCAC administrator page. Select Endpoints and use the green drop-down on the right to select New Endpoint. Click Cloud and then Amazon EC2. Fill in the details. With the credentials component, select "..", New Credentials and it will present you with a screen as seen in Figure 2.

EC2 instance identification
Figure 2: Enter the credentials for your Amazon EC2 instance.

This is where you will need your Amazon EC2 Access Key ID (username) and password. To get an Amazon EC2 account, go to  

Enter your login information to create the credentials. After a short time, vCAC will have gathered the information it needs to continue. Go to Enterprise Groups and Edit Enterprise Group. See Figure 3. Now you will see various Amazon zones. Choose the most appropriate one; it should be the same one you selected when you set up your Amazon account. Click OK.

Selecting the Amazon zone.
Figure 3: Choose the Amazon zone for your compute resources.

You can check on the progress of your data collection by clicking on Log Viewer under vCAC Administrator. See Figure 4.

Now go to Enterprise Administrator, Computer Resources to see the Amazon cloud. Enter the details or select from the drop down. You also need to pick the security groups. Choose Default, which basically is "allow all." (These settings can be changed later but is beyond the scope of this article.)

Go to Enterprise Administrator and select "New Blueprint" to configure the available machines for the group administrators to approve.

vCAC Log Viewer
Figure 4: The Log Viewer application shows the progress of the data collection.

Give it a name and description. For a globally available blueprint, leave a check in the Global blueprint checkbox. Fill in the other details, including number of instances allowable per user. Click on the Build Information tab. Select the Blueprint type; this is usually server. The provisioning workflow should populate automatically.

Next, select an Amazon image by clicking on the box with ".." next to Amazon Machine Image. There are several dozen images available. You can select the platform you wish to target, i.e., Windows or Linux. To restrict the search, enter a keyword, such as "Windows," in the platform window.

After choosing the Amazon instance, pick the most appropriate instance type. In this example, we are creating a micro Amazon instance; Amazon gives away a year's worth of free micro instances for testing purposes.

Blueprint setup in vCAC.
Figure 5: Set up the blueprint for available machines for the group administrators

Notice that, when using configured instances, most of the Machine Resources are fixed. To customize access, click on the Security tab to change what users can and can't do.

Next, you can deploy a new instance and experiment. Go to Enterprise Administrator, click on your blueprint and select Request Machine. Fill out the information, build information then click OK. The build on the Amazon cloud may take some time; to check the progress, look at the workflow history and you should see items such as AmazonEC2LaunchInstance and AmazonEC2PowerOn.

When complete the machine will appear under "My machines" under Self-Service. Click on the instance and the option to connect using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) will appear in the sub-menu. Your password can be found by clicking on the "."

Troubleshooting connectivity issues and other tips

If you are having issues connecting to your instance, it is probably a firewall issue. To correct this, go into the EC2 management console on the Amazon site and go to Networks and Security. Tick the box of the rule to edit to open a drop-down configuration box at the bottom of the screen. I would recommend enabling the Internet Control Message Protocol suite to check connectivity between your machine and the EC2 instance during the setup process.

Note that password generation can take 30 minutes or more, so be patient when building the instance. There may be additional delays because information must be downloaded to vCAC during the building process.

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