Having fun with the cloud on a budget

I’ve always had one or more servers at my disposal as I’ve worked on various projects. Over the last few years I’ve been heavily involved with work projects and haven’t had much time for anything personal. But I’m trying to change that a bit and keep myself sharp on new technologies.

Cloud is everywhere, and it’s one of those terms that everyone says but few people really understand. At it’s core you could say cloud just means “the Internet”, as in “my files are stored in the cloud”. And maybe it originally did. These days now cloud refers more to a kind of highly-scaleable, highly-available virtualized infrastructure that is hosted by someone else. Amazon Web Services is probably the most well known, but there are lots of other players out there.

The general concept is you pay based on usage, like you would your electric bill. It’s really pretty fair. So if you use 10 virtualized servers for 5 hours in a day, and scale back to just one for the rest of the day, you only pay for that usage. However even at the lowest tier on AWS, you end up paying about $10 a month if you wanted to run one server continuously, so creating a real infrastructure for fun can end up being costly (to the hobbyist). Naturally the costs are fine for an actual company who is profiting from it.

So what’s a hobbyist to do? I still have one bare metal server left these days, a rack with a Xeon 5160 and 12GB RAM. I decided to purchase a second Xeon, 8GB more RAM, and will be installing VMWare’s vSphere Hypervisor (ESXi) on it, which is free. It has limits, but nothing I’m going to run up against (>8 vCPUs, more advanced monitoring, etc). I plan to create a few micro instances on it to run basic services, and want to start using infrastructure automation tools to manage the instances. Things like Packer, Consul, and other really interesting things from HashiCorp that I’ve always wanted to play with.

I still plan to have fun with AWS instances for now, experimenting with launching and killing infrastructures, given I’m in the free year/tier on AWS. But most of my persisting fun will be happening on my rack, which won’t cost me anything.

As I go through this transition and process, I plan to document some learnings and examples back here.