Sandboxing Academic Infrastructure

Consider this scenario. A web application comes across my radar that I want to try out. I attempt to install it and I realize I need a server to run it. I do not have access to a server and I do not want to pay for one without knowing that the web application is worth it. One potential solution to this problem is to use an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) on the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). While not an easy task to implement for a beginner, the difficulty in setting up an AMI should be lessened by reading Amazon’s documentation. AMIs can qualify for up to 12 months of free use.

An AMI is a, “special type of pre-configured operating system and virtual application software”, that lets users run virtual machines on Amazon servers. If for example, an individual wanted to test software that required a server with a LAMP (Linux, Apache HTTP Server, MySQL, and PHP, Perl or Python) software bundle installed, an AMI could be used to run it. AMIs can be thought of as sandbox environments to test out software, at low cost, without making changes to existing infrastructure.

James Smithies, a Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand conveniently provides a number of pre-configured Academic AMIs:

It is important to note that without modification, an Academic AMI is not intended for uses other than testing out a web application. On this point James writes, “default usernames / logons for all aspects of the web applications loaded onto these AMIs are in the public domain, through the ReadMe files provided with each AMI.” As a result standard Academic AMIs are not secure enough to support a sustained public facing service like providing access to a digital collection using Omeka and Neatline.

For guidance on how to make an Academic AMI more secure be sure to read all of the documentation provided on the Academic AMI site thoroughly, in addition to Amazon’s documentation on how to run a public AMI securely.


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