What if you could get a Linux server running in 5 minutes or less and have it cost you a couple of cents per hour? You can, and I'll tell you how.
Probably the easiest way to launch a virtual machine in the cloud is by getting yourself an account with Amazon Web Services. Essentially, that means you need a credit card so you can be billed for the time and resources you use. The price per hour for a small instance (the default machine) is 8.5 cents per hour. If you run your test machine for a hundred hours, it will cost you $8.50 -- larger deployments cost more, obvioulsy. Take that over the course of a month and you're paying as much for a small system as you would renting physical hardware from a hosting provider. One important difference here is speed. Where you may have to wait a day or two for a machine from your hosting provider, creating an EC2 virtual machine is blindingly fast in comparison. Deploying a new machine here takes only a few minutes on average.
Amazon also has a "micro" instance which you can get for only 2 cents per hour. Tiny mean you only have 8 GB of disk (EBS, or Elastic Block Storage) and 613 MB of memory. Performance is low, but hey, it's only 2 cents an hour. Great for testing.
Everything takes place from the Amazon EC2 management console (see Figure 1). The dashboard view shows you current instances (what Amazon calls your virtual machines), what type they are, their status, IP address and so on. The dashboard also lets you sort on a variety of criteria including the region in which your machine is deployed (you can have machines in Virginia, California, Ireland, or Singapore). It also provides access to your volumes (storage devices), snapshots, security profiles, SSH key pairs, and pretty much anything having to do with running a virtual machine in Amazon's cloud.