There’s been some larger interest in using Amazon AMIs to do academic research. I took my work installing the SEASR MEANDRE development infrastructure as an Amazon AMI instance to the folks over at SEASR/NCSI last Spring, in time for their visit to the U. Victoria DHSI (which I had the great pleasure of attending back in 2010). They shared the AMI work there, and my friend Jason Boyd (fellow DHSI class ’10) took it over to THATCamp Victoria the following week. This sparked the intests of James Smithies, who coined the term “Academic AMIs” and launched this site to try and support the use of various academic software packages using the AMI infrastructure. I think it’s a fabulous idea, and hope I can encourage some others to head over to James’ site and lend a hand.
It also brings up an infrastructure problem that I’ve been working with here at U Penn. I’ve been consulting with the excellent IT group here at the University in working on a few different projects, including MEANDRE, archive hosting, and demoing the use of TILE in the classroom. The challenge we’ve kept running in to is that it’s much easier to get a net-based project up and running if it is hosted outside the university, because of various security concerns and issues. For initial development, this isn’t so much of a problem, but when you start talking about longer-term projects (even if small), and University support, it gets more complicated.
This morning I was talking with John MacDermott, Warren Petrofsky, and Jim English different ways to provide new projects with sandboxes — a place to get up and running before worrying about longer term support and infrastructure issues. And this is one place where I can imagine Academic AMIs being hugely useful — particularly if we can package AMIs that are ready for certain kinds of work. I can imagine pre-packaging WordPress, or say a Media Server package with interface, or just about anything else, as an AMI Image, storing a library of these images, and then giving step-by-step intstructions on how to deploy one of these images to an Amazon EC2 account. If the University hosted maybe a couple of tech folks familiar with the process, they could help the researcher step over any of the immediate configuration hurdles. We could also provision funding for AMI support, university domain-name forwarding, etc. As Smithies shows in the Academic AMIs that he’s already stored with Amazon, there’s lots of potential in this kind of pre-packaged AMI support. He already has packages for Omeka, “Semantic” Drupal, and Open Journal. Here’s hoping that more people show interest.