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"if it works, rather than replicating the change on your "real" machine, you can just cut over to the new one and shut down the old."

Interesting! Any other hacks enabled by EC2 and the like that make life much easier than real dedicated hardware?

I do this too, not for risky migrations, but for daily updates. The app relies on a data service that's normally read-only, but gets fresh data daily. When everything was running on the bare metal, we had to schedule the updates for the middle of the night and carefully migrate the data in-place to avoid interrupting service. It would take 8 to 12 hours.

Since we moved to EC2, updating is simpler. The service runs on a micro instance. We launch a large instance to do all the CPU- and IO-intensive processing that prepares the new dataset, then launch a new micro instance, upload the dataset, run a few smoke tests, and if all is well, cut over to it. Because we're doing it off line, we were able to optimize the data processing for speed rather than low resource usage, and cut the runtime down to 45 minutes.

One thing that's often missed in discussions of IaaS versus bare metal is that the elasticity of a particular application can be affected by its design. When we were running on dedicated machines, we smoothed out the load to avoid idle hardware, but after moving to EC2 we concentrated it into spikes to get maximum productivity from running instances. In our case, spiky load is better from a business point of view, because serving data that's 1-25 hours old is better than data that's 8-32 hours old.

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