TurnKey 11.2, free micro instances, EBS backed cloud servers

TurnKey 11.2: micro instances, EBS support, built-in TurnKey DNS, security updates

We just updated the web site and the TurnKey Hub with the new TurnKey 11.2 maintenance release, which includes:

  1. TurnKey Hub support for micro instances, Amazon's free tier and cloud servers backed by persistent network-attached storage volumes (AKA EBS backed instances).
  2. Built-in support for TurnKey's new dynamic DNS service.
  3. The latest security updates.

TurnKey Micro instances: 2 cents/hour or 0 cents/hour for a year with the free tier

We've added support for micro instances (613 MB RAM), Amazon EC2's smallest cloud server type which costs just 2 cents an hour to run, which is less than $15/month if you run a server 24x7. If that isn't close enough to free for you, Amazon is giving away a year's worth of micro instance usage to new users as part of their free tier program.

This means many of you will now be able to try out TurnKey in the cloud free for a year. Yay!

We would have added support for micro instances as soon as they came out except Amazon designed them to work differently from other instance types we already supported. In particular, we had to add support for EBS backed instances...

EBS backed instances: cloud servers that can be turned off any time

Up until now the TurnKey Hub only supported S3 backed instances. These are non-persistent cloud servers with temporary storage that is lost once you destroy the server. This means you can't just turn off an S3 backed instance to save usage fees when you are not using it, though you could work around this limitation by using TKLBAM to backup a cloud server before destroying it and later restoring its state into a new cloud server.

With the support we've added for EBS backed instances, this limitation has been removed. EBS is what Amazon calls its on-demand Network Attached Storage service. The catch is that the Hub has to pre-allocate a fixed size EBS volume for your cloud server to boot from. Unless you are in the free usage tier you'll have to pay an additional $0.10/GB per month in EBS storage fees for the convenience (e.g., 50GB EBS volume == extra $5/monthly). The ability to turn off servers when not in use may make up for this extra cost though.

Speaking of costs, the pricing structure on the TurnKey side is a bit different for EBS backed instances as Amazon doesn't allow vendors to add a 10% markup to hourly usage fees like we've been doing with S3 backed instances. So instead, we're probably going to be experimenting with a global fixed monthly fee for this feature. After the trial period ends (in a month or so). Currently there is no extra charge.

Note that this future extra monthly charge will not apply to micro instances.

A word of warning: EBS is not a backup replacement and EBS-backed instances still need to be backed up by TKLBAM. EBS volumes just provides data persistence. It's a network hard drive that lives in a specific Amazon datacenter. It is not a replacement for backups. For example, if the data on your EBS volume gets accidentally deleted or corrupted, without a backup system to restore from you will be out of luck. TKLBAM on the other hand provides true incremental backups, so good data can't be accidentally overwritten by bad. Also, TKLBAM uses S3, which is designed by default to provide 11 nines (99.999999999%) of storage reliability, much higher than EBS.

Security updates

As most of you know security updates are already installed automatically on first boot and nightly  (by default). If you're using an older version of TurnKey this means you don't need to do anything to get the latest security fixes. But for new deployments pulling a large number of security updates over the network can take considerable time, so occasional maintenance releases that already include them are a good idea.

We're in the process of upgrading our development process so this sort of update will be easier to do in the future and can be done as frequently as necessary.


Jeremy Davis's picture

That's great! In conjunction with AWS 'free tier' (not quite free as you still need to pay for EBS usage) many users new to AWS and/or cloud computing will be able to test out TKL very cheaply. A real bonus I think!

Looking forward to further developments! :)

Liraz Siri's picture

Thanks Jeremy. I'm also preparing another announcement for a TurnKey "secret weapon" later this week. There will be a cool little video demo too.

BTW, according to Amazon's free tier page, 10GB of EBS worth of monthly storage is included in the deal.

Jeremy Davis's picture

Cool, can't wait! :)

Also I missed that bit in the 'free tier' documentation, nice! I would imagine that for many TKL usage scenarios 10GB should be more than adequate!

Also, typo: Last sentence in the 'EBS backed instances: cloud servers that can be turned off any time' section: "Also, TKLBAM uses S3, which is designed by default to provide 11 nines (99.999999999%) of storage reliability, much higher than S3." Doesn't make sense... S3 is much more reliable than S3?? I'm assuming you meant S3 is much more reliable than EBS?

Alon Swartz's picture

Good catch Jeremy, thanks! I fixed the typo and some others which fell through...

Adrian Moya's picture

My experience with amazons free tier was that I ended up paying for the EBS. It was really cheap, but as I have a low amount permitted to use in my country, it really hurt me! I always was asking myself why they were billing me this, and thought I may have selected something wrong at setup. Now with your explanation of the two types of persistance (backed by S3 and EBS) I finally understood more about Amazon and why I got billed. BTW thanks for that class!

This is no doubt another great feature that adds to the already many features of TurnkeyLinux!

Chris Musty's picture

Can't wait to get my hands dirty with micro servers.

I think I read somewhere that EBS volumes are not as zippy as S3?

Is there any info or links to performance specs? - I am googling right now!

Chris Musty


Specialised Technologies

Liraz Siri's picture

There are inherent differences which make me suspect that the IO performance of EBS volumes is always going to be a bit lower than the IO performance of the temporary storage of an S3 backed instance.

S3 hosted images only have non-persistent storage that doesn't need to survive the destruction of the instance, so Amazon probably implements the storage as a volume on a physical hard drive attached to the instance's virtualization host. Or at least they could.

EBS volumes have to live on a storage network somewhere. You can make those very fast but there are additional layers of technology and complexity that are probably going to take their toll on performance.

In practice however, according to at least one benchmark I've found online, it's a mixed bag. Write performance is a bit faster, read performance somewhat slower. I understand larger instances are given greater IO priority. Also, keep in mind that these numbers are not set in stone. They are likely to change as Amazon develops their service.

Jeremy Davis's picture

And assuming that you are running v11.1 there should be no need for any further tweaking. It should all just work (although I strongly suggest you test it out prior to destroying your small instance).

Openg's picture

Hi There,

so what's the process of moving from small to a micro instance?

Thanks in advance,


Jeremy Davis's picture

Just run a TKLBAM backup on your current server and run a restore on your new one. Test before you destroy your old one but it should all go smoothly (assuming you are using v11.x for both - otherwise you may need to tweak some stuff).

Jeremiah's picture

Thanks for all that you keep doing to bring enhancements to TurnKey.  I can hardly wait to try some of these new features out.

Jeremiah's picture

I think the additional cost of using TurnKey AMI's really should be documented more clearly and made easy to find.

I know there are a number of forum and blog posts/comments that describe the additional cost to use TurnKey AMI's but this requires a lot of searching and interpretation.

I can't find any mention of the additional cost for AMI use on the TurnKey Hub pricing page or on Amazon's TurnKey Core AMI  web page.

In fact, TurnKey Hub's pricing page uses language and images to describe example usage costs but the values don't seem to include the additional cost.  In addition, the instance type drop down used when launching an instance from TKLHUB doesn't seem to include the additional cost.

Now it sounds like the pricing plans for EBS backed instances and S3 backed instances will be different.

It would be nice to have a clear and easy to find page describing what the additional costs are for launching TurnKey AMI's in TKLHUB as well as for launching them from Amazon's EC2 web/cli interfaces.

Alon Swartz's picture

We're in the process of updating some of the Hub's UX as well as the cloud tour and pricing page to include the new EBS pricing. Should be live in a couple of days...

Alon Swartz's picture

We are currently working on adding reserved instance support to the Hub, we'll make an announcement as soon as it goes live. BTW, reserved instances will only work with Micro and EBS backed instances due to limitations we have with the S3-backed instances.

If all you want is Micro instance support, you can enable it for free (no monthly fee, no usage premium) - just follow the link on https://hub.turnkeylinux.org/amazon/enable/. Enabling EBS-backed support will get you access to Micro instances as well as the larger instance sizes (small and medium).

Clarification: Micro instances are EBS-backed, and not available as S3-backed instances.

Clarification: S3-backed instances don't have a service fee ($0/month), but they do have +10% on usage fees (pay-as-you-go). EBS-backed instances on the other hand do have a monthly service fee, but no premium on usage fees (+0%).

For more information, I'd suggest going to the above link and clicking on the (?)'s for detailed explanations.

Alon Swartz's picture

Correct, except that there is no +10% on Micro instances - so it's just $0.02/hour.

If you can't wait for reserved-instance support to be added to the Hub, and want to reserve now, make absolutely sure that you select the correct availability-zone.


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