In this article, we’ll go through all the steps necessary to set up a basic Windows virtual machine (VM) in Amazon Web Services (AWS).
In AWS, the service used to manage VMs is called Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Thus, the first thing we need to do is access the EC2 service from the AWS Console homepage:
This brings us to the EC2 dashboard. We can click Instances in the left menu to get to the page where we can manage our VMs (note that we can also launch a VM / EC2 Instance directly from here):
The Instances page lists any VMs that we already manage, and allows us to launch new ones. Click on one of the Launch Instance buttons to create a new VM:
The next step is to select something called the Amazon Machine Image (AMI). This basically means what operating software and software you want to have on the VM. In our case, we’ll just go for the latest Windows image available:
The next thing to choose is the instance type. Virtual machines on AWS come in many shapes and sizes – some are general-purpose, whereas others are optimised for CPU, memory, or other resources. In our case we don’t really care, so we’ll just go for the general-purpose t2.micro, which is also free tier eligible:
Since we’re just getting started and don’t want to get lost in the details of complex configuration, we’ll just Review and Launch. This brings us to the review page where we can see what we are about to create, and we can subsequently launch it:
One thing to note in this page is that the instance launch wizard will create, aside from the EC2 instance (VM) itself, a security group. Let’s take note of this for now – we’ll get back to it in a minute. Hit the Launch button.
Before the VM is spun up, you are prompted to create or specify a key pair:
A key pair is needed in order to gain access to the VM once it is launched. You can use an existing key pair if you have one already; otherwise, select “Create a new key pair” from the drop-down list. Specify a name for the key pair, and download it. This gives you a .pem file which you will need soon, and also allows you to finally launch the instance.
Once you hit the Launch Instances button, the VM starts to spin up. It may take a few minutes before it is available.
Scroll down and use the View Instances button at the bottom right to go back to the EC2 Instances page. There, you can see the new VM that should be in a running state. By selecting the VM, you can see its Public DNS name, which you can use to remote into the VM (though we’ll see an easier way to do this in a minute):
Before we can remote into the machine, it needs to have its RDP port open. We can go to the Security Groups page to see the security group for the VM we created – remember that the instance launch wizard created a security group for us:
As you can see, the VM’s security group is already configured to allow RDP from anywhere, so no further action is needed. However, in a real system, this may pose a security risk and should be restricted.
Back in the Instances page, there is a Connect button that gives us everything we need to remote into the Windows VM we have just launched:
From here, we can download a .rdp file which allows us to remote into the machine directly instead of having to specify its DNS name every time. It also shows the DNS name (in case we want to do that anyway), and provides the credentials necessary to access the machine. The username is Administrator; for the password, we need to click the Get Password button and go through an additional step:
The password for the machine can be retrieved by locating the .pem file (downloaded earlier when we created the key pair) and clicking on the Decrypt Password button. Note that you may need to wait a few minutes from instance launch before you can do this.
The password for the machine is now available and can be copied:
Now that we have everything we need, let’s remote into the VM. Locate the .rdp file downloaded earlier, and run it:
You are then prompted for credentials:
By default, Windows will try to use your current ones, so opt to “Use a different account” and specify the credentials of the machine retrieved in the earlier steps.
Bypass the security warning (we’re grown-ups, and know what we’re doing… kind of):
And… we’re in!
If you’re not planning to use the VM, don’t forget to stop or terminate it to avoid incurring unnecessary charges:
The VM will sit there in Terminated state for a while before going away permanently.