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I have a situation where we on a regular basis need a freshly installed "virgin" Windows installation to do various work in isolation on, and building one from scratch every time in a vmware instance is getting tedious.

Perhaps there are cloud offerings providing a service allowing to request one or more Windows instances and after a very short while they were available for logging in through Remote Desktop? After usage they were just recycled without having to pay for a full Windows license every time.

Do this exist for a reasonable price? What is your personal experiences with this?

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"building one from scratch"? You can't make backups? You can't use CloneZilla on the golden copy? –  S.Lott Jan 28 '11 at 10:53
    
@S.Lott, thank you for suggesting other means, but I'd much rather have an answer to my question, please. –  user1249 Jan 28 '11 at 11:34
    
@rwong, I do not have Datacenter Edition available to me. –  user1249 Jan 28 '11 at 11:47
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@Thorbjørn: your real question is: how can we improve our testing situation. Thats what we'll answer. I bet you've done the same thing answering other people's questions. –  whatsisname Jan 28 '11 at 16:22
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6 Answers

I don't know about a service, but we need something similar where I work and we will often just clone a VMWare virtual machine that is in the virgin configuration. If you don't need to keep your changed machines because it's just a QA task you can just save a snapshot of the empty machine, do your testing and then go back to the snapshot when you are finished. It only takes a minute or two to restore a snapshot in my experience.

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This brings in licensing issues. I do not believe that Microsoft allows that usage. –  user1249 Jan 28 '11 at 10:19
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Certainly returning to a snapshot doesn't- that's no different to simply over-installing on the same machine repeatedly, except faster. As to cloning, I think there are some differences with regard to licensing for virtualisation and licensing for physical machines, but it seems to me that if I have ten licences and I'm running 9 vms, Microsoft aren't going to care if half of those are clones. Especially as this QA process exists to make the software developed work better with their platform. –  glenatron Jan 28 '11 at 10:23
    
thank you for suggesting other means. I am still interested in insight on what I actually asked. –  user1249 Jan 28 '11 at 11:36
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There's about 18 bajillion Window VPS hosting services out there. Just google 'Windows VPS hosting'. Most VPS hosts let you wipe out and reset the machine to a base state of some sort whenever you want. Thats one of the big benefits of VPS hosting.

BUT, I agree with the commenters that you'd probbably be better off with a VM and using snapshots. I do this with VirtualBox all the time. Thats exactly what its designed for. The problem with hosted instances is, unless this is the goal, you're getting an OS build specifically catered for web/app hosting. So that means, for example, Windows 2k8, not Windows 7, and the ram/drive space will be limited.

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Thanks for your response. Are there any of these hosting services you have personal experiences with? –  user1249 Jan 28 '11 at 23:17
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In my experience, rewinding to a VirtualBox snapshot takes about 5-10 seconds. Don't know if you'll be able to beat that with a VPS or cloud instance. –  Sharpie Jan 29 '11 at 0:23
    
@Thorbjørn, unfortunately not for Windows, no. I've only used Linux on VPS hosts. –  GrandmasterB Jan 29 '11 at 4:50
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I know that Amazon AWS have Windows AMIs available. I've never used them (whereas their Linux support is fine) and I don't know if the price is suitable for you, but they're there. Login after they're booted is indeed via RDP (I've seen that in the docs).

I've no idea what the details of the licensing side of things are. It wasn't relevant when I was researching this all last year (since we weren't working with Windows apps at the time).

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I'm pretty sure the licensing responsibility is all on Amazon, since they're providing a Windows environment (as opposed to a raw VM environment where you have to install your own OS). –  TMN Jan 28 '11 at 15:30
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Yes, you can do this through Amazon, but if you've got a significant software load time, it'll be slower than working with a VM. With EC2, you just specify the type of environment you want (they have a variety of pre-configured images), hook it up with some block storage and start installing your software. Use it for as long as you want, then just throw it away.

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You can look at Rackspace Cloud Servers if you would like to look at an alternative to Amazon. I've used them to set up a Windows + SQL Server + IIS box to do some testing and they are pretty reasonably priced if what your doing isn't that bandwidth intensive. There's no windows license to mess with, you just pay by the hour for the windows instance.

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Try CloudShare, they give 3 instances with the possibility of choosing between various Windows versions. Also you can build and environment and save a snapshot so you can share an online copy of it.

You can change your environment as much as you want, that means you can have short-lived Windows instances for testing your software, or whatever, and then remove the instance and create a brand new Windows clean instance or even upload a VMWare image of yours.

The Pro version is free, it's not a trial and no CC needed.

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