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I have been considering using the Amazon cloud (EC2) for a small workflow application. In terms of power and storage, a SQL Server Express database will more than meet my needs. I have been cautioned against paying for just a Windows server instance and installing SQL Server Express due to mainly security issues.

Is it reasonable to think that there is an Amazon Machine Image (preconfigured images that you can load onto your instance) with SQL Server Express installed where most of the server "hardening" has been taken care of?

The wise course may be to just pay for the Windows + SQL Server instance so it is already configured for me, but it is quite a cost difference.

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I think your best bet would be to use the pre-configured "Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 with SQL Server Express and IIS" AMI that is available from "Quick Start" tab on the launch instance dialogue. You can run this windows image on most kinds of instance types, so at a pinch you could use a micro instance which would keep costs down.

The firewall feature (called "Security Groups" in amazon parlance) on EC2 should allow you to lock down the server pretty quickly. You can disable all inbound ports and only open up the ones you need very quickly. As this is a pre-configured SQL Server AMI, I imagine it would have undergone some security related configuration, but as always you'll need to check this yourself when you create the instance.

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