I was talking to a friend (lets call him Dave) the other day. He had a good idea on how he could run his QuickBooks accounting software in the cloud. By running the software in the cloud, he wouldn’t need to ship QuickBooks backup files back and forth to his accountants, he could just launch a cloud instance and let the accountants RDP into the instance and use the software.

It sounds great, but Dave is cheap and he wanted to run this on an EC2 t1.micro and the machine just couldn’t handle it. So of course he wanted to upgrade the instance. Being the cloud computing guy that I am, he called me up and asked me how to do it. At first, I thought it was a silly question, and I told him that of course it is impossible to upgrade the memory on a running EC2 instance.

Looking back now, I’m starting to think his question was actually a good one because the answer forced him to confront one fundamental reality of cloud computing. Think about it. It’s logical to think that if your machine is low on resources, a good solution might be to add more resources to your running instance, but that’s not the way things work in the cloud. If you can’t change your application, and you can’t change the load, and one instance of your application overwhelms the resources on your machine, then you only have one option: throw away your machine and get a larger one.

You may have heard this kind of advice before, but let it sink in. Your server instances are completely disposable. You should be able to terminate every last one of them, throw them completely away, and be ready to rock again when you launch fresh ones. This isn’t a new idea, and it isn’t brain surgery, but it is hard work and that’s where you need to spend your time when you’re getting started with cloud computing.

I work at RightScale, so I may be a little biased, but we do have a nice set of tools to get you started on this path. Do a quick Google search for servertemplate to see what I mean.