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How to run NodeXL on a connected Mac (or other platform) using Amazon EC2

I have a MacBookPro.  I can run Windows very nicely using various Virtual Machine products like VMWare’s Fusion or the free and open VirtualBox.  In these virtual machines I can run Windows and Office and then NodeXL.  It’s pretty neat to see Windows inside the Mac OS window.  I am always amazed that it works at all.

But I try to avoid doing this as the main way I run NodeXL at almost any cost.  My Mac session slows to a crawl, my Windows session is slow, and the overall usability of the system degrades too much.  If you focus on JUST NodeXL in the VM it works well, but context switching is too demanding.  So I mostly focus on NodeXL on a Windows machine.  When I travel I usually just have my Mac laptop and miss having a zippy version of NodeXL at hand.

Recently, I discovered that Amazon EC2 offers a remarkable way to have my cake and eat it too: I created a modestly powered .micro instance of Windows XP and Office 2010 and installed NodeXL.  I then use the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client for Mac OS X to get a window into the remote virtual instance.  This system can be a bit slow, it responds a bit like a NetBook, but it does not slow down my Mac OS X instance and can be reached from any machine with the Remote Desktop client and internet access.  For those who need a more speedy response or to handle larger data sets, Amazon is happy to sell more powerful instances of Windows for modestly more pennies per hour.  For example, the .small instance is merely $0.13/hour or $3.12/day and offers much faster responses. Of course, if you turn the instance off when you are not using it, Amazon does not charge anything.

Recently Adam Fields, my colleague at Morningside-Analytics did me the great favor of recording the process of creating a new .micro instance of an Amazon EC2 Windows system.

Following each step will lead you to the creation of your own virtual machine into which you can install Office and NodeXL.  You can then access this image, which runs continuously until you Terminate it – even when you close computer you use to remote desktop.  This is both a bug and a feature – the system runs no matter the state of the computer you use to access it.  Just remember to really turn off the instance if you do not want to pay a recurring fee! You have to actually _Terminate_ the instance to avoid paying fees shutting it down isn’t enough.

Also note that the AMI Adam used in the video was a 64-bit one, which doesn’t have a “small” option, it jumps straight from micro to large. If you want the small option, you have to use the 32-bit AMI, which is right above the one he picked.

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