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Being a few months in with my Acer C7 Chromebook as my only laptop i’ve very pleased with what it does, I do have the Crouton Ubuntu chroot installed and upgraded the device to 16Gb of Ram, however there is one core thing I miss with this setup. VMWare/Virtualbox. I find i’m often building virtual machines, usually Ubuntu to test bsh scripts or build LAMP Environments to test some PHP out with. That isn’t something i’m able to do even on the CHROOT Ubuntu environment.
All however is not lost, and i’ve found a way to get round this..
Google an Internet company took a leap of faith with the Chromebook, a web based operating system with the whole idea being as minimal an operating system as possible. In the Chromebooks case this is just ChromeOS a chrome browser with a minimal underpinning of Linux providing the core OS functionality. While this provides a light weight system with the least amount of user interaction possible compared to the relative heavyweights Windows and OSX, it does leave a limited amount of scope for what you can run on ChromeOS.
Applications on ChromeOS come in the form of WebApps, Websites built to provide application like functionality, a good example of this is Evernote.
There are times when you need more than just a web browser , in my case its the need to build virtual environments for testing, and learning, however it turns out, for a cost, it is possible to get a VMware/Virtualbox type system in the cloud and the tools to develop in it should you so wish.
In IT terms virtual means its not really there, its a system which lives inside another system, or on top of one. a Virtual Private Server is a server which lives on a server in the cloud. A company will build a rack of powerful servers with lots of disk space and even more RAM. On those servers runs a hypervisor, a bit of software which is a cut down, but more powerful version of something like VMWare Workstation or Virtualbox which you may have run on your Desktop. this rack of physical servers can then be split up into potentially hundreds of smaller virtual servers.
There are a lot of companies from the huge and well supported Rackspace right down to others we’ve never heard of who are providing these Virtual server farms and a whole range of pricing to go with it, different prices which will buy you servers with different Operating Systems, Windows, Linux (Ubuntu and CentOS seem to be the big two), different amounts of EAM and different hard disk sizes. Most of the systems have a web interface for managing your chosen server configuration and from what I Can make out most of them provide the ability to expand drive space, up or remove RAM and some even give you the ability to have periods of increased network activity which can help costs on peak times.
With such a choice where did I go? DigitalOcean a company advertising on the omgubuntu.co.uk website. for £5 a month my choice was an Ubuntu 12.10 32bit server with 512Mb ram and 20Gb of SSD based disk space. Remembering i’m using this for simple testing and basic development work. The virtual server gets a static external IP address which you can link to your DNS Server should you need it.
Setting up the server on DigitalOcena is called setting up a droplet where you choose OS, RAM and HDD then the website takes about a minute to create your new fresh built machine. In my case this was Ubuntu 12.10.
The website provides you with an interface for powering on, or off the server and when powered on provides an HTML5 based Console to your server.
You can also use the secure shell extension for ChromeOS to SSH into your server from outside the Web interface. You are provided root access and emailed a password (which you can change).
Being a virtual machine it is possible to take snapshots of your device, enabling you to go back to a working configuration should you make a mistake. If you should so wish you can also destroy the whole machine and start again.
Being ChromeOS we are looking to do this with, on a low powered ChromeBook this setup gives you access to virtual machines, which are internet facing, can be setup as webservers or accessed from other machines should you wish. The servers are backed up and the fee covers networking and the like.
How do you edit your website code?
SO you have your Virtual cloud based server and you are looking to do some development work on it, the first hurdle i found was there are ways of developing on the Chromebook, however i like to use SFTP to get the files up to the server and there is a lack of tools for getting the client to talk to the server using SFTP. So I needed to find a method of developing from the client directly on the server. I needed some form of IDE.
Its at this point I get a little out of my league, I know I can setup Cloud9 to directly attach to the server, and edit the files in my /var/www folder on ubuntu. Cloud9 uses nodejs and ssh to connect to the server, which is pretty easy to get working at the server end. The IDE interface can be setup to work with PHP frameworks, which i’m not using. It does however syntax highlight for PHP the way I have it setup.
The interface provides a tree interface for navigating your files, and the majority of the display is the text editor, there is also a really useful display the the foot of the display which provides you with an SSH console on the server. There is a very intuitive file menu which you can upload, edit, copy, paste and loads of other features.
My only criticism of the interface is its a bit slow, not 2 seconds slow, milliseconds, just slightly noticeable however considering the amount of networking going on, its more than usable.
When using a Chromebook although the dynamic changes, this experience has shown me that this model of computing requires some different thought processes to achieve the results you are looking for. yes I could just as easily do this with a normal PC, however this model does give me an always on, web managed solution. For what it would cost me to buy a copy of VMware workstation I can have this VPS for 2 years. Prices will come down, or specs will rise that is the nature of the computer business.