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Notes on creation of Windows AMI in EC2

Posted by Anton Khitrenovich on December 24, 2013

AWSCreating AMI from Windows instance in AWS is simple and easy. The whole process is well-documented, yet here are several notes that I made while experimenting.

Running Sysprep Tool
In the VMware world, you can convert a VM to a template at any moment. Deployment of multiple clones is made possible via Customization Specifications mechanism, where you define how to customize the new VM after cloning. As part of the customization process, vCenter will run Sysprep tool – after the instance was already cloned. In contrary, AWS wants you to run sysprep before the cloning, as preparation to AMI creation. You can do that via EC2ConfigService settings (see below) or manually, but former seems to be the preferred and recommended way.
The unwanted side effect of running sysprep on the original instance is that many of the original instance settings (instance name, Administrator account etc.) are actually reset during the cloning process. There are workarounds that can help you to deal with some consequences, but not all of them.

EC2ConfigService
The EC2ConfigService is Windows service provided and installed by AWS, which takes care about a lot of useful customizations behind the scenes. Examples are generation of Administrator password (one that you retrieve via “Connect” button in EC2 Management Console), setting of computer name, display of system information on the desktop wallpaper and a lot more. But the most important task is to deal with instance cloning – that is, make sure that stuff that is supposed to be unique is really unique and make this cloning process simple and easy.
Note that you cannot install this service on a Windows instance imported from other systems (for example, VMware vCenter). You’ll have to start your original instance from AWS AMI if you want to use EC2ConfigService there.

Instance Name
The name of the original Windows instance will be reset during sysprep process to the default semi-random name provided by AWS (in the form of “WIN-<something>”). The only workaround for that is to use “Set Computer Name” from EC2ConfigService settings. This flag instructs EC2ConfigService to (re)set system name according to the internal IP adrress – which remains constant during the instance lifecycle. The resulting name will not become much more readable, but at least it will not change during the AMI creation process. You’ll have to remove this flag manually on the cloned instances to set more meaningful names there.

Administrative Accounts
The Administrator account from the original instance will not make his way to the cloned instances, so any customizations made there will be lost. The workaround is to create an additional account with administrative permissions and perform the desired customizations there. There are many settings that will go this way too (for example, regional settings or pinned taskbar items), but some will survive – desktop shortcuts, windows explorer options and more.
Another tip is to choose “Keep Existing” in the “Administrator Password” section of EC2ConfigService configuration. While it won’t help you to retain current password in the new instances (because Sysprep tool on Windows 2008 resets it anyway), at least the Administrator password of your original instance will not be changed.

AMI Creation Steps
This is not an ultimate guide on how to create AMI, but rather a note/reminder to myself…

  1. Create a new EC2 instance from AWS AMI
  2. Create new administrative account and start using it instead of the build-in one
  3. (optional) Use “Set Computer Name” option from EC2ConfigService settings
  4. Customize your instance – install software, add desktop shortcuts etc.
  5. Start EC2ConfigService settings utility, go to the “Image” tab and perform the following:
    • (optional) Under “Administrator Password” section, select “Keep Existing” option
    • Click “Shutdown with Sysprep” button and confirm the prompt
  6. Wait while the Sysprep process completed and the instance shuts down
  7. Right-click the instance in the EC2 Management Console, choose “Create Image” and follow the instructions

Tip: Disk Size
When you launch an EC2 instance that you plan to convert to AMI later, pay attention to the disk size. Remember that the disk of the AMI must be at least that big, and the same applies to any instance that will be launched from the new AMI. Provisioning 10GB of spare storage in your AMI will cost you $1 per instance per month, which may be kinda painful in the yearly bill (do the math yourself).

One Response to “Notes on creation of Windows AMI in EC2”

  1. […] VM Images Just like AWS, Azure provides you large set of images to start your VM from. There is no marketplace for 3rd party images yet, but you can create your own images if you need to. Two major differences here are the need to go through all sysprep burden on your own and the fact that the original VM is deleted (sic!) after it was captured as an image. Yet, this may be not that bad to avoid some confusion, considering that original instance is mostly wiped after sysprep. […]

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