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What is RONIN?

RONIN is a web application that gives you an easy way to get access to the Amazon Web Service (AWS) cloud service without needing to understand the AWS interface.

It offers a wizard-based approach that makes it more accessible to a wider range of users. This is particularly appropriate for users who need one or more VMs to replace physical machines and cloud storage. This doesn’t give you access to all the AWS infrastructure options available directly from Amazon. What is provided should be sufficient to replace physical infrastructure in many situations.

The current service offers a curated set of images, with particular focus on security. This list is intended to be expanded over time.

The upstream service also includes a huge selection of images and software that are not automatically available to Cambridge users, although you may see them documented.

If you have a particular need for somethiing that is not available, please contact uis-ronin-admin@lists.cam.ac.uk to discuss adding that software stack to the list.

RONIN users can deploy a virtual machine (VM) across a range of sizes, with many different features just as you can from AWS directly.  It gives you access to some of the AWS storage services (S3, EFS). These components can be used together to provide you with an appropriate virtual machine to get your work done.

One of the most appealing elements of RONIN is that you can apply budget controls to your projects. If something goes wrong, the machine will automatically shut down but keep your storage live. You will not run up a large bill, and your data is kept relatively safe.

Benefits and challenges

  • Easy point-and-click interface to creating virtual machines on AWS with a secure Linux image.
  • Common administrative tasks are done for you (for example, IAM, Firewall and networking are configured out of the box).
  • Any scale of virtual machine from small to enormous.
  • Any scale of storage you might need.
  • Control of your budget (set your own limits; automatic VM shut-down while retaining all your data.
  • Access to a secure, locked-down Linux image on which you can install the software you want.

The challenges are that:

  • you need to be comfortable being an admin on the Linux or Windows machine.
  • you must patch or re-install the secure images approximately once a month to remain secure.

Is RONIN right for you?

It is aimed at researchers who need some resources (potentially specialised resources), for a relatively short period of time, who want increased simplicity, but are comfortable being administrators for the machines for the period that they are running for.

It is not aimed at long-running machines, such as institutional web servers.

This service is good if your requirement is short and time bounded (a few months at most). It is an alternative to buying and installing a physical machine yourself. 

You will have access to a pre-installed image of a secured and patched OS (RedHat, Ubuntu or Windows). You can connect to is as an admin user via SSH for Linux or RDP for Windows. At this point you will be able to install the software you need. The virtual hardware can include several specialist features, for example access to CUDA hardware, or machine learning.

Available images

This list will be expanded with images from the AMI marketplace. These images are currently available:

  • CIS Linux (secured):
    • Debian 
    • Ubuntu 
    • RHEL 
    • Amazon Linux
  • CIS Windows 2019 

Eligibility 

This contract is primarily targeted at researchers, but is appropriate for any short-lived institutional cloud needs. 

The University's RONIN agreement applies to the core University. It is not available to Colleges and other Institutions affiliated to the University.

Procurement

UIS has purchased access to this service through the SLRA framework. The billing goes through UIS, meaning that as a University customer of this service you are purchasing within the institution so there are no further purchasing complications for institutions.

Billing

The costs of operating RONIN are the prices for AWS usage. Charges are passed to UIS, which administers the billing. Your costs will be recharged to the purchase order provided at project set-up time.

Data management

You must confirm that the data storage you wish to use is appropriate for the data you need to process. This is particularly important with personal and medical data.

Account management

Control is delegated on a per-project basis to the staff using the service. Your local IT staff need not be involved, however it may be prudent to do so. You will need an appropriate person to set up and allocate the budget and provide UIS with a purchase order.

How to apply for a RONIN account

Email uis-ronin-admin@lists.cam.ac.uk.

You will normally start with a test account to evaluate the service. Test accounts are likely to be free. Once you are satisfied that it is right for your requirements, you would move to a live account to do the actual work. You should have an idea of your budget before migrating to the live service so that you can set appropriate limits for your project. 

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