Amidst COVID-19 closures, many educators have sought to virtualize ArcGIS to support their courses. One of the ways is to leverage the AWS Educate Program, which provides EC2 instances (virtual computers), among other AWS services, as well as enhances student’s knowledge of cloud environments in general.
Given recent experiences shared by a couple of educators, we wanted to take the opportunity to share lessons learned and provide further guidance in terms of running ArcGIS on EC2.
With the AWS Educate Program, there is a an option for a AWS Educate Starter Account, and "regular" AWS Account. The AWS Educate Starter Account does not support access to AWS Marketplace for EC2, which means that access to preconfigured Marketplace AMIs will not be available.
- Starter Account
- No credit card required sign-up
- Eligible for free credits through AWS Educate
- No access to Esri's ArcGIS Enterprise AMIs in Marketplace; have to share your own custom AMI to students, or have students install ArcGIS on their own.
- Regular Account
- Credit card required for sign-up
- Eligible for free credits through Educate
- Access to Esri's ArcGIS Enterprise AMIs in Marketplace; can share your own custom AMI to students, or have students install ArcGIS on their own.
The ArcGIS Enterprise AMIs are a wonderful way to start but are highly customized and have a large footprint/overhead. Unless you are teaching ArcGIS Enterprise in your course, if your intent is to just provide access to ArcGIS Pro and ArcMap, the recommendation is to create your own custom AMI, and share that with your students. Alternatively, have your students start from an appropriate base Windows AMI and install ArcGIS on their own.
Advantage of creating one’s own AMI, then making it available to the whole class is that you can also include other helpful tools in your own image (7-zip, Notepad++, Chrome, Atom, PyCharm, etc.). When this approach is taken, you would need to ask the students to send their AWS account IDs, then share the AMI with those IDs (i.e. an additional step).
In terms of covering any outstanding costs, AWS has provided codes that could be distributed to students and redeemed for AWS credits, so consider reaching out to AWS directly.
Also, it should be mentioned that, yet another approach is to have an AWS centralized account for the class/department, and instructor or staff spins the instances for the students, using a similar pre-configured AMI approach. The advantage of a centralized account is that the students do not need individual AWS accounts (i.e. lesser amount of steps), which has worked well for some institutions. However, there are associated costs, though AWS could also provide codes/credits for educational purposes to cover the costs.
Feel free to review the following webinar on “Enabling Remote Access and Virtualizing ArcGIS”, outlining additional virtualization options.
If you are considering Azure as an environment, the videos below from our colleagues from Esri Canada will be very helpful.
- ArcGIS Desktop Azure VMs, Sizing, Cost and Sample Templates
- How to Launch pre-configured ArcGIS Desktop virtual machines in Azure
Thank you to Peter Knoop, University of Michigan, and James Detwiler, Penn State, for sharing their experiences above.