Set Up a Web Server with Alibaba Cloud Simple Application Server

This tutorial introduces SAS, the Simple Application Server service from Alibaba Cloud that lets you provision a cloud-based server in just a few minutes.

Prerequisites

To start using the SAS service, you’ll need an Alibaba Cloud account. If you don’t already have one, head over to the Free Trial page to get $300 worth in New User Free Trial. There you’ll find a range of free trials and always-free products that will help you understand the facilities available to Alibaba Cloud SAS users.

Introducing SAS

Cloud servers provide a convenient, flexible, quick and cost-effective way to create compute instances. Because they have the ability to satisfy the need for so many use cases, buying a server can often seem daunting. There are so many options to choose from.

When you need a one-off server for a more common scenario, such as a file store or a WordPress installation, Alibaba Cloud offers another option. Simple Application Server or SAS lets you create a cloud-based server from a more limited set of options. These give you access to common features but limit your access to the advanced ones.

With SAS servers, every management option is available from one web-based console. So it’s easy to administer your server, register a domain name for it, configure the DNS, apply a security certificate, and monitor your server’s performance, and so on. Advanced enterprise-level features such as load balancing and Express Connect are not available. You don’t even have to create a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) as this is done automatically for you.

A SAS server is quick to setup with options for both Windows and Linux operating systems. Prices start from USD $4.50 per month.

Configurations

SAS servers are currently available in a range of commonly-requested configurations. You can choose a basic LAMP instance (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) ready for you to install your applications. If you want to run WordPress, a SAS instance with WordPress fully installed and configured is also available.

If you prefer a base operating system but nothing else, then this is also available in both Linux and Windows flavors.

Getting Started

To view the SAS options and to create a server, log into your Alibaba Cloud account and from the main console, choose the Products menu at the top of the screen. Then choose Simple Application Server.

If you already have some SAS servers, these will be listed. If not, you’ll see a link to buy one. There’s also a Create Server button in the top right hand corner which will do the same thing.

Note that conventional servers (known as ECS instances) are not listed on the SAS screen. So if you have both SAS and ECS servers, you’ll need to go to the relevant area of the console in order to manage them.

To create a new SAS server, simply click on the Create Server button and you’ll see the following screen.

As you can see, the options are limited and straightforward so it’s really easy to get your new server up and running. You just have to choose a location, image and instance plan.

Choosing the Location

To start, choose the location of your server. That is the international Alibaba Cloud data center in which it will be based. At present, you can choose either Silicon Valley (USA), Sydney (Australia) or Frankfurt (Germany).

It doesn’t always matter which location you choose, but there are some things that you need to take into account. Once the server is created, you cannot change the location and therefore it is very important to choose the location wisely.

If the majority of your server’s users (such as the people who visit the website hosted on it) are geographically much closer to one location than any of the others, you may wish to choose that location for your server. Connectivity will be slightly faster and it might arguably make a better impression on your business if its website is hosted in the country where most of its trade takes place.

The other consideration when choosing your server location is the total amount of monthly data transfer. While the base option at $4.50 offers 500 GB of data transfer per month for servers hosted in Sydney, the traffic allowance is doubled for servers in Frankfurt and Silicon Valley. Similarly, the $9 package gives you 1 TB (1000 GB) of traffic for a server based in Sydney and 2 TB for servers elsewhere. So if traffic allowance is more important than the location for you, choose accordingly.

Click on the hosting regions in turn and observe the details in the instance plan boxes, and you’ll see the current offerings.

Note that a SAS automatically creates a VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) for your servers. All of your servers in a region are placed in the same VPC and can thus communicate with each other. Conversely, SAS servers in different regions and thus in different VPCs can’t communicate with each other. So if you create more than one server, you’ll need to bear this in mind. (If you need servers in different regions to be able to communicate with each other, use conventional ECS instances and the Alibaba Cloud Express Connect service, which provides this facility).

Choosing the Image

When you’ve chosen your location, it’s time to choose your server type or image. There are two tabs in this section of the screen, namely Apps Image and OS Image. If you want a server with WordPress installed and ready to use, choose the Apps Image tab and then choose WordPress.

Note the additional option to choose an expanded version provided by Alibaba Cloud. This option is suitable if you intend to install a security certificate on your SAS server. It will make the process easier.

For a LAMP server that’s all set up and ready to use with the PHP application of your choice, (including WordPress, if you prefer to install it yourself) choose the LAMP option. This image is based on CentOS.

The OS Image tab, adjacent to the Apps Image one, offers a choice of servers that comprise a base operating system with no additional components.

You can choose from CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu and Windows Server 2008R2or Windows Server 2012 R2. Select each one in turn to view the data allowance, price and other details.

Windows servers include the operating system license – there is no additional charge for this.

Choosing a Plan and Duration

With your server selected, you then need to choose an instance plan. A plan comprises one or more CPU cores between 0.5 and 8 GB of RAM, monthly transfer of between 0.5 TB and 5 TB and between 20 GB and 80 GB of disk space. All SAS disks use solid-state SSD drives.

Choose the plan that best suits your budget and requirements. For Windows servers, you’ll need a plan that offers at least 40 GB of disk space.

The final option is to choose the length of your server subscription.

By default, your SAS server will last for one month and won’t auto-renew. If you think you’ll need it for longer, adjust the option to suit your requirements.

When everything is according to your requirements, check the settings on the panel at the bottom of the screen and then press Buy Now.

For this tutorial, we will buy a WordPress server from the Apps Image tab for one month, based in Frankfurt and on the $4.50 per month instance plan. With everything selected on the order screen, we click the Buy Now button.

The order confirmation screen allows us to review the order and we then click Pay to finalize it. After a few moments, we receive a confirmation that the transaction went smoothly.

Return to the main console and select Simple Application Server from the Products menu again. You will see that your server is being provisioned. Wait until it’s complete.

Once the process is complete, your server is ready to use.

Testing the Connection

SAS makes it very easy to verify that your server is up and running, with no need to install and configure a terminal program on your computer or create any firewall rules or security groups. You don’t even need to know the password. (Don’t worry about security – the feature only works while you’re logged into your Alibaba Cloud account).

For a Linux-based server such as our WordPress one, we can connect to it via the web-based console. To do so, log into Alibaba Cloud, go to the main console, choose Simple Application Server from the Products menu and you’ll see your new server listed.

Click on the Connect icon as shown above and you’ll instantly be logged into the server using the terminal. (Note that there is no need for you to do this right now – it’s not required in order to set up WordPress).

To log out, type exit and then close the browser terminal window.

Management and Configuration

With your new SAS server up and running, the precise steps that need to be taken will depend on the specific server type and its intended use. You should be able to accomplish all necessary management and configuration tasks from the server’s management menu, which you access from the right-hand icon in the server’s entry on the console screen.

For our WordPress SAS server, we click on the Details link and the screen looks like this:

You can see all of the key details about your server, including CPU utilization and disk size, as well as the amount of traffic that you’ve used so far. It’s a good practice to keep a check on these figures to ensure that the server is not running out of disk space or data transfer and that CPU usage isn’t running too high.

Application Setup and Domain Name

The central section of the screen, labeled Application Setup, shows us the steps required to get our new WordPress installation running. Step 1, purchasing the server, is labelled as completed and so we now need to set up a domain name for it.

For this tutorial we’ll buy a brand new domain name and link it to our server, so that people can use the name in order to access our new WordPress site.

Click on the Add Now link to get started. You’ll see something like this.

Click the Add domain name button.

If we’d already bought a domain name, we could enter its details here in order to set up a DNS. That would allow people to type the domain name into their browser in order to access our site. But as we don’t have a domain name yet, click on Buy Now.

The domain “my-test-wordpress.site.com” is available (i.e., no one has registered it). So we’ll add it to the cart and then buy it for one year.

Check the details and then make the payment.

In just a few seconds, you should see a confirmation message that the purchase was successful.

It will take a few minutes for the domain name registration to be added to the global DNS database, so wait a while. Then return to the console and to your list of SAS servers. Choose Details from the management menu on the top right-hand corner of the server box, and refer to step 2.

Once again, click on the Add Now link to add a domain name.

Click on Add domain name as we did before and enter the name of the domain you just bought (without any www at the start).

Repeat the process with a leading www at the start of the domain name, so that people can access your new site via either combination.

After a minute or so, you should see that both versions of the domain name are “Resolved”, which means that the names are now associated with your SAS server.

Your new server is now ready. Type your new domain name into a browser and you should find that WordPress is now up and running. You won’t be able to log into WordPress quite yet, as you don’t know the admin password but we’ll fix that in a moment.

Server Settings

The next step on the application setup wizard is labeled Server Settings. In the case of a WordPress server, clicking on the link will take you to the firewall settings.

If you click on the number 3 link, you’ll see that three firewall rules have already been pre-configured for you.

These rules allow anyone to connect to your server via ports 80 (used for standard websites with URLs that begin with http), 443 (for websites protected with a security certificate which have a URL beginning with https), and port 22 (for SSH connections that are used for accessing the command line).

If you need to, you can modify or delete any of these rules and you can add new ones too.

WordPress Admin Password

To administer your new site, you’ll need to log into WordPress and to do this you’ll need to find out the admin password that was created automatically when you ordered your SAS server.

From the server’s menu on the console under SAS, click on Details.

In the Application Setup wizard, click on Deploy Application, then click on Set Now on the screen that subsequently appears.

You’ll see a screen like this. Make sure you are looking at the WordPress Information section and not the MySQL Information section that is immediately below it.

As you can see, your WordPress administrator username is admin. To find its accompanying password, click on the Copy button to the right of the command that starts with sudo grep (there’s no need to select it first).

When you’ve clicked the copy button, click on the Connect button to connect to your server. A new terminal window will open.

Right-click in the terminal window and choose the Paste option (or paste as plain text, if there is one). The command you copied will now be pasted into the terminal window. Press the Return key to run it.

Your WordPress admin password will now be displayed. (If you want to know the MySQL database password, do the same thing on the MySQL Information section. It’s a good practice to find the database password and make a secure note of it, but it’s not essential right now and you can always find it later).

If you forget the WordPress admin, you can use this procedure again. But if you change the password via the WordPress administration panel, this procedure will no longer return the correct password.

Now that you have the admin username and password, you can log into your WordPress site by adding /wp-login.php to the URL or by clicking the Login link on your site’s home page.

If all is well, you should see the admin page for your WordPress site and you can now manage it as you wish.

The first thing you should do is click on the Settings menu and provide your site with a title and a tagline. Then enter your email address so that it can send you an email confirmation.

You should also fill in the URLs, replacing the IP address with the domain name that you purchased. This will fix the issue, which you may have already noticed, that the URL address bar in your browser sometimes shows the site’s IP address rather than using the proper domain name.

Improving your Server’s Security

As mentioned above under Server Settings, your server is protected by a firewall that only allows connections to its web server (ports 80 and 443) and its command line (port 22). In this configuration, anyone can use a terminal program to reach your server’s login page and attempt to guess the password in order to access its command line. Assuming that they don’t guess the password correctly, your server is safe but this is a risk that you can easily mitigate.

Once you’ve logged into the server, in order to note down the WordPress admin password, you no longer need access to your server’s command line. Therefore it’s a very good idea to delete the firewall rule that allows someone to attempt to access it. This adds a powerful extra layer of security. No one can now try to guess your login password, because they can no longer access the screen from which they need to try.

You can always put the rule back in place at a later date if you need access to the command line.

Conclusion

Alibaba Cloud Simple Application Server is a fast and economical way to create a cloud server. This tutorial has shown you how to create a server from scratch, with WordPress pre-installed and configure a domain name to access your new site. If you have followed all of the steps above, you now have a robust, powerful server of your very own, running a properly configured WordPress installation.

Because your WordPress server runs PHP and MySQL, you can also install additional programs or features on it. Feel free to explore the options on the SAS menus, to add features to your existing server or to create even more SAS servers.

Because all SAS servers that you create within a hosting region are automatically assigned to a single VPC or Virtual Private Cloud, they can communicate with each other via their internal IP addresses, allowing you to build even more powerful cloud-based systems in the future.