If you have ever wondered how to get a Linux EC2 node down to the bare minimum this post is for you. I have been wanting to do this for a long time but it wasn't possible until pv-grub support that was added recently. To make this even more exciting Amazon now offers EC2 micro instances that will go well with this type of bare bones system.
You may wonder why you would want to do this. I'll give you at least two reasons. First there is speed. The configuration I ended up with will boot in about 14 seconds. Almost all of that time is spent waiting on the AWS DHCP server for an IP address. The second reason is security. There is little on this system that you don't need. The majority of what you need is provided by a single application that you can easily monitor for patches. That leaves you to worry about only the tools you must have to get your job done. I'll also include a couple downsides. First this isn't going to be easy for everyone and it can be fairly complicated. The second issue you will run into is that there is nothing in this distribution. If you need something like PHP you might spend a long time building all the support you need. There isn't much to be done about the complexity if you want to do this all yourself. Selection of tools can help you lessen the impact of the bare nature of the system, more on that in a future post.