Cloud Confusing

Explaining hosting, AWS, Wordpress, static sites, and all manner of cloud solutions.

Yes, Amazon Web Services has a free tier. This free (as in beer) stack is a 12-month program that gives developers who are new to AWS a powerful set of tools, though one that comes with some limitations. It can be seen as a gift from the massive AWS cloud or as a gateway to AWS lock-in, but either way it’s worth checking out.

Here’s the deal: Sign up to AWS with a new account and you get some free services. Some of these deals will expire at the end of 12 months, other will remain in your account (as in, they will continue to have a billing threshold as part of your usage of the service)

Here is a sampling of what you’ll get. If you don’t see the service you are looking for, you can check here. The most popular services are in bold.

Does not expire (this is the continuous free tier):

  • SES: 62,000 outbound messages/month to any recipient when called from a Amazon EC2 instance or Beanstalk, 1000 inbound messages/month
  • DynamoDB NoSQL: 25GB storage, 25 units of write, 25 units of read
  • Chime Basic: Unlimited usage
  • CloudWatch: 10 custom metrics, 10 alarms, 1M API requests, 5GB of log data ingestion, 5GB of log archives, 3 dashboards
  • Cognito: 50,000 MAUs
  • Glacier: 10GB of data retrievals/month
  • Lambda: 1M requests/month, 3.2M seconds of compute time/month

What does expire:

  • EC2: 750 hours/month of a t2.micro instance usage (Linux, RHEL, or SLES)
  • S3: 5GB of storage, 20,000 Get requests, 2,000 Put requests
  • RDS: 750 hours/month of db.t2.micro database usage, 20GB of database storage, 20GB of storage for database backups and snapshots
  • CloudFront CDN: 50GB transfer, 2M requests
  • API Gateway: 1M calls/month received
  • Cloud Directory: 1GB storage/month
  • Cognito: 10GB cloud storage and 1M sync operations/month
  • Comprehend NLP: 5M characters per API per month, 5 topic modeling jobs (up to 1MB each per month)
  • Connect: 90 minutes/month Connect usage, local direct inward dial number, 30 minutes/month of local inbound, 30 minutes/month of local outbound
  • EFS: 5GB storage
  • Elastic Block Storage: 30GB storage, 2M I/Os
  • Elastic Container Registry: 500MB/month storage
  • Elastic Transcoder: 20 minutes audio transcoding, 20 minutes SD transcoding, 10 Minutes HD transcoding
  • ElastiCache: 750 Hours cache.t2micro node usage
  • Elasticsearch : 750 hours/month of a single-AZ t2.small.elasticsearch instance, 10GB/month of EBS storage
  • GameLift: 125 hours/month of GameLift c4.large.gamelift instance usage, 50GB storage
  • Polly: 5M characters/month
  • Transcribe: 60 minutes/month
  • Elastic Load Balancing: 750 hours/month load balancing

What does expire before 12 months (known as “trials”):

  • Lightsail: 30-days free entry-level Lightsail with Linux/Unix or entry-level Lightsail with Microsoft Windows Server
  • Redshift: Two-month free trial with a DC2.Large instance
  • SageMaker: 250 hours/month t2.medium notebook usage for the 2 months, 50 hours/month of m4.xlarge for training, 125 hours/month of m4.xlarge for hosting
  • Appstream 2.0: 40 hours/month of a stream.standard.large instance for 2 months
  • WorkDocs and WorkSpaces: 50GB storage per user

What are the Catches?

AWS free tier is not without its limitations. For the first 12 months the stack is fairly complete, with over 60 AWS services included — 20 of those 63 will include some sort of continuously free offering. So it all sounds great, but don’t forget to read some of the fine print. Here are some catches:

  • Route 53 is not included so you’ll still need to pay for hosted zones, domains, etc.
  • Any service that uses an instance size, like EC2, is generally limited to a rather small instance
  • Many of the amounts are high enough that you can get locked in — like 50GB Glacier storage or 1M calls/month to API Gateway. These are thing that could be tricky to move away from in the future
  • There is no service or support included
  • No transfers from existing solutions are included
  • You cannot use free tier to mine for crypto. If you are caught, Amazon will charge you the normal rate and may suspend your account.
  • Not all AMIs (machine images) are available so if you plan on using a larger instance in the future, you might not be able to start with free tier, or you might need to move your image in the future
  • You will need a credit card to sign up
  • The free 12 months are time-based, not usage based so the clock is ticking after sign up
  • There is no rollover of quota from one month to the next
  • Free tier is not restricted. There are no guard rail! If you start using services that aren’t free, Amazon will charge you

AWS Free Stack

There are many discussions of what a free stack look like, here is the best one I’ve read. It uses API Gateway, Lambda, and DynamoDB (or RDS) to handle a web application. The stack recommends Google Domains for DNS, as Route 53 isn’t free.

You could also, say, host a static site on S3, use CloudFront for your CDN, Google Domains for your registrar/DNS, and AWS Certificate Manager and get a free, HTTPS static site.

What’s Not in the AWS Free Tier?

I’m still researching this, but the most notable services not in free tier are:

  • AWS Reserved Instances
  • Route 53
  • AWS Support subscription

How Do You Keep AWS Free Tier Free?

Amazon, not surprisingly, has lots of documentation about this. I’ll cover this more thoroughly if there is interest, but the two best reads are:

October 21st, 2018

Posted In: AWS

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