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Organizations choose to use public cloud computing services for a variety of reasons such as greater agility, scalability and higher availability. For some, cost savings is also a driver. In fact, according to the RightScale 2016 State of the Cloud Survey, 37 percent of businesses hope to reduce their costs by moving to the cloud.
However, companies don't always realize the savings they hope to achieve. When the RightScale survey asked people about the top challenges of the cloud, "managing costs" came in fourth, cited by 26 percent of respondents.
One of the reasons why it so difficult to control cloud costs is that the pricing structures can be incredibly complicated. In fact, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the undisputed cloud computing market leader, has a huge section of its website dedicated to explaining its extremely complex pricing.
For startups or small teams that are just getting started with cloud computing, one option for helping control costs is to take advantage of the AWS Free Tier. As with all aspects of AWS pricing, figuring out what you can get for free can be difficult. But the payoff of signing up for the Free Tier can be significant for small organizations with limited budgets.
In order to participate in the program, you must be a new customer. Some of the free services are available only for the first twelve months, while others don't expire. You can't carry over any unused minutes from one month to the next, and you have to provide a valid credit card number to participate. The full terms and conditions, as well as other AWS pricing information, are on the AWS website.
One other note: startups interested in getting AWS services for free may also want to check out the AWS Activate program. It offers AWS pricing credits, support credits, training and other resources for qualified startups.
AWS Pricing: Free for 12 Months
So what can users get for free? The following services are available free for the first twelve months that you are an AWS customer:
Elastic Cloud Compute, or EC2, is probably AWS's best-known cloud computing service. It offers scalable compute capacity for a variety of purposes. Under the AWS pricing structure, Free Tier users can get 750 hours of t2.micro instances running Linux or Windows. The t2.micro instances have just one virtual CPU and 1 GiB of memory. The 750-hour limit will allow users to run one instance 24 x 7 for an entire month, or they can choose to spread it across multiple instances, for example, by running two instances for a half a month each.
For organizations that are running multiple instances, AWS also offers a Free Tier for its Elastic Load Balancing service. It includes 750 hours of service per month, with 15 GB of data processing for Classic load balancers and 15 LCUs for Application load balancers.
Companies that are using containers might also want to check into the EC2 Container Registry. The Free Tier comes with 500 MB of storage.
Often used alongside EC2, Amazon Simple Storage Service, or S3, provides cloud-based object storage. New customers can get 5 GB of storage for free for the first year, with a limit of 20,000 get requests and 20,000 put requests.
For files storage, Amazon offers Elastic File System, or EFS. Like S3, it comes with 5 GB of storage free for the first 12 months.
Amazon's Elastic Block Storage, or EBS, comes with quite a bit more free storage: 30 GB. However, it is limited to 1 GB of snapshot storage and 2 million I/Os if you are using EBS magnetic storage.
Along with its free storage services, AWS also gives Web content providers a service for distributing media to users. Its CloudFront service transfers up to 50 GB of data for free with 2 million HTTP or HTTPS requests.
Amazon Relational Database Service, or RDS, offers six different options for SQL-based database engines: Amazon Aurora, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MySQL and MariaDB. Similar to EC2, the AWS pricing schedule for RDS offers 750 free hours of db.t2.micro Instances per month for the first twelve months. It also includes 20 GB of database storage (SSD or magnetic), 20 GB for backups on magnetic storage and up to 10 million I/Os.
Organizations that are interested in the superfast performance of in-memory databases might want to check out ElastiCache. Users can choose from the Redis or Memcached technology. The Free Tier includes 750 Hours of cache.t2micro Node usage per month, which includes 1 virtual CPU and 0.555 GiB memory.
For enterprises that need data warehousing capabilities, Amazon offers Redshift. Note that while most Free Tier offers include 12 months of service, Redshift only offers free service for 2 months. During that time, users get 750 hours of a dc1.large dense compute instance, which includes 2 virtual CPUs, 15 GiB memory, 0.16TB of SSD storage.
The AWS Free Tier also includes twelve months' worth or access to a variety of other less-well-known cloud services, including the following:
- Data Pipeline (cloud orchestration) —3 low-frequency preconditions and 5 low-frequency activities for free
- Elasticsearch Service (analytics search) — 750 hours of one AZ t2.micro.elasticsearch instance with 10 GB of EBS storage per month
- Cognito (mobile identity and sync) — 50,000 monthly active users, plus 10 GB of cloud sync and 1 million sync operations per month
- API Gateway (API publishing) — 1 million API calls per month
- IoT (Internet of Things) — 250,000 messages per month
- Trusted Advisor (cloud optimization) —4 best-practice checks, plus notifications and customization
- AppStream (application streaming) — 20 hours per month
- Elastic Transcoder (media transcoding) — 20 minutes of audio transcoding, 20 minutes of SD transcoding and 10 minutes of HD transcoding per month
AWS Pricing: Free Tier Doesn't Expire
The Free Tier also includes several offers that don't expire after twelve months. Many of these tools are of particular interest to Web and mobile developers. They include the following:
AWS Lambda is a unique service that allows users to run code automatically when triggered by another cloud service or by a Web or mobile app. Users who are enrolled in the Free Tier get up to 1 million free requests and up to 3.2 million seconds of compute time per month.
AWS's NoSQL database option is called DynamoDB, and according to the company, "Its flexible data model and reliable performance make it a great fit for mobile, web, gaming, ad tech, IoT, and many other applications." For free, users can get enough resources to handle 200 million requests per month, including 25 GB of storage, 25 units of write capacity and 25 units of read capacity.
To assist with mobile development, the AWS pricing schedule includes free access to several services. For example, developers can get a one-time trial of 250 minutes on Device Farm, a service that simplifies the testing of mobile apps on a variety of devices. In addition, the AWS Mobile Analytics service offers 100 million free events per month, and the SNSpush notification service offers 1 million publishes, 1 million mobile push deliveries, 100,000 HTTP or HTTPS deliveries and 1,000 email deliveries per month. And again, these free offers continue past the initial 12-month period.
Other developer tools that are part of the Free Tier program include CodeCommit, Amazon's source control service, which is free for 5 active users and 50 GB of storage with up to 10,000 Git requests per month. And CodePipeline, the AWS continuous delivery service, offers 1 active pipeline for free every month.
Other services that are free indefinitely on AWS include the following:
- Key Management Service (encryption key management)— 20,000 free requests per month
- CloudWatch (cloud monitoring) — 10 custom metrics, 10 alarms, 1 million API requests, 5 GB of log data ingestion, 5 GB of log data archive, and 3 dashboards with up to 50 metrics each.
- SES (email) — 62,000 outbound messages and 1,000 inbound messages per month
- SQS (message storing queue)— 1 million requests
- SWF(simple workflow service) — 10,000 activity tasks, 30,000 workflow-days and 1,000 initiated executions