Make the most of free Amazon Web Services

If you avoid the gotchas and keep a close eye on resource consumption, you can have a useful server in the Amazon cloud for free

Make the most of free Amazon Web Services

The best way to think of the free tier to Amazon Web Services is as a stepping-stone. It allows you to get your feet wet with the basic mechanisms of AWS and EC2; to understand Amazon's handling of virtual machine instances, storage, data, and networking; and to create an item that can eventually be hosted on a full-blown, for-pay AWS instance. It also lets you learn how to manage and constrain AWS usage. If you're not careful, you may end up paying for your "free" AWS usage after all.

In this article, we'll look at what the free tier offers and on what terms, then take a closer peek at what's possible or practical within those constraints. In the long run, any serious AWS user will want to take fuller advantage of what the Amazon cloud has to offer -- but why not make the most of the free resources in the meantime? With the free tier, you can find your legs with AWS, start some projects, and maybe even build a functional application or three.

As a side note, check out one of the more ominous statements in Amazon's documentation about the free tier: "We may stop accepting new registrations for the Offer at any time." This may be boilerplate CYA on Amazon's part, but if you're thinking about setting up a free-tier account, you might as well do it now and get in on the action while it's available.

What do you get for your $0 a month?

The AWS Free Usage Tier provides just enough access to many AWS components to get up and running. But even if it doesn't give you all the resources you might want or need to assemble the server of your dreams, you can certainly create something useful. But don't expect it to scale well for unrestricted public use. Here's a rundown of some of the most useful AWS components and what you get with them on the free tier.

Compute. You can run a t2.micro instance of a Linux or Windows Server machine on EC2, configured with 1GB of RAM, for 750 hours per month. That's an entire month of free, continuous CPU usage.

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