Free Amazon Web Services -- and how to make the most of them

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

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Assign an elastic address to save yourself a lot of headache. An elastic address doesn't add a significant amount to your bill, and it allows for easier connections to your system. This goes double for Windows instances, because the Remote Desktop connection tool stores the connection address and password together. Each time your site is provisioned with a new IP address, you have to create an entirely new Remote Desktop connection to reach it.

Back up items in the cloud. You never know when the server you'll be working with may bomb on you or have to be re-initialized. It's better to have any pertinent data already in Amazon's cloud instead of needing to be tediously re-uploaded. An EBS Snapshot is one really convenient way to do this, although you get only 1GB of snapshot storage on the free tier. Alternatively, you can attach an EBS volume and back up files directly to it, the way you'd perform backups from a conventional system to an external drive.

Where from here?
Once you've gotten the hang of AWS in the free tier, you'll probably be itching to try something higher up the food chain. The next step up from the micro instances is the M1 Small instance, with twice the memory and a full compute-unit's worth of CPU. Most M1 instances start at around $15 a month.

If you're a penny-pincher who doesn't need a server running 24/7, consider a spot instance. With spot instances, you bid for computing capacity by specifying a maximum price you're willing to pay per hour. If the current price per hour for spot instances goes over that amount (it fluctuates based on supply and demand), your instance will stop running.

Finally, if you want to run something sporadically, such as a backup server, check out the reserved instances. A reserve instance lets you pay a one-time fee for a fixed length of time -- one to three years -- and obtain a significantly discounted hourly usage fee. As of this writing, a single M1 Small Linux instance can be had for as little as $61 a year, plus an hourly rate of 3.4 cents -- or around $354 for the whole year assuming 100 percent utilization.

M1 Small, spot instance, or reserved instance -- they're all pretty affordable. By the time you graduate from the free tier to one of these, you will have accumulated plenty of practice using Amazon's tools and keeping your costs in line.

How to make the most of the Amazon Web Services free tier
Spot instances let you run a machine on unused capacity by bidding for it. It's a useful way to run a machine intermittently for little money.

This article, "Free Amazon Web Services -- and how to make the most of them," originally appeared at Follow the latest developments in cloud computing at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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