AWS logoIf you’ve been hesitant to try out the cloud and some of the services that Amazon offers, you may want to pay attention to this.

Beginning November 1, new Amazon Web Services customers will receive an unprecedented amount of services for free to introduce you to their services and how you can implement these into your web workflow.

Here’s what you get.

  • 750 hours of Amazon EC2 Linux Micro Instance usage (613 MB of memory and 32-bit and 64-bit platform support) – enough hours to run continuously each month*
  • 750 hours of an Elastic Load Balancer plus 15 GB data processing*
  • 10 GB of Amazon Elastic Block Storage, plus 1 million I/Os, 1 GB of snapshot storage, 10,000 snapshot Get Requests and 1,000 snapshot Put Requests*
  • 5 GB of Amazon S3 storage, 20,000 Get Requests, and 2,000 Put Requests*
  • 30 GB per of internet data transfer (15 GB of data transfer “in” and 15 GB of data transfer “out” across all services except Amazon CloudFront)*
  • 25 Amazon SimpleDB Machine Hours and 1 GB of Storage**
  • 100,000 Requests of Amazon Simple Queue Service**
  • 100,000 Requests, 100,000 HTTP notifications and 1,000 email notifications for Amazon Simple Notification Service**

Seriously – you get all this. I’m stunned. That’s basically a free server for a year from Amazon, storage, load balancing and more.

So how can you integrate these into your web workflow?

1. Backups and content delivery

With 5 GB of free storage, use it to backup your blog or website. There are automated plugins for many CMS and blog systems, especially WordPress.

If you run WordPress, use the TanTan S3 plugin to have media that you or your content creators upload go right to S3 and be served from there. Why? Bandwidth and storage space mostly.

2. Try out a new plugin, code framework, blogging tool, CMS, etc.

With the micro server, you can fire up whatever you want and try it out – especially if you’ve always wanted to run, say, Ruby on Rails on a CentOS server, this is your opportunity to try it out.

3. Get out of your comfort zone.

I’m a pretty heavy AWS user, and I’ve never used their SimpleDB or Simple Notification Services before. I’m going to use this free tier (on a new account, naturally) to put them through their paces and see if they are things might make my job easier on any given day. I’m especially interested in the notification service.

The folks at Amazon Web Services sure are busy. Today, they’ve announced a new type of cloud server as part of their EC2 platform: the micro server.

These very small servers are good for things that don’t need a ton of throughput, such as load balancers, CRON-based tasks and proxies. Amazon gives some tech specs for these new machines:

Micro instances provide 613 MB of memory and support 32-bit and 64-bit platforms on both Linux and Windows. Micro instance pricing for On-Demand instances starts at $0.02 per hour for Linux and $0.03 per hour for Windows.

If you ran a micro server all the time, it’d run you roughly $15 USD, which isn’t bad for a server that you can set up to do quick tasks and (auto)scale as needed using Amazon’s CloudWatch service.

One of the things to know about these servers is that there’s no local storage offered as part of them, which is probably a big reason the cost per hour is so low. Instead, you set up an Elastic Block Store, which is basically a disk image you setup that lives in your S3 storage account. The nice thing about this is that the block doesn’t go away when you turn off the instance. With Amazon Elastic Block Store, you only pay for what you use. Volume storage is charged by the amount you allocate until you release it, and is priced at a rate of $0.10 per allocated GB per month Amazon EBS also charges $0.10 per 1 million I/O requests you make to your volume. So be aware there may be some additional costs when using EBS with the micro server.

All in all, a pretty interesting offering by Amazon. The commodity price of these servers is falling fast – $0.02 an hour at Amazon, $0.015 an hour at Rackspace. Pretty amazing.

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Rackspace and Mosso’s new Cloud Servers product. Cloud Servers will compete with Amazon’s EC2 product. Here’s a quick overview from their site:

Cloud Servers will be priced per instance hour and will start at $0.015 per hour ($10.95 for a full month of usage). Since you only pay by the hour, it will be really easy and affordable to spin up a new instance for testing or development—and then simply remove it when you’re done.

I’ve finally had a chance to log in and start up a few Cloud Servers and let me tell you, I was very impressed. The administrative control panel is easy and quick to navigate around, the servers started up quickly and accessing them via SSH was a breeze.

Here are a few other thoughts I had from spending an evening with Cloud Servers…

I like the fact you can make backups and they make automatic daily, weekly and monthly backups of your data. If you are worried about losing data, you may want to do automatic backups more often. If your Cloud Server instance happens to crash, they are able to migrate some data. They say:

One of the most significant differences between Cloud Servers and EC2 is the persistence of each virtual server. Cloud Servers has access to local, RAID10 disk storage—much like you’d expect in a physical server. This is important because it means your Cloud Server has inherent protection against drive failures. If for some reason the host does fail or become degraded, we will restart and/or migrate your cloud server for you. A failure doesn’t mean that your cloud server goes away.

Keep in mind – similar to EC2, if you shut off your instance, your data is lost.

I like the different varieties of OS available, including CentOS, Ubuntu, Debian, Gentoo and Red Hat. Because of licensing issues, if you use Red Hat, you will pay a little more for your server. Amazon does this with EC2 servers running Windows.

I found connecting via SSH much easier to do compared to Amazon’s system of keypairs and certificates. Cloud Servers give you a root password. I’m not saying Amazon’s way is bad or Cloud Servers are less secure, but it was easier to just grab the password and connect. This may be useful if you have multiple people working on a Cloud Server instance.

I very much like the fact you can run a server for $11 a month + bandwidth costs.

One thing I like about EC2 is the fact you can get machine images pre-configured for a multitude of uses – LAMP, ROR, video encoding and more. When you start a Cloud Server, you’re given a blank slate. When I started my first instance, I wasn’t sure how to even get Apache installed and running, though I eventually found their extensive help documents. BTW, I installed Apache on CentOS using this:

sudo yum install httpd mod_ssl

In the end, I’m sure this could all be automated but it would be great if Mosso would let you save a setup or suite of apps you’d like to have installed at startup. I’d wait a few more minutes for my server to be live if I didn’t have to manually install Apache, MySQL and PHP every time.

Overall, I’m very pleased with Cloud Servers. Ease-of-use coupled with Rackspace’s support makes this a strong player right out of the gate. I know I will definitely include them when planning new web apps in the future.

Here are a few screenshots I took while spinning up my server.

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