How to make the most of the AWS free tier

Free is a powerful incentive. When I taught a course on web frameworks at the local college, we designed the assignments to ensure that all of the experiments could be done quickly with Amazon Web Services’s collection of free machines. Each student created, built out, and stood up more than a dozen different servers and they didn’t add a penny to their student debt.

This is a good example of why Amazon and the other cloud services offer hundreds of different ways to try out their products. New products are born, tested, poked, and prodded for only the cost of the developer’s time. If the code makes it big and starts generating enough revenue, the developers can grow into paying customers. If it doesn’t and they don’t, at least the developers will become comfortable with the tools and probably turn to Amazon for the next project.

The free tier is not just for ramen-eating students. Sometimes asking the boss for a budget line, no matter how small, means triggering a series of questions and meetings that demand explanations. A number of good developers test their plans on free machines because it’s much more impressive to present a running prototype than a slide deck with some mockups.

Amazon offers three different kinds of free services. Some are short-term samples, allowing you to evaluate a new service for a month or so. They’re meant to get teams to explore new products. Others are like a generous welcome wagon for new developers who sign up for an AWS account. They can start exploring without the worry of a bill because they last a full year after you create your new account.

The most generous are the “always free” offerings that keep going and going. Some developers make it a point to build their products to live in the free tier as long as possible. It’s a bit of a game because development resources aren’t too expensive at first. They may be saving a few dollars. But this focus on the bottom line can produce good applications that are cleanly engineered to use a minimum of AWS’s resources. When they scale, the bills will scale a bit more slowly. 

Here are 10 suggestions for how to play the AWS stack and generate the smallest bills using the freest of services.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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