Amazon Cloud Hosting

Amazon is a huge player in the cloud hosting space. Cloud hosting is basically where a company fills a server farm with racks upon racks of physical computers, hard drives and routers. The company then uses software to combine the individual computers into a super computer which is then partitioned off into a series of virtual servers of varying sizes and types. The company then resells usage of these virtual servers to their clients. Amazon Web Services (the division which provides the service) offers a variety of different types of virtual servers, but the basic, and most flexible, is called Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2).

Amazon EC2


Instances can be thought of as the virtual processor, motherboard and RAM of the virtual server. Amazon offers three different types of Instances (On-Demand, Reserved, and Spot) and of varying different sizes.

On-Demand Instances

On-demand Instances are those you intend on using on a temporary basis. You are paying only for the amount of time you actually use the instance, so they are excellent for short-term projects and to get settings worked out.

Reserved Instances

Reserved Instances are instances which are dedicated to your account. They do not go away if you stop, or terminate them. Well, that is not quite correct. You are actually reserving usage of a particular type of instance, rather than a particular instance. The different levels of Reserved Instances are basically usage structures. You prepay to reserve an instance and in exchange get a discount on the hourly rate. Reserved Instances are ideal for long-term server applications, like website host, email servers, etc.

Reserved Instances Utilization Rates
  • Heavy Utilization - These instances are used 80%+ of the month.The core website and email servers.
  • Medium Utilization - These instances are used for 40-79% utilization rates. If you run a few heavy traffic websites, then these instances would be the load-balanced servers to support demand during peak times like the evenings and weekends.
  • Light Utilization - These instances are used for 17-30% utilization rates. This time frame corresponds really well with development servers that are started in the morning, run for 7-8 hours then turned off in the evening.

Spot Instances

Spot Instances are similar to on-demand instances, but are designed for special project type circumstances. Amazon obviously wants to keep all of their servers running all the time (ie. 100% utilization), however with the on-demand type structure, there are times when some servers are not being used. During these low slow times, Amazon would rather sell time on them temporarily for a discount rather than let them run empty. These temporary discounted servers are the spot instances. Spot instances work really well for periodically maintenance activities. To use a spot instance, you indicate the size of instance and the maximum price you bid for usage of that instance. Once the price for that size of instance goes below the bid price, the instance starts up and you get it until the prices goes back over your max bid price. Note you are only charged the actual price, not your bid price, so you can often pay less per hour than your bid price for spot instances.

EC2 Resources

Elastic Block Store Volumes

Elastic Block Storage (EBS) volumes are the virtual hard drives of the virtual server. There are two types of EBS Volumes, Standard and Provisioned  IOPS (Input/output Operations Per Second).

Standard EBS Volumes

Standard EBS volumes correspond the best to physical media hard disks. You can read and write to them at average rates and deliver about 100 IOPS. Unless you need high writing/ reading capabilities, a standard EBS is what you'd use.

Provisioned IOPS Volumes

Provisioned IOPS are for high read/write type situations. The most common examples is a database server. These volumes are very powerful, but also very expensive (relatively). There are other AWS Services offered, like S3, SES and RDP, but I currently don't use them some will avoid going into detail on those services until I use them.