Does Bigger Mean Better?
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is known as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) or cloud computing services company. As the name suggests, it’s a subsidiary of Amazon, and, as you’d imagine, it’s currently the market leader.
With sales in excess of $200 billion (yep, you read that right, billion, not million), AWS is larger even than the likes of Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and IBM. With big-name clients like Netflix, Unilever, Kellogg’s, and Samsung, if you opt for AWS, you’ll be in good company.
Its services are far more vast than standard shared hosting and domain name registration. AWS sells products like machine learning applications, Internet of Things (IoT), virtual reality (VR) tools, gaming technologies, and cloud hosting. It’s that final service I’ll be covering in this review.
With customers around the world, it makes sense that the comprehensive website is available in 15 languages: English, Arabic, Indonesian, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Turkish, Russian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese (Simplified and Traditional).
Fancy sharing the same host as Netflix? Before you get starry-eyed at the prospect, I’ll warn you now, it’s often the biggest hosts that neglect to look after their customers, leading to poor or (like Google Cloud Platform) expensive customer service.
So before you dive in, give me ten minutes of your time. This review is going deep into AWS, right here, right now. Large black coffee advised. By the end of this review, you’ll have answers to questions like:
- What’s the customer service like? Is there live chat?
- How fast does a website hosted on AWS load?
- Can you install a content delivery network (CDN) on AWS? Is it free?
- Can beginners set up a WordPress website on AWS?
- Is it overly expensive, or good value for money?
- And, most importantly, is AWS right for you?
Let’s find out.
We’re Talking Big. Really Big.
AWS is firmly targeting developers, SMEs, and enterprises. It isn’t overly concerned with pleasing the little guy, so while I’m not knocking the support (you can read more on that later), AWS isn’t going to hold your hand through the process. It doesn’t offer automatic backups, a website building tool, free migrations, or a friendly chat over a cup of coffee, either. It’s just not that kind of host.
Nevertheless, everything you could ever possibly need, from SSL support to manually configured backups, spam protection, a CDN, and so on, can be configured to work with AWS. It’s just not going to do it for you automatically (there are plenty of hosts out there that will, if that’s your preference).
This should come as no surprise to anyone, but AWS has built the largest worldwide network. AWS offers 64 zones in 21 regions, with 169 points of presence, narrowly beating out Google Cloud Platform’s 61 zones in 20 regions.
If downtime is a concern for you, you may be interested to know that in 2018, AWS had three times fewer downtime hours than any of the other cloud hosting providers (based on data pulled from the public service health dashboards of the major cloud providers).
This is backed by a rock-solid uptime service-level agreement (SLA). If you experience uptime of less than 99.99%, you will get compensation on a sliding scale from 10% to 100%, depending on the exact amount of downtime.
It makes sense—imagine if Amazon itself went down. An hour without Amazon and we’d all be rocking in a corner wondering how we could ever cope with shipping that takes—gasp—three days or longer.
One of the best features of cloud hosting providers, AWS included, is its scalable resources. This means that you don’t need to worry if you have a sudden spike in traffic or data, as your hosting will automatically react. And you’ll only be billed for the amount you use.
In the AWS Marketplace, you can buy software that runs on AWS. Software developers can sell their programs via the marketplace, and customers benefit from a huge library of products, such as operating systems, machine learning, and DevOps.
Ease of use
Not an AWS Priority
For its compute services, AWS offers Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). The virtual machines come with either preconfigured settings for ease of use or can be configured by the customer. While AWS isn’t as simple as a point-and-click host, its comprehensive documentation, pre-prepared workflows, and wizards go much further than other cloud hosts to make life easier for its customers.
Create an Account
It took me less than one minute to create a plan with AWS. The first step is to select Create an AWS Account in the top right. Next, all I was asked to do was enter some brief personal information and confirm my identity via SMS and with a credit card (for verification, not billing purposes).
What’s more, Amazon offers a free tier, so you can get in and test the service, even hosting real websites, before being charged a dime.
It could easily be handled by a beginner; if you have experience with Amazon Prime, you can create an account on AWS.
Connect a Domain and Install WordPress
To test how easy it is to use AWS, I created a WordPress website and mapped a domain registered at GoDaddy to the site. I wouldn’t say the interface is particularly user- or beginner-friendly, but the provided documentation is excellent. If you’re considering getting started with AWS, I highly recommend reading about my experience.
Wizards and Automated Workflows
If you’re just getting started with AWS, the console may appear overwhelming at first. There are tons of applications and resources, all with techy names. But AWS tries to help by offering more than 150 services that can be configured, launched, and tested, as well as a bunch of wizards and workflows for common procedures.
Backup and Restore
Although you won’t get automatic backups included in your hosting plan, you can purchase AWS’ backup and data protection software. It protects your data with “99.999999999% data durability,” keeping copies uploaded to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon S3 Glacier and stored across a minimum of three devices in an AWS Region.
While likely not important to smaller website owners, developers will love the container-based environment. Using containers, you can package (or contain) your app code, dependencies, and configurations into a single object. This means your package can run in the same way, regardless of the environment, turning on, off, and scaling quickly.
A Global Network for Global Performance
By Amazon’s own reckoning, one second of load lag time would cost it $1.6 billion in sales per year. Unless you’re the next Jeff Bezos, most of us don’t have to worry about such colossal loss in revenue as a direct result of load speed.
AWS obviously has a vested interest in ensuring its website’s performance and uptime. But how does it perform in reality? I put a website hosted on AWS EC2 to the test, and this is what I learned.
AWS rocks in the performance department across the whole world. Even the worst-faring locations still come in around 300 milliseconds for connection time and 400 for the first byte, with the best hovering around 20 milliseconds.
I can’t find fault with this. If your website is highly dependent on conversions or you need a low bounce rate, AWS is a good option for you.
AWS Wants You to Be Successful
Bezos is famous for his customer service policies. It’s what’s made Amazon explode—customers are the primary focus and the primary stakeholder of Amazon. But does this philosophy filter through AWS?
Customer support is split into four tiers, ranging from free to extremely expensive. The free basic plans come with 24/7 customer service (via ticket), documentation, and support forums.
The paid plans come with a variety of one-on-one support, ranging from access to Cloud Support Associates via email all the way up to a Technical Account Manager and Assigned Support Concierge—if you’re prepared to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars per month.
As always, I tested support out. Of course, I wasn’t able to pay for the enterprise-level support, but I could submit a support ticket via my freemium options. I was pleased to receive a polite reply less than 24 hours later, solving my problem in full.
Pay as You Grow
AWS is similar to the other cloud hosting providers in that you only pay for what you use. You pay per second or per hour based on the resources you’ve consumed. If you find you’re using more, you can get volume discounts as well, or if you’re in a position to reserve your resources for a year, again you’ll be able to get a discount.
Compared to the other big IaaS providers, per gigabyte, AWS is one of the cheaper providers. Plus, with the free tier plan, you can utilize EC2 and EBS to host a website for free for a whole year, unless your usage exceeds the limit of 30GB of storage.
Cancellations & Refunds
As with any of the cloud hosting providers, you won’t get a refund if you cancel. You only pay for the resources you use, so you can simply cancel your services and only pay for past usage. That’s all pretty standard in the cloud industry.
Closing your account is easy: Log in as the root user and navigate to the Account Setting page of the Billing and Cost Management console. Confirm you understand the terms of closing the account, and select Close Account. You’ll receive a confirmation email soon after if the cancellation.