Everything you need to know about AWS

By Kelly Dent

If you’re thinking about migrating to the cloud or just want to know more about Amazon Web Services (AWS), then you’ve come to the right place.

In this post, we’re going back to basics with everything you need to know about AWS as a beginner.

What is AWS?

What is AWS?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud service provider and a subsidiary of Amazon. It offers secure, scalable computing power, database storage, content delivery, and other cloud services to help businesses run and grow more efficiently.

What does AWS offer?

AWS allows businesses of any size to build sophisticated applications with far better flexibility, scalability, and reliability than more traditional methods. With more than 50 services available, the AWS Cloud offers infrastructure services, such as computing power, storage options, networking, and databases; it’s available on-demand, in seconds, with pay-as-you-go pricing. This means that businesses can get access to the resources necessary to stay on top of any organizational or market changes quickly.

Key features available through the AWS cloud include increased security, database engines, server configurations, encryption and powerful big data tools that allow companies to remain focused on their core business instead of worrying about infrastructure.

Security in the cloud far surpasses that offered by its traditional, on-premises counterpart. Broad security certification and accreditation, data encryption at rest and in-transit, hardware security modules and strong physical security all contribute to a more secure way to manage your business’ IT infrastructure.

The capabilities assist businesses in satisfying any compliance, governance and regulatory requirements.

Who uses AWS technology?

Who uses AWS technology?

To date, Amazon has reported over one million AWS users with the majority operating as part of small to medium-sized businesses. Enterprise-scale users (including giants like Netflix, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Airbnb, Nokia, Slack, The Financial Times and Pinterest) make up approximately 10% of the total.

Did you know: Amazon command one third of the cloud market

Why use AWS?

  • Ease of use: designed to allow application providers and independent software vendors (ISVs) to quickly and securely host applications. AWS Management Console/web services APIs can be used to access AWS’s application hosting platform
  • Flexibility: allows users to choose the operating system, programming language, web app platform, database, and other services as required. There’s a service to suit every need, and users have the facility to build the exact infrastructure that works for them
  • Cost-effective: users only pay for the compute power, storage, and other resources used, making AWS very cost-effective
  • Security: no matter what size the company in question may be, AWS offers top-class end-to-end security across its services and data centers. Amazon’s data centers are staffed with security 24/7, employing state-of-the-art electronic surveillance and multi-factor access control systems
  • Performance and scalability: Amazon’s solid and extensive infrastructure allows AWS users to scale up or down based on demand
  • Reliability: AWS provides a scalable and secure global infrastructure which minimizes downtime, quickly recovers from any failures, and dynamically acquires the resources necessary to meet demand and mitigate disruption

How can AWS help businesses grow?

AWS offers excellent start-up support and services, including AWS Activate, a program offering training and hands-on ways to get the resources required to build, launch and grow a brand-new business. Using AWS, start-ups, as well as bigger enterprises, can boost their online presence through Elastic Beanstalk, a product that allows users to create web apps, host websites, and create and register a domain for your website.

In an increasingly mobile-first world, having phone presence is key. AWS is well-equipped to help create those all-important apps; it allows users to configure app features by developing user authentication, data storage, backend logic, push notifications, content delivery and analytics. Users can also test their apps on real devices to improve performance.

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In terms of storage, AWS offers companies of any size highly flexible options, providing the amount of storage required precisely when it’s needed.  AWS supports big data; companies can quickly and easily scale any big data apps including data warehousing, clickstream analytics, fraud detection, recommendation engines, serverless computing, and IoT processing.

AWS certifications

AWS certifications

What certifications are available? How much do these cost and how are they taken? There are nine AWS certifications currently available ranging from foundation level to full specialization:

Certification Level Cost Format Length
AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Foundation $100 Multiple choice, multiple answer 90 mins
AWS Certified Developer Associate $150 Multiple choice, multiple answer 130 mins, 65 questions
AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate $150 Multiple choice, multiple answer 80 mins
AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate $150 Multiple choice, multiple answer 130 mins, 65 questions
AWS Certified DevOps Engineer Professional $300 Multiple choice, multiple answer 170 mins
AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional $300 Multiple choice, multiple answer 170 mins
AWS Certified Big Data Specialization $300 Multiple choice, multiple answer 170 mins
AWS Certified Advanced Networking Specialization $300 Multiple choice, multiple answer 170 mins
AWS Certified Security Specialization $300 Multiple choice, multiple answer 170 mins, 65 questions

AWS vs Azure

AWS vs Azure

What’s the difference between AWS and Microsoft Azure?

Azure is one of Amazon’s main competitors and is the public cloud computing platform offered by Microsoft. Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure are similar in that they offer many of the same capabilities; however, one may suit a specific business’s needs more than the other.

Azure is the public cloud computing platform for Microsoft and has only been in the race since 2010. Despite being late to the party, it has established itself as a powerhouse of cloud services. AWS, as the name suggests, is the cloud computing platform for Amazon which has been leading the cloud computing race for more than ten years with its wide range of compelling offerings.

AWS Azure
On-demand cloud computing platform and a subdivision of Amazon Public cloud platform for Microsoft
Continuously looking to strengthen its Hybrid cloud offerings Excels in the Hybrid cloud market allowing companies to integrate onsite servers with cloud instances
Greater reach in terms of government cloud offerings Lesser reach in terms of government cloud offerings
16 AWS regions and 42 availability zones located worldwide 36 regions around the world
More flexible pricing model Less flexible pricing model

How much does AWS cost?

The cost of implementing AWS cloud services depends on the scale and nature of a company’s day-to-day needs. A key advantage that comes with migrating to AWS cloud services is that it offers a highly-flexible and cost-effective pricing structure that makes cloud computing accessible to businesses of any size. AWS pricing operates on a pay-as-you-go model across all its services; users only pay for what they need for as long as it’s needed. There are no termination fees associated with stopping an AWS service when it is no longer required. The best way to calculate estimated costs is by using Amazon’s AWS price calculators.

How long does AWS take to implement?

The time required to implement AWS varies from case to case depending on the scale of the project and requirements of the company in question.

Gartner market research on AWS

  • Gartner expects the top 10 providers to account for nearly 70% of the IaaS market by 2021, up from 50% in 2016
  • AWS pioneered the cloud IaaS market in 2006 and has been the dominant market leader since then
  • AWS has become the go-to “safe choice” in the cloud computing market and is widely considered to be the most mature, enterprise-ready provider
  • Data centers are grouped into regions, with each one containing at least two availability zones. AWS has multiple regions across the U.S., Canada, France German, Ireland, U.K., Australia, India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Brazil
  • AWS Marketplace offers a wide range of third-party software and services to tailor it further to suit a company’s needs

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Popular AWS products and services

Popular AWS products and services

What is Amazon EC2?

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a web service that gives users resizable cloud compute capacity, making web-scale computing easier for developers.  Using EC2, customers are able to rent out the virtual machines (VMs) they need in order to run applications that would typically have been executed on traditional servers. This widely-used product essentially does the same thing as its traditional on-premises counterpart, with a significant reduction in costs and maximized flexibility, performance, and capacity.

EC2’s interface is quite straightforward and easy to use, allowing users to acquire, configure, and pay for exactly the capacity they need as and when they need it, with minimal friction. The service gives users total control over computing resources and reduces the time required to boot a new server instance to just a few minutes.

If there’s a spike in computing requirements, EC2 responds instantaneously, giving you control over how many resources are used at any given time. In contrast, traditional hosting services allocate a fixed number of resources for a pre-determined amount of time, meaning that you would typically experience a limited ability to respond when usage levels change unexpectedly or experience significant peaks.

Did you know: AWS has more than 1m users across almost 90% of world businesses

Is Amazon EC2 free?

Amazon EC2 is available to try for free for 12 months, with a limit of 750 compute hours per month. Beyond that, costs are typically calculated per second, with a minimum of 60 seconds as standard.

That being said, there are four other specific payment models and instance types that users can choose from: on-demand, reserved instances, and spot instances. Customers can also opt for dedicated hosts if dedicated physical servers are required for their EC2 instances:

Instance type

Recommended for

On-demand Cases where low cost and flexibility are required, without a long-term commitment or payment upfront
Irregular, short-term or erratic workloads which must not be interrupted
Testing applications for the first time
Spot Applications with flexible start/end times
Applications that are only worthwhile when compute costs are low
Urgent need for a large amount of additional compute capacity
Reserved Steady-state usage
Applications that might need reserved capacity
Users who can commit to EC2 usage over 1-3 years to reduce overall costs
Dedicated Users with more stringent compliance requirements

What can developers do now that they couldn’t before thanks to EC2?

Previously, smaller developers wouldn’t have had the capital needed to get their hands on massive compute resources. They certainly wouldn’t have had the resources or capacity required to handle any unexpected load spikes, either. Enter Amazon EC2.

According to the Jefferson Frank AWS salary survey, 89% of respondents reported working with Amazon EC2, making it arguably the most popular AWS product right now. Amazon EC2 makes it possible for any developer to use Amazon’s vast resources with no investment up-front and absolutely no compromise on performance. Developers are free to work and experiment, safe in the knowledge that no matter how fast their businesses may grow, scaling up to meet their needs will always be cost-effective and straightforward.

How quickly will systems be running with EC2?

It usually takes less than 10 minutes. The amount of time taken to boot up depends on a few factors including the size of the Amazon Machine Image (AMI), the number of instances being launched, and how recently that AMI has been launched. It’s worth knowing that launching an AMI for the first time could take a little longer to boot.

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What is an Amazon Machine Instance?

An Amazon Machine Instance (AMI) is a master image used in the creation of EC instances (virtual servers) in the AWS cloud. Machine images can be described as templates that are configured with an operating system and other software. These determine the user’s operating environment.

What is AWS Elastic Beanstalk?

Developers use AWS Elastic Beanstalk to quickly launch and manage applications in the cloud. It automatically handles capacity provisioning, load balancing, auto-scaling, and application health monitoring when it comes to deployment.

What is Amazon Lightsail?

Amazon Lightsail is used in order to set up a simple virtual private server (VPS). Lightsail provides the compute, storage, and networking capacity and capabilities necessary to deploy and manage cloud-based websites and web applications.

One of the best things about Lightsail is that it includes everything a developer needs to launch a project quickly: a virtual machine, SSD-based storage, data transfer, DNS management, and a static IP—it’s essentially a VPS starter kit.

What is AWS Lambda?

AWS Lambda is a highly popular product used to run code for virtually any type of application or backend service, without provisioning or managing servers. Customers only need to pay for the compute time consumed, and there is absolutely no charge when the code is not running.

What is Elastic Load Balancing?

Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) is a load-balancing service for AWS deployments. It automatically distributes incoming  application traffic and scales resources to meet traffic demands.

What is Amazon Redshift?

Amazon Redshift is a data warehouse that uses SQL and standard Business Intelligence tools to analyze data. It allows users to run complex analytic queries against petabytes of structured data, with most results returning in a matter of seconds.

Machine learning on AWS

Machine learning on AWS

What is machine learning?

Machine learning is a type of technology which helps users make better-informed decisions by utilizing historical data. Machine learning algorithms identify patterns in data and create mathematical models using those patterns. The models can then be used to make future predictions based on current data.

Can I use machine learning on AWS?

Sure! AWS offers Amazon Machine Learning, a service that allows users to build predictive apps, including fraud detection, demand forecasting, and click prediction. It uses algorithms that help create machine learning models by identifying patterns in existing data and using them to make predictions based on any new data that comes in.

What algorithm does Amazon Machine Learning use to generate models?

Amazon Machine Learning operates using an industry-standard logistic regression algorithm to generate models that can be trained on datasets up to 100GB in size. Data can be read across three types of data stores:

  • Files in Amazon S3
  • Results from an Amazon Redshift query
  • Results from an Amazon RDS query executed against a database running a MySQL engine

Data from other products can generally be exported for use in Amazon Machine Learning via Amazon S3. The product also offers powerful model evaluation features.

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Analytics on AWS

Analytics on AWS

What is Amazon Athena?

Amazon Athena is an interactive query service you can use to analyze data in Amazon S3. Athena is serverless and uses standard SQL and Presto. It works with a number of different data formats, including CSV, JSON, ORC, Apache Parquet, and Avro.

What is Amazon Elastic MapReduce?

Amazon EMR is a web service that allows users to process massive amounts of data in an easy and cost-effective way. It uses a hosted Hadoop framework running on the web-scale infrastructure of Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3.

Amazon EMR makes it possible for customers to access exactly the capacity required to carry out data-intensive tasks for applications such as web indexing, data mining, log file analysis, machine learning, financial analysis, scientific simulation, and bioinformatics research.

What is Amazon CloudSearch?

Amazon CloudSearch is a fully-managed service that makes it easy to set up, manage, and scale a search solution for your website or application.

Amazon CloudSearch provides several benefits over running your own self-managed search service including easy configuration, auto-scaling for data and traffic, self-healing clusters, and high availability with Multi-AZ. Through the AWS Management Console, users can create a search domain and upload the data to be made searchable, and Amazon CloudSearch automatically provides the required resources and deploys a highly tuned search index.

What is Amazon Elasticsearch Service?

Amazon Elasticsearch Service helps you with every aspect of domain setup, from provisioning infrastructure capacity in the network environment you request right up to the installation of the Elasticsearch software.

Once your domain is up and running, Elasticsearch automates common administrative tasks, such as performing backups, monitoring instances and patching software, ultimately saving you time. It integrates with Amazon CloudWatch, producing metrics that show you the state of your domains, with the option to modify domain instance and storage settings to make tailoring your domain as straightforward as possible.

Did you know: 80% of data center traffic will be cloud based by 2019

What is Amazon Kinesis?

Amazon Kinesis Data Streams enables you to build custom applications that process or analyze streaming data for specialized needs. Through Amazon Kinesis, you can add various types of data such as clickstreams, application logs, and social media to a data stream from countless sources, and that data is made available in seconds.

What is Amazon Redshift?

Amazon Redshift is a fast, fully managed data warehouse used to analyze data via standard SQL and any existing Business Intelligence (BI) tools. It allows you to run complex analytic queries against massive amounts of structured data, with most results returning in seconds.

Redshift is praised for its lightning-fast querying, with queries distributed and parallelized across multiple physical resources. It scales easily, and automatically patches and backs up the data warehouse.

What is Amazon QuickSight?

Amazon QuickSight is a cloud-powered business analytics service that allows employees within an organization to build visualizations, perform ad-hoc analysis, and quickly get business insights from their data, anytime, on any device.

What is AWS Data Pipeline?

AWS Data Pipeline is a web service used to schedule regular data movement and data processing activities in the cloud. It integrates with on-premises apps, as well as cloud-based storage, to allow users to access data as required. Based on a schedule you define, your pipeline regularly performs processing activities such as distributed data copy, SQL transforms, MapReduce applications, or custom scripts against destinations such as Amazon S3, Amazon RDS, or Amazon DynamoDB.

What is AWS Glue?

AWS Glue is a fully-managed, pay-as-you-go, extract, transform, and load (ETL) service that automates the time-consuming steps of data preparation for analytics. AWS Glue automatically discovers and profiles data via the Glue Data Catalog, recommends and generates ETL code to transform source data into target schemas, and runs the ETL jobs on a fully managed, scale-out Apache Spark environment to load data into its destination. It also allows users to set up, orchestrate, and monitor complex data flows.

AWS storage options

AWS storage options

What is Amazon S3?

Amazon S3 is a type of object storage that can be used to store and retrieve any amount of data, from anywhere on the Internet, whenever it’s needed. In short, object storage is a type of data storage structure that handles data as ‘objects’ rather than in a file hierarchy or in the form of blocks. The data, metadata, and a unique identifier code is usually contained within an object.

Using Amazon S3, users are able to build applications that also utilize Internet storage. Since Amazon S3 is highly scalable and customers only pay for what’s used,  there is the option to start small and grow the application as desired, with absolutely no compromise on performance or reliability.

How much data can I store in Amazon S3?

You can store an unlimited amount of data, with individual S3 objects ranging from 0 bytes to a maximum of 5 terabytes. The largest object that can be uploaded in a single PUT is 5 gigabytes. For objects larger than 100 megabytes, you should consider using the Multipart Upload capability.

What storage classes does Amazon S3 offer?

There are four storage classes:

  • Amazon S3 Standard (for general storage of frequently-accessed data)
  • Amazon S3 Standard-Infrequent Access (for less frequently-accessed data)
  • Amazon S3 One Zone-Infrequent Access (for less frequently accessed data)
  • Amazon Glacier (for long-term archiving)

More detailed information regarding the different storage classes can be found on AWS’s official site.

How is Amazon S3 data organized?

Amazon S3 is a simple key-based object store. When data is stored, you’re given a unique object key that can be used to retrieve the data at a later time. Alternatively, customers can utilize S3 Object Tagging to organize data across all S3 buckets.

How reliable is Amazon S3?

The S3 Standard storage class is designed for 99.99% availability, while the S3 Standard-IA storage class and S3 One Zone-IA are designed for 99.9% and 99.5% availability respectively.

AWS Payments and Billing

Payments and Billing

How do you pay for AWS?

All AWS services are available on demand without any long-term contracts. AWS operates on a pay-as-you-go pricing model which allows you to adapt to fluctuating business needs; you’re free to adapt services according to your requirements, no matter how quickly things change. This, in turn, allows you to focus on your business more effectively and efficiently.

Can you use AWS for free?

AWS’s Free Tier is designed to give you hands-on experience with AWS Cloud Services before making a more substantial commitment to the provider. The AWS Free Tier includes services available for 12 months following your AWS sign-up date, as well as additional service offers that do not automatically expire at the end of your 12-month AWS Free Tier term.

What kind of support is available for AWS customers?

What kind of support is available for AWS customers?

AWS Support offers one-on-one, fast-response support and detailed help on technical and operational issues in the cloud. Customers can opt for a tier suited to their specific requirements, with each tier providing the necessary building blocks without asking the customer to make long-term commitments or adding extras that are not useful in that case.

Your AWS Support covers a wide range of performance and production issues for AWS products and services, along with other key stack components, including:

  • “How to” questions about AWS services and features
  • Best practices to help you successfully integrate, deploy, and manage applications in the cloud
  • Troubleshooting API and AWS SDK issues
  • Troubleshooting operational or system problems with AWS resources
  • Issues with Management Console or other AWS tools
  • Problems detected by Health Checks
  • A number of third-party applications such as OS, web servers, email, databases, and storage configuration

AWS Support does not include code development, debugging custom software or performing system administration tasks.

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