AWS Free Tier Services

That’s why it’s important to make the right decision, but how do you know which vendor’s services fit your needs best until you actually use them? It’s always nice to be able to try before you buy, and Amazon allows you to do that with most of its cloud services. The pricing structure for AWS is tiered, based on the features and specifications of the resources and how much you use. The free tier is intended for evaluation purposes and offers sufficient resources and enough time – a full year – to put the services through their paces and get the hands-on experience that you need to make an intelligent decision.

Getting in on the Goodness

Getting started with the free services is easy, but there’s one big caveat: in order to sign up for an AWS account, you’re required to enter your billing address and credit card information. That’s because AWS doesn’t cut you automatically when you reach the limits of the free tier offer; they start charging you when you go over the limits. Thus you could end up paying for your evaluation period. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll want to keep a close watch on your usage statistics and be aware of what the limits are.

Free tier usage limits

With the EC2 compute services, you get 750 hours per month microinstance usage of Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), Suse Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), or Windows Server. You also get 750 hours of Elastic Load Balancing and 15 GB of data processing, 30 GB of Elastic Block Storage, 1 GB of snapshot storage, 15 GB of bandwidth out (across all AWS services) and 1 GB of regional data transfer.

With the S3 storage service, you get 5 GB of standard storage, 20,000 GET requests and 2,000 PUT requests. Additional requests incur charges.

The free tier includes 24/7/365 customer service, the same as paying customers.

Signing up

The free tier services are only available to new AWS customers, and you’re expressly not eligible if you (or someone in your organization) create(s) more than one account in order to take advantage of the offer. Be careful here, because if you’re deemed to be ineligible, you’ll be charged the standard rates for the services. Also, if you are eligible, keep track of your sign-up date because you’ll be charged for your use of the services after the one-year period expires.

To sign up for a free account, go to the AWS Free Tier web site and click “Create a Free Account” in the right column; this will take you to the Amazon Web Services Sign-in page. Here you can sign in with your existing Amazon account, or create a new account. Even if you sign in with your existing account, you’ll have to enter your information (name, company, address, phone number) and check the box that says you agree to the terms of service.

Because even a free trial constitutes a commitment and risk when it requires you to give credit card information, it would be a good idea to read over the AWS Customer Agreement before you click that button to create an account and continue.

The Agreement is fairly standard – which is to say it’s fully of legalese and is biased entirely in favor of the service provider. Interestingly, the service agreement prohibits you from making any “public communication with respect to the agreement itself or your use of the service offerings – even though the agreement is a public document on their web site.

Getting set up

You’ll need an account for accessing the AWS resources. You can use the AWS account that you created to sign up for the services, but Amazon recommends that instead you create an account with the AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) and add that user account to the administrators group or grant it admin permissions. You first sign into the AWS Management console and then open the IAM console, create a new Administrators group, then create a new user and add it to the Administrators group. You need to select the option to Download Credentials and store the access key in a location where it will be safe. Now you can sign in as the new IAM user.

You’ll need to create a public/private key pair to secure login data for the EC2 instance you’re going to launch. You do this via the EC2 console.

Next step is to create a virtual private cloud (VPC). This is your virtual network, into which you’ll launch your EC2 instances and other AWS resources. This is done through the Amazon VPC console. You’ll need to select a region for the VPC (it should be the same region where you created your key pair).

Now you create a security group where you add rules for inbound and outbound traffic for your instance. The security group acts like a virtual firewall.  This is done from the EC2 console.

Diving in

The most popular AWS services for new customers are EC2 and S3, so we’ll look at how to get started with those first.

Getting started with EC2

The first thing you’ll do to get started computing with EC2 is launch a virtual server, which can be a Linux server (including RHEL or SLES) or a Windows Server (EC2 supports all current versions, Windows Server 2003 and up). We’ll use a Windows instance as an example.

You launch an instance from the EC2 console, first selecting a region. After you select to launch an instance, you choose the Amazon Machine Image (AMI) for your instance. This is the version of Windows Server. Some AMIs are eligible for the free tier and some aren’t. Next you select the instance type, which means the hardware configuration for the instance. Again, not all types are available for the free tier. When you select Review and Launch, the wizard creates a security group and configures the rest of the settings for you.

Now you click Launch and then select an existing key pair or create a new key pair. Don’t select Proceed without a key pair. You won’t be able to connect to you instance if you do. The next step is to click Launch instances.

Getting started with S3

After you have an AWS account, you need to then sign up for S3. It’s a simple process; you just follow the on-screen instructions. The next step is to create a bucket. A bucket is a container in which your S3 objects are stored. You open the S3 console and click Create Bucket, give it a name and choose a region. The name is unique within S3 so it’s best to preface it with your name or that of your org or other unique identifier. After you click Create, you’ll see your empty bucket in the Buckets panel of the S3 console.

Now you can add objects (files) to the bucket. You can include metadata and you can set access permissions on each object. Just click the name of the bucket and click Upload, then use the Upload-Select Files wizard. You can’t upload entire folders unless you install the Enhanced Uploader, which is a Java applet.

You can view your uploaded/stored objects in the browser or download them to your local computer. You can make objects publicly accessible or keep them private. You can also move objects to different buckets, or delete them.


Amazon Web Services is a complex set of services but you can get started with EC2 and S3 quickly and easily and at no cost (as long as you don’t exceed the usage limits). Creating an AWS account and then signing up for the compute and storage services involve several steps but they can be completed in a short time, and you can begin to get some hands-on experience to make it easier to evaluate whether AWS is the right set of cloud services for your organization.

In this article, we provided a very high level overview of how to get started with AWS EC2 and S3. More detailed step-by-step instructions, including how to launch Linux instances and how to use the Amazon Glacier service for storing archived and infrequently access data, on Amazon’s AWS web site.

In future articles, we will delve into more details regarding the use of AWS for specific use case scenarios, how to deploy a web site hosted by AWS, and how to run a database on AWS.

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