Amazon Web Services 101

October 25, 2018

When we think of Amazon, it’s probably about ordering that rush-delivery birthday gift for Dad or the complete Gilmore Girls box set. However, Amazon actually makes most of their money from Amazon Web Services (AWS), not selling products. They developed their web services division after the work of creating their retail web empire made them realize they had also created some pretty cool web tools and innovations. Now, Amazon rents out computing power and network connectivity to clients to use for a comprehensive set of cloud services – completely unrivaled in their industry. These proprietary tools make computing, scaling, and networking easier than ever for companies of any size. So, what makes Amazon Web Services such a leader in cloud servers, and what exactly are these awesome tools that they provide?

The Convenience of the Cloud

The core of AWS is the power of cloud computing. Traditionally, companies that needed web hosting would have to contact a server farm and rent out physical servers to store and access their applications. However, AWS is based on customers renting digital computing and networking space, and these assets can be provisioned and scaled on demand in multiple regions throughout the world. That kind of power does so much more than hosting a physical server on your behalf; it can help you build infrastructure and scale applications to any size. It also provides the opportunity for every entrepreneur or developer to be ready to go viral at a moment’s notice, because they know their app or website will be able to handle the load (with the right architecture, of course).

For example, Crafted was engaged to help USA Football prepare their website for an expected surge in traffic after their Superbowl commercial aired. Using AWS, we pre-scaled servers to handle the estimated increase on demand. This kept their infrastructure hardened, and helped to ensure (which it did, successfully) users wouldn’t endure a crash from the high traffic. Without scalability built into the application’s infrastructure, this kind of control would be hard to achieve, short of a massive investment in hardware that would go unused the rest of the year. In short, the cloud was a better solution and much less expensive than physical servers.

The Fundamentals of AWS

At the core of AWS is scalable, network enabled computing power. There are a series of tools that can help you build even higher on top of the site or applications you bring to AWS. Tools like EC2 and Beanstalk are used for scaling and application development. The tool IAM provides you with secure access points for your users. There’s even an advanced networking tool called VPC. The next time your boss asks you about AWS, refer to this quick guide:

Service Title Layman’s Definition
EC2 Elastic Computing Cloud Basic computing power. EC2 is usually what you end up paying for in terms of the more you use, the more you pay. Your servers will be installed on EC2 instances.
S3 Cloud Object Storage File & data storage. Think of S3 as a dropbox, but one that integrates with your applications and hardware instead of your life.
VPC Virtual Private Cloud Network connectivity. Because what use do you have of the cloud if you can’t connect it to the internet?
RDS Relational Database Service Setup MySQL, MSSQL, and Postgres SQL Databases in the cloud. You get special bonus points if you learn Aurora, which is RDS on steroids.
Lambda Serverless Computing With Lambda, you can run code in serverless architecture where you pay only for usage time (not hourly, like generic EC2 instances).
EB Elastic Beanstalk Upload you web application and let elastic beanstalk do the rest. It takes away all their server management, network config, and scaling and automates it for you. It’s our personal favorite AWS Service. Also, you only pay for the underlying EC2 computing instances that are used, not for the service itself. It’s a no brainer for web apps.
Route 53 DNS Management Manage your domain names and point them to web servers and other AWS resources.
Cloudwatch Logging Log all the things centrally, and configure alerts so that you always know what is going on in the cloud
ECS Elastic Container Service Docker containers in the cloud. ECS Allows you to provision and scale clusters. If you can dockerize it, then you can scale it on AWS with ECS.

What do all these acronyms mean? They don’t just sound futuristic. Your developers and system architects will be able to create better and more advanced digital products, while still taking advantage of AWS’ pay-what-you-need plan. Plus, all these tools come free! And while the inner workings of AWS can certainly get complex, there are many ways to become a certified AWS provider by taking in-person classes. These programs exist across the United States, and if there isn’t one near you, you can always turn to YouTube tutorials (or a team of experts like Crafted).

Like progressive web apps, one of the best things about Amazon Web Services is the way it levels the playing field in the cloud. The ability to provide a super-awesome user experience to your customers and/or employees is no longer something that has to come with a high price tag. At Crafted, we feel the same way. If you’re looking for someone to help you create your digital product and make the most of Amazon Web Services while they do it, give Crafted a call.