Node4 insights: Understanding AWS – a beginner’s guide

Tuesday 13th October 2015 •
Billy Law-Bregan, Communications Officer

Today’s vast range of services from AWS can be bewildering, even to the most technically proficient engineers that deal with new digital infrastructures. But for the “traditional” IT engineers who deal with day-to-day enterprise solutions AWS may seem like a dream or a nightmare.

Here’s a list of all the AWS services as at August 2015 –


·         Elastic Compute Cloud EC2

·         Elastic Map Reduce EMR

·         LAMBDA



·         Route53

·         VPC

·         DirectConnect

·         ELB

·         Autoscaling


Storage and content delivery:

·         Cloud Front

·         Simple Storage Service S3

·         Elastic Block Storage EBS

·         Glacier

·         Storage Gateway

·         Import/Export

·         Elastic FileSystem EFS



·         Relation Database Service RDS

·         DynamoDB

·         Elasticache

·         Redshift

·         SimpleDB

·         Pipeline

·         Kinesis


Application Services:

·         API Gateway

·         CloudSearch

·         DevPay

·         Elastic Transcoder ETS

·         Flexible Payments Service FPS

·         Simple Email Service SES

·         Simple Queue Service SQS

·         Simple Notification Service SNS

·         Simple Workflow SWF

·         Cognito

·         AppStream



·         IAM

·         Directory Services

·         Cloudwatch

·         CloudHSM

·         KMS



·         Mobile Analytics

·         Device Farm



·         Cloud Formation

·         Elastic Beanstalk

·         Opswork

·         Code Pipeline

·         Code Commit



That’s 45 services, each of which has different pricing options. Additionally there are configuration settings such as Regions, Availability Zones and Edge locations to consider.

So whilst AWS may seem straight forward and cost effective, not understanding how to best utilise all these service can quickly lead to escalating costs, system failures and poor security.

Node4 was the first technology company in the UK to gain AWS consultancy partnership level recognition and this has given us a breath of knowledge and insight that most companies do not have.  With this experience we have first-hand knowledge of what does or does not work in AWS and through our Node4 Insights series we’re going to share that expertise with you.

Let’s start with a quick factual overview of the main services that are the basic building blocks of an AWS infrastructure for hosting applications.

Compute – EC2 – Elastic Compute Cloud

Amazon’s rental compute service. Priced by the hour, each compute instance is a virtual server running the operating system you choose during set up. There are “flavours” of instance sizes classified by Elastic Compute Units (AWS’s terminology for CPU resources), RAM and local storage. A user can create, launch and terminate instances either by the UI, scripts or other orchestration techniques.

Networking – ELB and AutoScaling

Elastic Load Balancing automatically distributes incoming network traffic across your provisioned EC2 instances to provide a level of fault tolerance. When combined with AutoScaling you can grow or shrink your instance footprint in line with certain metrics such as CPU load or network traffic. Load balancing is also available across multiple availability zones providing greater resilience.

Shared Storage – EFS – Elastic File System

At time of writing, this service is in preview but once generally released it provides a NFS v4 type file system which can be attached to multiple EC2 instances (unlike EBS which can only be attached to one at any one time). Pricing is based on the average storage space used throughout the month.

File Storage – EBS – Elastic Block Storage

EBS is the equivalent of Network Attached Storage – raw block devices that are attached to EC2 instances, mounted and formatted with a file system. EBS volumes support snapshots and cloning for back up purposes. Pricing is per GB but depends on the type of EBS device you provision.

Object Storage – S3 – Simple Storage Solution

A service to store “objects” such files or images that can be accessed via a standard web services interface such as REST and SOAP. It is used for websites, archiving and general storage. Pricing is based on storage amount, number of access requests and the data transfer out of AWS.

Database – RDS – Relational Database Service

Rather than running databases on an EC2 instance, Amazon provides a database-as-a-service, which your application can connect to just as it would a local database server. RDS now provides MySQL, Oracle, MSSQL and Postgresql services. Prices vary depending on quite a few variables, which can make it difficult to estimate the cost.

In my next post in this Insights series I will do a deep dive into each of the major services above and introduce some of the other less known services. In the meantime, get in touch with Node4 to find out more about how we can help with your IT or communication projects.

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