up arrow Amazon Web Services Free Edition

(Or how to run a website on a shoestring budget)

Last fall, Your JoeDog moved this site into Amazon’s web cloud. He’s using a micro instance on the free tier. It’s free for a year then $0.017 an hour after that.

Note that “micro” part. We’re talking about a pretty lean server. When it first came online, this site screeched to a halt at semi-irregular intervals. It was running out of memory. To increase its capacity while remaining in the free tier, Your JoeDog added some swap. “How do you add swap space in AWS?” Glad you asked. Here’s how:

  $ sudo /bin/dd if=/dev/zero of=/var/swap.1 bs=1M count=1024
  $ sudo chown root:root /var/swap.1
  $ sudo chmod 600 /var/swap.1
  $ sudo /sbin/mkswap /var/swap.1
  $ sudo /sbin/swapon /var/swap.1

You can check your creation with the free command:

  $ free -m

By adding swap, Your JoeDog was better able to keep this site humming. Unfortunately, it still locked up. One day, it locked up for an extended period of time.

To monitor the site’s availability, we signed up for pingdom. There’s a free version which allows you to monitor a single URL and send text alerts. (Email won’t do us much good since that service is hosted here.)

Not long after the alerts were configured, one fired. The site was down(ish). Downish? What’s that mean. It was more like a series of brief outages. While this was going on, Your JoeDog’s inbox started filling with new-comment-needs-approval messages.

LINK SPAMMERS!! Some asshole was botting the site with unthrottled comment posts and they essentially DOS’d it.

To free up resources, Your JoeDog created an AWS database instance and moved his content from a local database with an export/import. There’s only one reason you shouldn’t do the same: cost. After the free period, you’ll be charged for that as well.

So what’s the moral of this story? If you can afford it, don’t waste your time on the free instance. These micro VMs are too light to handle traffic bursts. And if you’re a serious business, then you really shouldn’t bother. In the grand scheme of things, Amazon’s computing-for-lease is really inexpensive … except, of course, if you’re a lowly open source developer.