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Compare Amazon Lightsail pricing, features to EC2

To compare Amazon Lightsail vs. EC2 instances, evaluate ease of use, management options and pricing structure -- paying particular attention to data transfer costs.

AWS launched Amazon Lightsail, a virtual private server offering, in late 2016. The service is built on AWS infrastructure...

and consolidates cloud services, including compute, storage, networking, DNS and security components, to make it easier for businesses of all sizes to quickly launch a new website. Amazon Lightsail pricing options are also straightforward.

While AWS has the largest public cloud market share, small competitors, like DigitalOcean, quietly eat away at the market for simple web server functionality. Amazon Lightsail brings this same configuration model to AWS and provides a migration path for companies that want to add more features down the road.

Each Lightsail instance includes a package of different services, such as Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) for compute, Elastic Block Store (EBS) for storage, Route 53 for domain name system (DNS) queries and Secure Sockets Layer encryption for secure management.

Amazon Lightsail pricing is comparable and, in some cases, less expensive than the equivalent AWS resources. With Lightsail vs. EC2, the biggest differentiator is that each Lightsail instance includes 1 to 5 TB of internet data transfer allowance. Whereas, in EC2, an enterprise might pay $90 per TB.

Keep it simple

Amazon Lightsail is for businesses that want to spin up a server without having to work through all the pricing, configuration and management details associated with typical AWS deployment. Lightsail presents a handful of options deployable at a predictable monthly price. But the service is not ideal for applications that require a highly configurable environment or consistently high CPU performance, such as video encoding or analytics.

It takes a couple of minutes to spin up a server via the menu interface. Lightsail includes several prebuilt virtual images. Developers can choose a package preconfigured with solid-state drive (SSD) storage, domain name server management and a static IP address. The package can run both Amazon Linux AMI or Ubuntu, and it can include a variety of developer stacks, such as LAMP, LEMP, MEAN or Node.js.

Developers can also deploy and configure Lightsail with popular apps, like Drupal, Joomla, Magento, Redmine, WordPress and GitLab. AWS added some Secure Shell management capabilities that enable server setup without having to worry about key management or browser plug-ins.

A Lightsail instance is not directly visible to the AWS Management Console. But developers can set up Virtual Private Cloud peering to access more advanced features associated with other services. Developers can also use a variety of APIs for more advanced functionality, such as:

  • GetBundles: Get a list of the machine configurations.
  • CreateInstances: Create one or more Lightsail instances.
  • GetInstances: Retrieve a list of all Lightsail instances.
  • GetInstance: Get information about a specific instance.
  • CreateInstanceSnapshot: Create a snapshot of an instance.
  • CreateInstanceFromSnapshot: Create an instance from a snapshot.

What's not so simple

Amazon Lightsail helps enterprises deploy a public-facing website. In theory, a developer can start and stop a Lightsail instance and save money when it does not run. In practice, AWS still charges for Lightsail instances even when an instance is stopped. To suspend charges, a developer must back up the instance and then delete it from Lightsail. But the enterprise must also pay another fee to keep a static IP address in use -- to help maintain web server continuity -- that is no longer associated with the Lightsail instance, which adds $.005 per hour or $3.60 per month.

Each account is also limited to 20 Lightsail instances, five static IPs and three DNS zones. That might be fine for simple use cases, but an enterprise is unlikely to build a large-scale Lightsail deployment within these confines.

Bundle vs. piecemeal

Amazon Lightsail pricing is comparable to the cost of individual services built on top of EC2. That said, enterprises can likely save money when they plan the compute, storage and networking requirements with EC2. AWS offers better tools to back up and spin up or down EC2 servers quickly. But Lightsail instances are a good option for departmental and individual applications that run for a longer duration.

The basic Amazon Lightsail pricing package with 512 MB of RAM and 20 GB of SSD storage costs $5 per month. It has the same CPU and memory as the EC2 t2.nano instance, billed at $.0059 per hour. The latter option comes out to $4.25 per month for 720 hours, but it doesn't include SSD or data transfer costs. With a similar amount of SSD RAM to the Lightsail package, the t2.nano comes out to $6.25 per month.

At the top of the Lightsail line, the $80 per month package is roughly equivalent to the t2.large instance, which costs $67.86 per month. The t2.large instance costs $75.86 per month with 80 GB of SSD storage. However, enterprises can reduce costs with hard disk drive storage, which is not an option with Lightsail.

The DNS costs for both options are relatively close. Lightsail packages allow 3 million DNS queries per month and charge $0.40 per million queries. With the EC2 approach, enterprises pay Route 53 charges of $0.40 per million DNS queries with no allowance. If the user maxes out DNS queries, this represents a difference of $1.20 per month in favor of Lightsail.

Transfer costs out to the internet are the big differentiator. Lightsail packages include a data transfer allowance to the internet of 1 to 6 TB per month. With EC2, the approach costs $.09 per GB after the first GB. For example, an EC2 app that sends 5 TB to the internet would cost $80 with the Lightsail package, compared to $525.86 for a t2.large-based EC2 approach -- $67.86 for the EC2 instance compute cost, $8 for 8 GB of EBS storage and $450 for the transfer.

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