AWS Local Zones offers low latency, with clear limitations

Get to know Local Zones, the AWS infrastructure deployment service built for customers that need to run low-latency applications in specific areas far from AWS Regions.

AWS Local Zones is Amazon's latest attempt to extend the physical reach of its core cloud services.

AWS has added multiple tools and services in recent years to address customer needs that can't necessarily be met inside public cloud data centers. This includes services like AWS Outposts, which packages some Amazon cloud services inside private data centers, and AWS Snowball, which can physically transfer petabytes of data. Developers can use AWS Local Zones to better reach large populations of end users or IT assets not located near a full-scale AWS Region data center.

AWS Local Zones is still in preview, but let's take an early look at this service to see how you could potentially work it into your AWS infrastructure strategy.

What is AWS Local Zones?

AWS Local Zones is an infrastructure deployment service that brings a limited number of AWS products -- compute, storage and other services -- closer to a specific geographic area. Local Zones essentially provides faster access to these specific Amazon cloud services for users of latency-sensitive applications that are relatively far from the primary data centers in an AWS Region. AWS built Local Zones to provide these customers with extremely low latency that can be measured in single-digit milliseconds, according to Amazon.

Use cases for AWS Local Zones include machine learning, which requires fast model training, and ad tech, which requires rapid ad serving. The service is also useful to process media, such as video streaming, media production pipelines and online gaming.

AWS Local Zones will still be a logical part of the nearest AWS Region, which is the parent region. This means the Local Zone will not only use a naming convention that reflects its parent region, but it will also rely on that region for all API calls and web console access.

The first Local Zone is in Los Angeles. This Local Zone is a part of the U.S. West (Oregon) region and is named "us-west-2-lax-1a" for programmatic access. A Local Zone relies on private network connections to link to the parent region, but connections to the public internet use an internet gateway to provide the promised network speeds.

At time of publication, the Los Angeles Local Zone can only be accessed by invitation. Users can request access here. After you have access to the Local Zone, create the necessary networking subnets within your Amazon VPC and use it to launch EC2 instances and other resources via your Local Zone.

Supported services

Local Zones currently supports a select group of AWS resources. These include the T3, C5, M5, R5, R5d, I3en and G4 instance types, as well as Amazon Elastic Block Store General Purpose SSD and Provisioned IOPS SSD volumes. Local Zones also supports Amazon VPC, Elastic Load Balancing, FSx for Windows File Server and FSx for Lustre. In addition, AWS Identity Access and Management, CloudFormation and Organizations are supported since they are necessary for infrastructure administration, management, deployment and access.

Single-zone Amazon Relational Database Service is slated to be added soon. After that, other services will be prioritized based on customer demand.

Local Zones limitations and cost considerations

Clearly, the single location and the restrictions on supported services limits the workloads that can run in Local Zones. And while Amazon can be quite agile when it comes to expansion, there is no telling how long it will be before Local Zones lands in an area near you. Even then, unless you require only a basic set of AWS products, AWS Local Zones might not meet your needs.

Cost might also be an issue. While there is no additional charge to enable Local Zones, the same service typically costs more to run in Local Zones than it does in the parent region.

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