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Amazon Lightsail vs. EC2: Do updates tip the scale?

Amazon Lightsail updates will make the cloud bundle an appealing option for some AWS users, but EC2 still provides more benefits for users that need infrastructure flexibility.

Developers can use Amazon Lightsail to spin up servers and web applications as a single package. It's less configurable...

than what they can create on Amazon EC2, but it's also a lot easier to deploy and estimate costs.

In 2017, I wrote a detailed analysis on Lightsail vs. EC2 and other competitive offerings, but a lot has changed since then. AWS made significant Lightsail price reductions and added more availability zones, integration options and support for Windows instances. Lightsail also has more built-in capabilities with a managed database and a load balancer.

Taken collectively, these updates may make the service even more attractive as a means to develop, deploy and manage basic websites and applications. Let's review these changes and whether they tip the balance in the Lightsail vs. EC2 debate.

Lightsail vs. EC2: Better pricing and larger instances

Amazon cut Lightsail costs in half for most Linux instance sizes and also added a few new instance sizes. The one exception is the smallest-sized instance, with 512 MB of RAM and 20 GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage, which dropped from $5 per month to $3.50. Still, it compares favorably to the EC2 equivalent, the T2.nano, which also dropped in price from $0.0059 to $0.0058 per hour -- or about $4.18 per month -- but that doesn't include SSD or data transfer costs. With a similar amount of SSD storage to the Lightsail package, the T2.nano now comes out to $6.20 per month.

Previously, the largest Lightsail package came with 8 GB of RAM and 80 GB of SSD storage and cost $80 per month. But now there's a $40 mid-tier offering that includes 8 GB of memory, 160 GB of SSD storage and 5 TB of data transfer. This again compares favorably to a T2.large instance, which costs $67.74 per month or $83.74 with 160 GB of storage.

AWS added an even larger $160 Lightsail package that includes 32 GB of RAM, 640 GB of SSD storage and 7 TB of data transfers. This is comparable to the T2.2xlarge that comes with 32 GB of RAM for $270.98 per month or $334 with 640 GB of SSD storage.

Some outbound transfer costs are included with Lightsail but not with EC2. The Lightsail packages now include an allowance of between 1 TB and 7 TB of free data transfers, depending on instance size. EC2 instances still cost $0.09 per GB transferred after the first gigabyte. This could add up to an additional $90 for 1 TB and $630 for 7 TB of data transferred per month.

Windows support

Amazon added the option to deploy Windows servers on top of Lightsail in 2017, including Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016 and Windows Server 2016 with SQL Express. These offerings make it easy to build, test and deploy .NET and Windows applications without the infrastructure management headaches.

Windows Lightsail servers are priced higher than the Linux variants due to licensing fees. The Windows plans start at $8 per month for 512 MB of RAM, 30 GB of SSD and 1 TB of data transfers. The high-end Windows plan costs $240 per month and includes 32 GB of RAM, 640 GB of SSD storage and 7 TB of data transfers.

Lightsail vs. EC2 managed databases

AWS added managed database support for the standard and high-availability Lightsail tiers. This simplifies the selection process for MySQL databases, as well as efforts to launch, secure, monitor and maintain those repositories. Support for PostgreSQL is planned for the near future.

The service automatically maintains a seven-day rolling backup of the database, and developers can configure longer duration backups with snapshots that are billed separately. These bundles are more expensive than Linux or Windows instances, and have much more limited transfer allowances.

The high-availability tier adds support for redundancy and failover to servers staged in different Amazon availability zones. The standard managed databases start at $15 per month for 1 GB of RAM, 40 GB of storage and 100 GB of data transfers, and goes up to $115 per month for 8 GB of RAM, 240 GB of storage and 200 GB of data transfers. The high-availability tiers are priced at double these rates.

Lightsail managed databases don't provide the same level of performance or throughput that larger databases such as MongoDB or Cassandra might require. EC2 instances with provisioned IOPS SSD storage are a better option than Lightsail in these cases.

Load Balancer

Amazon has also added a load balancer service to the Lightsail platform. This improves performance and redundancy because it simplifies the redirection of traffic across multiple Lightsail instances. The Lightsail load balancing service is priced at $18 per month. The service makes it easier to create a collection of Lightsail instances in different regions and then direct users to the closest instance.

This was last published in December 2018

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What else should AWS do to improve Lightsail?