Exploring the AWS universe

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By Chris Dilworth
Date: 2022-01-15T00:00
Summary: A couple of years ago I created an AWS account and spun up an EC2 instance for a defunct PHP/MySQL-based project. Now I wanted to take a deep dive into AWS to see what other possibilities for hosting solutions existed.

Doing the research

The first step in researching anything, really, is to join the appropriate Reddit groups and monitor them for a while, to see what gems get churned to the surface. AWS is not very friendly towards non-enterprise users--Help is a paid service. It is virtually impossible to grasp the mutitude of AWS services and understand the micro-niche use-cases that they are designed for without some professional guidance. True, AWS does offer certification courses, but I can think of better ways to spend a couple of months of my life.

Sure enough, sifting through the techo-speak dross of the AWS community revealed others, like myself, who merely seek simple solutions to common problems. What's the attraction of AWS? It is vast, but it offers 99.9999999% uptime, a blazing fast CDN (Content Delivery Network), and total control for those with the nerve to take it on. Also, it seems aware (I put it in the same class as SkyNet) that self-starters can get into trouble. One poor sod, was actually billed $20,000 when his AWS account was hacked. (Upon reading this I immediately made my password super-secure, added MFA and set billing alarms.)

Living with AWS reminds me of the time that I crashed at a friend's house, sleeping on the floor next to his 300lb Rottweiler that he had trained as an attack dog and that looked at me with its colorless, baleful eyes. Basically, be aware that you are in bed with a monster that can tear your finances to ribbons without a shred of remorse. The onus is on you to monitor the services you subscribe to. The reason I took down my project was because some bored 13-year-old decided to write a snippet that would cause my subscriber database to inflate, and AWS billed me accordingly.

Cloud computing is the future. The times of having boxes on racks with RAIDs (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) and ISDN/DSL lines are long gone. The process of spinning up an EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) instance, an RDS (Relational Database Service), registering a domain with Route 53 and setting up SSL had been relatively straight forward. My PHP/MySQL project had served its purpose, and I was wondering whether I still needed that EC2, or was there a better AWS service that would suit my simple needs.

So what are the gems?

The first gem was AWS's S3 (Simple Storage Service). I had used S3 before to store snapshots (backups) of my project, but I hadn't fully understood its potential. I could store a simple website there, point CloudFront to it and point my DNS to the CloudFront endpoint and, wham-bam, a very fast public website is born. What was even better, was that I could set up a pipeline from GitLab to my S3 bucket to give me continuous integration. So, I make a change in VSCode, push it to GitLab, and my S3 bucket is automatically updated!

The next gem was AWS's LightSail VPS (Virtual Private Server). I had never heard of this before, and I think it is a relatively recent AWS offering. I'm not sure which cam first, CapRover or LightSail. But I installed CapRover on LightSail and have not regretted it yet. I want to wait until I get my monthly AWS bill to see what the cost break-down is and whether I should migrate my S3-hosted website into my LightSail/CapRover instance. I am sure that there are other gems out there in the AWS universe, and I look forward to finding them.

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