The Real Cost of AWS Web Hosting

Wednesday, February 26, 2020
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There’s no denying the fact that Amazon has an accomplished marketing and public relations team. Their skilful ads catch our attention and create a positive, easy-going image of their services, but this is not necessarily the case when you actually work with them. As is often the case in sales, Amazon is playing to its strengths.

Take, for instance, AWS. From all the cloud hosting providers currently available, setting up a WordPress site with Amazon is one of the most expensive and time-consuming options out there. Of course, there are some advantages to using AWS, but they’re least felt with websites that have small-to-medium traffic. Let’s take a closer look to find out why.

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How Does AWS Pricing Work?

AWS is a pioneer of the pay-as-you-go pricing model. What this means is that you will never have to limit yourself to subscriptions with fixed configurations. You have immense freedom in terms of the resources you allocate to your own cloud and you are charged for each module individually.

No long-term contracts are needed and, when you don’t use AWS’s services anymore, your billing also stops (unless you’ve specifically opted for a contract). If you expect periods of high-traffic on your website(s), Amazon’s EC2 Auto Scaling enables you to dynamically allocate more resources so that your web architecture can withstand periods of overload.

Once the intense traffic subsides, the virtual machines scale back and you only pay for the amount of time you actually used the additional resources. Overall, AWS’s pricing is simple, straightforward, and favours the end-user. But there’s obviously a catch.

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What You Need to Launch an AWS WordPress Site

Every web developer can testify to the fact that launching a WordPress website is an easy undertaking. Anyone with basic computer skills and willingness to watch a few video tutorials can do it. This is the rationale behind WordPress and the reason why this open-source, PHP-based framework holds the title of most popular content management system.

Launching a WordPress page with AWS is an entirely different matter, though. You have to use Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk interface to:

  1. Launch a default virtual private cloud (VPC) database instance using Amazon RDS.
  2. Modify the security rules of the database to allow incoming traffic.
  3. Download and extract the WordPress suite using the command line terminal.
  4. Launch an Elastic Beanstalk EC2 environment, configure its properties, make sure you have all the necessary resources in your WordPress-Beanstalk folder, and then deploy it.
  5. Install the WordPress CMS. Finally.
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This is by no means a complete tutorial, just a summary for the sake of brevity. If one thing is clear, it’s that AWS is not made for rapid deployment. To its credit, the service has an immense knowledge base that will guide you through these processes, provided you have the time and mental fortitude to spare.

What you lose in terms of streamlining you gain in terms of infrastructure flexibility, performance, and reliability. Whether you do need AWS to host a WordPress site is… well, debatable. Most people would say no. At least not until you plan on expanding on your web development skills or seek to build a page (such as a storefront) you expect rapid and substantial growth from.

AWS Pricing Example: Hosting a Small WordPress Site

Hypothetically, let’s say you’ve decided to build a WordPress site using AWS. It makes sense in your situation because you’re either into e-commerce or you’re using the page to introduce clients to a web-based application. What would its costs be?

For a 16 vCPUs, 32GB RAM, and 500 GB configuration that’s capable of handling a high number of simultaneous users, you’d be paying an excess of $1,200 per month. The price tends to vary across regions, so you can expect hosting the resources in Europe to be somewhere in the lines of 10% to 15% more expensive.

You can get AWS discounts if you’re willing to enter long-term contracts and pay more up-front, but this runs counter-intuitive to the pay-as-you-go model. We’re trying to keep our overheads to the minimum. What if the business doesn’t take off or we have to re-profile?

By comparison, you can expect to pay less than 50% on an identical Digital Ocean or Google Cloud plan without any contractual commitments. If you want to run a low-to-medium traffic AWS website with modest resources (2 vCPUs, 8GB RAM, and 20GB SSD), you can expect to pay around $70 per month, which is still roughly 3x higher than GCP and the industry average. This is with basic support and a free tier discount.

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Given the virtual machine, database, and security setups you have to go through to launch an AWS WordPress website, you will likely feel compelled to hire someone to handle this aspect of your operations so that you can focus on nurturing the business itself. This will further increase your budget on top of AWS’s premium monthly fee.

Overall, you can tell that despite AWS’ market share and image, they are certainly not the most affordable or straightforward solution to build WordPress sites. It’s possible and, in certain instances, even recommended to use AWS for this purpose, but only if we’re discussing a business in need of a reliable infrastructure or the case of independent web developers. Otherwise… not so much.