Getting Started with Amazon Web Services (AWS)

In the past few weeks, I’ve been heavily working in Azure and also talking with colleagues about my experiences as well. The discussion always seems to come up that AWS has similar features, but not many people seem to be familiar. So, I decided to do a quick dive in and see what I could learn.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud hosting platform from Amazon. It let’s you create virtual servers, host websites, host databases and queues, etc – all securely in the cloud. So, this is an alternative to using a traditional web host – or for Windows Azure, which is Microsoft’s offering of the same type.

So, as a developer – what can I do with AWS? How is it valuable? I don’t know yet – that is what I set out to learn! This blog post is what I learned in about an hour of playing around.

Where do you start?

STEP 1: Create a FREE account (and use the “Free Tier”)
This alone is pretty impressive! They have a free tier, which gives you access to quite a bit of computing power. You can run VM’s, set up VPN’s, host blobs or queues, etc – all for free! Start by going here:

If you want to see an enumerated list of all of the individual services you can use over the course of a month, see this page:

STEP 2: Understand what the “Free Tier” is
It’s free to all users (including commercial/corporate). It gives you access to modest resources in all of their offerings for free, with a monthly cap on usage. This free tier lasts for one year from when you sign up, and then turns into a Pay-As-You-Go configuration. if you go over your allowance, you are automatically billed for the usage.

You DO need a credit card to sign up, in case you go over your allotment!

I learned all of this by the way, on that same FAQ page.

STEP 3: Set up spending limit alerts
Before you do anything else, go over to Preferences and enable “Receive Billing Alerts:


Next, go over the the Metric Summary page and create an Alarm.


Now, this is VERY unnerving to me. With Azure, you can set a “spending limit”. If you go over, then your service gets suspended. With AWS, if you start incurring charges, you must log in to correct the problem all while you are racking up charges!

STEP 4: Explore AWS Offerings!
Yikes, they have tons and tons of proprietary technologies. I don’t know what most of these do! However, in case you don’t feel like making an account to see this page, here is a summary:


To keep things “simple”, I just played with the EC2 option – where you can create new Virtual Machines. The UI is a kind of cluttered and confusing, but I basically figured it out:


it took maybe 5-10 minutes to provision a new virtual machine. You have to generate a keypair and you MUST keep that certificate, as that is how you log into the remote machine:


and sure enough, I can connect to the remote machine from my workstation, using RDP:


STEP 5: Install the Visual Studio plug-in
If you are reading this blog, chances are you are more of a .NET developer. So, you should be aware that there is a pretty powerful add-in for Visual Studio which lets you interact with these services. You can install it from here:

I first had to go to the IAM section of the AWS console to create a user account:


I needed to create a user account, because you have to use the “access keys” for a user account, to connect the Add-In to the correct AWS account. Once installed and once you put in your access keys – you now have a quick way to access your AWS resources:


There you have it! At the very least, you can bring up a low-end (single core, 1GB RAM, 30Gb drive) server to host stuff – for free. As for all those other services? I don’t know, I’d have to dig into them and see what they do. If I do, I’ll do a blog post about it.

Posted in AWS, Azure, Cloud Computing, Computers and Internet, Infrastructure, Uncategorized

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