Amazon Web Services, or as it is commonly referred to, AWS, is a suite of web hosting and data storage services offered by Amazon.com. Turns out, Amazon isn’t just a big online book-seller, they are also in the web hosting business!
One of the biggest questions facing young tech startups is how much to invest in their web hosting infrastructure. Take us as an example, today Skillcrush only has a few thousand regular visitors, but what if Techcrunch writes about us and a few thousand people try to access our site all at once? Will our web hosting service be able to handle the extra traffic? If not, what can we do? And since we don’t know when Techcrunch will decide to write about us, how do we make sure we are ready?
Back in the day, the only way to make your site ready for a few thousand simultaneous visitors was to plan way ahead and buy enough web servers to handle the onslaught. And that cost a lot of money! Money often not well spent.
Fortunately for us, a few years back a smart engineer at Amazon realized that there might be a business opportunity in renting some of Amazon’s excess web server capacity to other companies.
And thus, AWS was born. The two most popular AWSes are EC2 and S3. EC2 stands for Elastic Compute Cloud (that’s E C-squared) and it is exactly that: elastic web hosting that can grow or contract as your business needs change. Only have a few hundred hits on your site? No problem, with EC2 you can use and pay for only what you need. But when that big article comes down the pike, you will be able to instantly add server power and be ready for the crowds.
S3 is Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S to the third power). S3 is commonly used to store multimedia files such as images. Like EC2, S3 allows you to store as little or as much data as you need and only pay for the space you use.
So who uses AWS? Well, many of the tech companies that you know and love. You might remember a few weeks back that a storm in Virginia knocked out an Amazon server farm and Netflix, Instagram AND Pinterest all went offline. Other companies like 37Signals and AppSumo use Amazon’s S3 service (you can tell because of that telltale S3 at the beginning of their image URLs).
Cocktail Party Fact
Tor is a Knight Foundation backed internet privacy project that enables users to protect themselves and their internet habits from surveillance. One of it’s central goals is to promote freedom on the Internet and make sure that journalists can do their research and reporting away from government scrutiny.
One of Tor’s projects is called the Tor Cloud, and what it does is allow users, like you and I, to buy server space on Amazon’s EC2 servers and donate that space to Tor. Tor, in turn, sets up their special software on the server and are thus able to give journalists and political activists who live in countries like China access to the uncensored web.