My First Impressions of Amazon S3

A few months ago I was looking into a variety of hosting options before launching DesignM.ag and Amazon S3 stood out as an attractive option for hosting the images used on the site. If you’re not familiar with Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), it “is designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers.”

A growing number of websites and blogs are using S3 to host media files and for server backups, and ultimately I felt that it was a great way to reduce the burden on the server of the host by storing images on a separate server. S3 is an attractive option because it is low cost (particularly in comparison to hosting overage charges) and very flexible. Once you open an account you can upload as little or as much as you want, and you only pay for what you use.

Here are the prices provided at Amazon:

United States

Storage
$0.15 per GB-Month of storage used

Data Transfer
$0.100 per GB – all data transfer in

$0.170 per GB – first 10 TB / month data transfer out
$0.130 per GB – next 40 TB / month data transfer out
$0.110 per GB – next 100 TB / month data transfer out
$0.100 per GB – data transfer out / month over 150 TB

Requests
$0.01 per 1,000 PUT, POST, or LIST requests
$0.01 per 10,000 GET and all other requests*
* No charge for delete requests

Europe

Storage
$0.18 per GB-Month of storage used

Data Transfer
$0.100 per GB – all data transfer in

$0.170 per GB – first 10 TB / month data transfer out
$0.130 per GB – next 40 TB / month data transfer out
$0.110 per GB – next 100 TB / month data transfer out
$0.100 per GB – data transfer out / month over 150 TB

Requests
$0.012 per 1,000 PUT, POST, or LIST requests
$0.012 per 10,000 GET and all other requests*
* No charge for delete requests

Although there are plenty of reasons to use S3, it’s not a perfect service. My biggest frustration at first was just figuring out how to use the service, something that you would think would be well-documented by Amazon. Unfortunately there’s no simple way to use the service at this point without messing with the API or use some type of third-party resource.

Fortunately, I came across a post on Coding Horror that looks at the process in good detail, and it links to an extremely useful Firefox Add-on, S3Fox Organizer. There’s really only a few necessary actions that you’ll need to do with S3 if you’re just using it for image hosting, which only makes it more frustrating that Amazon doesn’t make the process simpler. However, with S3Fox Organizer you can be up-and-running in minutes. Once you enter the details of your S3 account you can easily upload new images and work with the “buckets”, where you will be storing your images. Uploading images is relatively similar to using the FTP function in Dreamweaver (or some other FTP program) and there’s almost nothing complicated about the S3Fox Add-on.

The Pros and Cons of My First Month with Amazon S3

Although I was looking for an option for DesignM.ag, I wound up using S3 to host images from this blog as well. Just last week I got the bill for my first month and the total came to $53. While that may seem like a high hosting price tag to some readers (although that doesn’t include the price of MediaTemple’s hosting), keep in mind that the price is for two websites, both are relatively high traffic, and both include a number of posts with lots of images. Although I did expect the price to wind up being a bit lower, the main servers have been given a bit of relief by using S3, and some overage charges with MediaTemple were avoided.

The Pros of S3

Reduced Server Load – As I mentioned earlier, the biggest factor for me in choosing to use S3 was the fact that I could take some pressure off of the main server and hopefully increase the performance of the site. In this area I’m pretty pleased with S3. I have noticed faster loading of posts that have lots of images, compared to how posts on this blog used to load when all images were hosted on the main server (I didn’t go back and move the images on older posts to S3, they’re still on MediaTemple’s servers. That could be done in the future).

Flexible Pricing – If your website or blog doesn’t currently use a lot of resources, there’s no need to avoid using S3 because of price. You’ll only be charged for what you use, even if that is only $1 a month.

Can Be Used for Multiple Sites – I have both of my sites on one account and that makes things a little simpler, in my opinion. The only reasons I could see for not using the same account would be 1) for organization (I use the bucket system to keep the two sites separate) 2) if you’re planning to sell one of your sites. If this is the case you’d be better off with multiple accounts for when the site is sold.

Lots of Potential – Image hosting is really just a fraction of what you can do with S3, although it seems to be one of the more popular uses.

The S3Fox Organizer Add-on – Although it’s not provided by Amazon, the S3Fox Add-on has had a huge impact on my experience with S3. Although there are a few other options for doing the same tasks, I didn’t find any of them to be as straightforward as S3Fox Organizer.

The Cons of S3

No Easy Way to Use the Service – Unless you’re using third-party resources, like the Firefox add-on, you’ll have to deal with the API to use the service. Personally, I think this is a big negative. I don’t see why Amazon couldn’t create something on their own to make it easier to use the service.

Downtime Has Been an Issue – Although the service has been pretty reliable overall, a few significant issues have happened, and that has led to high-profile sites (like this article at ReadWriteWeb) to question the service.

Conclusion:

Overall, I’m happy with S3 so far. It has helped to reduce the load on the main servers of both websites, and that’s what I wanted. I do recommend S3 to other website owners and bloggers, but I encourage you to do your own research before deciding on any hosting option, whether it’s just for media files or for your entire website. The flexible pricing is a great feature that will let you grow into the service without ever having a price tag that’s higher than it’s worth.

If you’re interested in reading more about S3, here are some additional resources:

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