Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud: Which Free Tier Is Best for You?

Comparing Clouds: AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Free Tiers
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Amazon first released its public cloud offering, Amazon Web Services (commonly known as AWS), in 2006. Since then, this so-called infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model has taken over the world of IT. Customers have been eager to use it for both business and personal needs, and other large tech companies have been eager to come up with similar offerings that might meet the growing demand for cloud services.

Which Free Cloud Tier is best? Comparing AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud

Only two years after AWS was released, Google came out with their public cloud option, Google Cloud Platform. Two years later, Microsoft joined the club when it released Azure.

Other companies, such as Oracle, IBM, and Alibaba, have wanted to grab their pieces of this very lucrative pie; however, they have, for the most part, been relegated to picking up the crumbs left behind by the big three. The original trio holds the majority of the cloud share, and it doesn’t seem like this will change anytime soon.

This article will compare the public cloud free tiers offered by AWS, Google, and Microsoft. Free tiers are great options for individuals looking to explore public cloud technology as well as for companies with limited budgets who need cloud computing services.

AWS Free Tier

At present, AWS offers about 60 services as part of its free tier. These services are provided through a formula. Some services can be used for 12 months for free, with the term starting from the moment the account is created. There are also services provided on a short-term, free trial basis.

Instead of starting when the account is opened, the 12-month terms for these services commence when their usage begins. This structure makes sense, since these offerings are much smaller and typically more specialized.

In addition to these two categories, there is a group of very useful services which are always free and available to both free tier and regular accounts. Described below are some of the more prominent freely-provided services in these three categories.

12 Months Free

This group includes some core AWS services. You can use 750 hours per month of AWS EC2 instances (t2.micro or t3.micro only) for both Linux and Windows. To meet your storage needs, 5GB of S3 object storage (along with 20000 GET, and 2000 PUT requests) are available. If you’re using databases, AWS RDS is free for 750 hours per month (using t2.micro instances) with 20GB of storage and 20GB dedicated to database backups.

Also included in this category are 5GB of free AWS EFS usage, 750 hours each for AWS ElastiCache (cache.t2micro or cache.t3.micro) and AWS Elasticsearch (single-AZ t2.small.elasticsearch), and 750 hours for Elastic Load Balancing. There are dozens of other less frequently used services too.

Free Trial

The free trial products are a bit more specialized. They include services like AWS SageMaker (250 hours of t2.medium notebook usage for the first two months), Amazon Lightsail (750 hours for 1 month), and Amazon WorkSpaces, (50 users) as well as AWS GuardDuty, AWS QuickSight, Amazon Redshift, and a few others.

Always Free

As discussed above, these services can be used indefinitely. Some of the services worth mentioning that fall into this category are Amazon DynamoDB (25GB of storage, along with 25 units of provisioned read and write capacity), AWS SNS (1,000,000 free publishes), AWS Lambda (1,000,000 requests), SQS (1,000,000 requests), and Amazon Glacier (10GB of free retrievals). Others include AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodePipeline, Key Management Service, and AWS Storage Gateway.

Azure Free Tier

Microsoft Azure is currently the second-largest public cloud provider, although its popularity is still somewhat far behind AWS’. The structure of Azure’s free tier is slightly different from the structure of AWS’ free tier. Azure does offer 12 months of free access to certain selected services as well as access to some services that are always free. The main difference is that Azure also provides you with a $200 credit that can be used however you like (within the 30 days).

12 Months Free

As with AWS, a lot of core services are provided in this category, including 750 hours (using B1S VM) of access to Windows virtual machines and Linux virtual machines. You are allotted 64 GB x 2 (P6 SSD) of Managed Disk Storage, 5GB (LRS hot block) of Blob Storage, and 5GB (LRS File Storage) of File Storage. Outbound data transfers are free for the first 15GB used.

Other free services offered for 12 months include SQL databases and the AI/machine learning services Computer Vision, Anomaly Detector, and Language Understanding.

Always Free

Microsoft Azure’s always free service category offers some very interesting products. They include Azure Kubernetes Service (container management), Azure DevOps (CI/CD tools), and Azure Cosmos DB (5GB of database storage and 400 request units). You can also access lots of developer tools, like Visual Studio Code and Machine Learning Server as well as network-related services (which are usually free of charge with public clouds).

Did you know: you can use N2WS for Azure Backup (and it saves you money)?

GCE Free Tier

Google Cloud has the smallest market share of the three big cloud providers, but use of its offering has been on the upswing lately. With its focus on machine learning, Google Cloud Platform is likely to take on a much more significant public cloud role in the near future.

Google Cloud Platform’s free tier follows a formula similar to Azure’s. You are given $300 to spend as you see fit during the first 12 months of your service. Google, too, provides some always free services; however, unlike AWK and Azure, Google does not offer any 12 months free offerings.

Always Free

Google’s always free services cover some core products needed to deploy and test various workloads. These include Compute Engine (F1-micro instance per month), Cloud Functions (up to 2 million invocations per month), Kubernetes Engine (a managed Kubernetes cluster in a single zone), Cloud Firestore database (1GB of storage), and BigQuery analytics (1TB of queries per month).

There are also some AI and machine learning services available, including Vision AI (1000 units per month), Speech-to-Text (up to 60 minutes of transcriptions), and others related to management.

Which free tier should you choose?

All three leading public cloud providers offer most of their core services, as well as a lot of other support services, as part of their free tiers. At present, AWS provides the greatest variety of services (like AWS WorkSpaces) while also allowing for some steady usage over time. This is helpful if you want to set up a simple cloud environment and use it as cheaply as possible for a while.

On the other hand, if you want to do some short-term cloud testing or have a proof of concept in place, the $200 or $300 credit provided by Azure and Google Cloud Platform might be very useful. If you need a specific service that is offered by only one of the three providers, your choice will likely be obvious.

To summarize the options, here is a visual cloud computing service comparison:

AWSGoogle CloudAzure
12 Month Free ServicesYes, Includes core services (each with its own limitations)NoYes, Includes core services (each with its own limitations)
Free Trial ServicesYes, A select few specialized services, to be tested for a specific period of timeNoNo
Always Free ServicesYes, Various services availableYes, Various services availableYes, Various services available
Free CreditNoYes, $300 to be used during the 12 month periodYes
$200 to be used during the 30 days period

Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud: Free Tier Cloud Computing Service

The final word on comparing your cloud computing free tier

The three main public cloud providers’ free tier offerings are constantly changing as new products and features come online. That said, the three offerings are starting to look more and more alike. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

There are still some differences in what these clouds offer overall, so competition among them benefits the free tier end users who are gaining access to more and more services. Because all three public clouds provide functional free tiers with substantial service offerings, your use case and business needs will most likely determine which one you choose to go with.

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