Amazon Lightsail Review: The user-friendly VPS solution from AWS

Wed, 2016-11-30 18:33

Amazon re:Invent is happening right now. I couldn't afford to attend the event, but I did keep in touch with the event. One interesting thing that came out of the event is Amazon Lightsail. It is directly competing with the budget cloud VPS providers such as Digital Ocean, Linode, etc. AWS already had its EC2 line, the t2.nano instance in particular that came with 0.5GB RAM, and options to purchase SSD storage. However, with the DNS handled at AWS Route53, storage at EBS, computing at EC2, it can be a little overwhelming to get a cheaper VPS-like server up and running. The bandwidth costs are hard to predict, and overall, it can work out cheaper to buy a regular VPS from some other VPS provider.

Yesterday, Amazon announced generally available Amazon Lightsail, and I could give it a try. Here are some observations.

The packages

Instead of doing math how much bandwidth you might need, the storage, whether it's a t2.nano instance or a t2.micro or something else, Lightsail gives you a list of plans with everything included.

If you have used Digital Ocean, Linode, Vultr, or pretty much any VPS service, you will immediately see that the pricing is quite competitive. Here is a comparison with other providers with their prices as of today, with each provider's $10 plan:

Amazon Lightsail Digital Ocean Vultr Linode
Price $10 $10 $10 $10
Hourly pricing
RAM 1 GB 1 GB 1 GB 2 GB
Bandwidth 2 TB 2 TB 2 TB 2 TB
Disk space 30 GB SSD 30 GB SSD 20 GB SSD 24 GB SSD

If you compare just the prices to the specs, you will notice Lightsail getting into the cheapo war, and providing exact same specs Digital Ocean provides. Not only that, all of the Lightsail plans have exact same specs except for the CPU count. I did not include the CPU counts because the number of virtual CPUs doesn't mean anything. I however have the CPU instructions set comparison below.

Choice of operating systems

This is where Lightsail lacks a bit. As of now, you are limited to Amazon Linux and Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. This is rather surprising given the number of AMIs they have for EC2. I'm pretty sure they will have a lot of variety choose from. Interestingly, they already have Bitnami images to install a pre-configured stack. It has images for Wordpress, Drupal, Plain 'ol Nginx, etc: Even more reasons who are not familiar with server administration to still try Lightsail. To be fair, almost every other VPS provider has these images too, so it's not extraordinary of Lightsail. Some providers are even better at this. Vultr, for example, lets you upload any ISO file and create a VPS instance from it. This depends on the virtualization system each provider uses, but Vultr is quite good in that.

Network speed

I spun up a $5 instance in the Virginia zone, and downloaded a few test files. I have to say I'm a bit disappointed with the speeds. I have another VPS in New Jersey that I pulled a 100mb test file to.

Lightsail: 100MB file request - NYC (Digital Ocean) to Virginia (Lightsail)

Speed: 13.5 MB/s

Vultr: 100MB file request - NYC (Digital Ocean) to New Jersey (Vultr)

Speed: 42.8 MB/s
Vultr could request the file more than two times faster. Since the Vultr server is located in New Jersey (NYC - NJ is closer than NYC - Virginia), I also pulled test files from Paris, Amsterdam, SF and a few other place. In all case, Vultr was faster.

Lightsail (Virginia) Vultr (New Jersey)
NYC 12.6 MB/s 38.9 MB/s
SF 3.42 MB/s 31.9 MB/s
London 1.93 MB/s 32.6 MB/s
Amsterdam 2.86 MB/s 32.3 MB/s

I seriously hope Lightsail was at least having something technically wrong, because Lightsail is obviously not working well in their networking.

The combo

The biggest advantage with Lightsail is that the total cost can work out cheaper than buying these services individually.

Let's take the $5 512 MB plan for example. To create a loosely similar setup with other AWS services, you will need EC2 for computing, EBS for the storage, pay separately for the bandwidth, and host your own DNS. Time for a quick table once again:

Computing

Lightsail's $5 plan comes with 512MB RAM, 2.4 Ghz processor.

Amazon EC2 t2.nano instances have 512MB RAM, and "High Frequency Intel Xeon Processors". A reserved t2.nano with 3 years paid upfront costs $0.004 per hour. On-demand costs more. For a month, this roughly makes $3.

Storage

Lightsail: 20GB SSD storage included.
Amazon EBS, 20 GB SSD costs $2.

DNS

Lightsail: 3 zones for free, with a 3 million query limit. Limited configuration options (see below).
Amazon Route53 will set you $0.50 * 3 for 3 zones (think about them as domains), plus $0.4 * 3 for 3 million DNS requests. You get to manage every configuration as well.

Bandwidth

Lightsail: includes 2TB transfer.
Amazon EC2 costs a fortune if you have to serve 2TB from EC2, at $0.155/GB. Nobody sane serves this much of traffic directly from EC2. CloudFront can be cheap if you opt to not use the South African and African regions, at about $0.02/GB.

Time for a table!

Lightsail AWS services A La Carte
Compute 512MB, 1vCPU incl. t2.nano, $3/mo
Storage 20GB SSD incl. EBS, $2/mo
DNS 3 zones, 3M queries. Limitations apply Route 53, $2.7/mo
Bandwidth 2 TB incl. $.02 - $0.115, depends on usage
Total $5 $7.7 + bandwidth

For $5, Lightsail gives the best value on the same AWS infrastructure.
- Mathematics



The bad news

I'm picky when it comes to VPSs. I could immediately find some of the things that you might find a deal breaker.

  • DNS manager only allows A, CNAME, MX and TXT records. No AAAA support. AAAA records are necessary to declare what the IPv6 address for the given host name is.
  • DNS manager - No way to configure TTL.
  • Lack of operating systems to choose from.
  • No IPv6 addresses assigned.
  • Only US East is available for now.

Overall, it appears that AWS is ready to compete with the cloud VPS market who offer a great value with lower prices. It is only a few hours since Lightsail became available, and I'm positive Lightsail will catch up soon. CloudFront, for example, got a huge feature boost with HTTP/2 support, IPv6, Free TLS certificates (read why you need to make your site HTTPS here), and overall cheaper prices. Lightsail might as well, in the near future.

Know any pros, cons, or have any other thoughts? Comment below!