The AWS free tier is a great way to get started using Amazon Web Services — it can be a great boost to individuals, startups, and small businesses. In fact, the AWS free tier was essential to getting ParkMyCloud off the ground when we launched. But of course, this program has limits on what you can use without being charged.

The AWS free tier is designed to give you the AWS experience without the cost, but that also comes with limitations on instance types, storage, hours, and how often you can call operations each month. Of course, all good things must come to an end. If you’ve outgrown the free tier option and are ready to experience the full benefits of AWS, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most out of being a paying AWS customer.

#1 Set spending limits

The first thing to consider when your 12 months on forgoing the AWS free tier expire option is the most obvious difference – cost versus no cost. You’re paying for cloud services now, so ensure that you don’t pay more than you intend to.

Use AWS Budgets to create custom cost and usage budgets that notify you when you exceed (or are about to exceed) your budgeted amount. Track budgets by the month, quarter, or year, with custom start and end dates. You can also track costs by services, account, tags, and more, receiving alerts directly to your email or through the Simple Notification Service.

With AWS Budgets, you can also set custom utilization targets for reserved instances including Amazon EC2 instances, Amazon RDS, Amazon Redshift, and Amazon ElastiCache, receiving alerts whenever your usage drops below your set utilization target. To get started with creating and tracking budgets, start from the AWS Budgets dashboard or the Budgets API.

#2 Optimize resource usage

Next, you need to ensure that that budget is only going toward resources you actually need – so cost optimization should be a top priority. You might be overpaying by leaving instances running during non-production times, when you don’t need them. Scheduling stop/start times with automation is an easy way to integrate cost control outside of the AWS free tier.

#3 Set sizing limits

Yet another caveat of cost optimization is right sizing. Besides making sure your instances are turned off when not in use, you should also make a practice of only using as much as you need at a given time, and that’s where right sizing comes into play. Size your workloads according to performance and capacity requirements, both initially and on an ongoing basis to ensure that resources do not end up underused or idle. AWS suggests that you use CloudWatch metrics to get a full view of your environment, and make a habit of right sizing once per month to keep the process smooth, ensure that you’re monitoring costs and keeping track of your billing and usage over time.

See a full list of cost traps to avoid in The Cloud Waste Checklist.  

#4 Plan your tagging structure

As your infrastructure grows, it’s important to manage your AWS resources with an effective tagging strategy. Tagging gives you the ability to attach custom metadata to instances, images, and more. Resources can be categorized by owner, purpose, or environment, helping you stay organized, improve visibility, and keep costs in check.

A good tagging strategy gives you a more accurate model for chargeback and showback and better insight in your usage and spend, but it’s up to you to enforce quality of tagging. Soft enforcement gives users notifications when policies are not followed, and hard enforcement automatically removes resources that are not tagged to align with company standard. According to AWS, organizations that use hard enforcement have a better time ensuring that quality of tagging is enforced.

Learn more about tagging best practices.

#5 Establish governance

Scheduling, right sizing, budget limits, and tagging are all methods of keeping costs optimized after you switch from the AWS free tier to a paid, full-service option. But what do all of these practices have in common? Governance. Clear policies and processes to keep usage, capacity requirements, and billing in check are all part of cloud and cost management, and should remain an ongoing priority as you continue using AWS or any cloud service provider.

For more information and how to plan governance after outgrowing the AWS free tier option, learn about how one software company automates governance.

About Katy Stalcup

Katy Stalcup is the Director of Marketing for ParkMyCloud, where she’s responsible for a wide variety of content development, campaigns, and events. Since ParkMyCloud's founding, she's evangelized its message of simple cost savings and automation (seriously, in the words of one of our customers, "There is literally no reason not to use ParkMyCloud"). Katy is a Northern Virginia native who is happy to contribute to the region’s growing reputation as an East Coast gathering point for technology innovation - particularly as a graduate of the Alexandria, VA Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She also earned bachelor’s degrees in communication and psychology from Virginia Tech. In her free time, she enjoys reading novels, playing strategy board games, and travel both near and far.

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