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:

Published September 10th, 2008 by

Looking for hosting? WPEngine offers secure managed WordPress hosting. You’ll get expert WordPress support, automatic backups, and caching for fast page loads. Visit WPEngine.

Join Our Newsletter!

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter chalked full of useful tips, techniques, and design goodies. We have 20,000+ loyal readers and counting! We’ll even send you a free e-book (Freelance Designer’s Guide to Multiple Income Streams) and a $10 discount on our most popular product the Freelance Starter Kit.

16 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Noura Yehia, September 10, 2008

    This is a good review Steven, specially from someone who actually tried this service and have a high profile website like yours with a lot of images to host.

    Though I still feel that Amazon S3 is not a cheap solution, it will definitely save you a good amount of money since your sites are hosted on mediatemple like Noupe.

    I am paying $170/month though i am on their regular $20 grid service. Thats due to the huge number of images that i have on Noupe.
    I think its time to think of a better solution like a VPS solution as it will take a long decade to host all the images that i have on S3 and go back and change all the image path on old posts.

    Great post Steven and very informative :)

  • redwall_hp, September 10, 2008

    I’ve looked at S3 before, and it seems like a pretty good deal. The Envato network sites make extensive use of it, it’s fast, and it looks like a good option for storing large files like podcasts (perhaps Libsyn has a real competitor now?).

    I haven’t had much reason to sign up for it yet, but it’s an option I’d definitely consider some day if I needed a storage service like that.

    Keep us posted on your experiences with S3.

  • Sumesh, September 11, 2008

    Stammy was probably one of the earliest to write about S3.

    I’m wondering just how much advantage it will have over a blog on a VPS/dedicated which also hosts the images (probably better to be on a VPS than on a shared host+S3).

    Most blogs with high traffic will move to VPS/dedicated servers any way.

  • Jacob Cass, September 11, 2008

    Just last week I upgraded to semi dedicated hosting (only $50/m) and it is going well however it did not survive front page of digg. I am thinking for large posts I could use S3 and have been thinking about it for the past couple of days so thanks for the review and the tip re the FF plugin.

  • Sander, September 11, 2008

    Seems like a good option to host the images and (download) files at another host, but how does this work for seo purpose and image search?

    I’ve searched google for images from designm.ag but I could not find images to see if you look at the image it will show also your website or just the image server from amazon.

    Does somebody has experience with seo and hosting images at another server?

  • VandelayDesign, September 11, 2008

    Sumesh,
    I’m going to be moving to a VPS at some point but I’l probably still keep the images on S3, see Jacob’s comment above. I looked at VPS options a few months ago, but none seemed considerably better than MT’s grid server for right now.

    Jacob,
    I talked to a few hosts about VPS, and it sounded like for a Digg fp there was still a good chance the site would go down for a while. That’s one of the reasons I decided to stay with MT for now, although I’ll probably change to a VPS within a few months. My overage charges with MT recently have been getting higher.

    Sander,
    Honestly, I’m not sure. That’s a good question.

  • Jacob Cass, September 11, 2008

    Jacob from SixRevisions uses http://www.slicehost.com and his articles are always on the front page, for example he has 3 articles on the front page of design even now and he still survives. There is a good community and support there as well.

    FDCServers has the cheapest VPS’s and has got very good reviews (I have been enquring on forums).
    http://www.fdcservers.net/Services/VirtualDedicatedServers/VPSVDSPlans#s103

    JCD is using about 20GB a day so I need somewhere that can hold that and the two sites above do that and for a good price.

  • Matthew Smith, September 11, 2008

    I have been using S3 on my site, but it does not get anywhere near the amount of traffic you get. My last bill was $0.04.

    One feature that was not mentioned above that I like is portability. I like the idea that I can switch hosts on a whim and not have to worry about transferring all my images.

  • Steven, September 11, 2008

    We are very happy with S3 and lucky to never experience a downtime so far. We don’t have many traffic peaks, but when they occur, they are really heavy.

  • Vandelay Design, September 11, 2008

    Jacob,
    SliceHost is very impressive based on Six Revisions. I would have gone with them a long time ago but there servers aren’t managed and that’s not something I want to deal with at this point.

    Matthew,
    That’s true. But switching hosts won’t always force you to change the images. I changed hosts before using S3 and had no problems, just uploaded the same image folder.

  • Jacob Cass, September 11, 2008

    Wow I just got S3 setup within 10minutes, really easy to use! Gonna test it out on a massive image post.

  • Vandelay Design, September 11, 2008

    Jacob,
    It’s pretty easy if you know what to expect. I didn’t know much about the service when I signed up, then fortunately I found the post at Coding Horror and was up and running pretty quickly.

  • Webmaster Guy, September 12, 2008

    I just got an account with them an will be trying their services with a new website made specially to sell amazon products.
    This looks like a good service for a cheap price which is hard to find nowadays on the www.

  • Jesse Andrews, September 20, 2008

    I wrote s3:// (another s3 extension for firefox) – which was just approved by Mozilla – https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/6955

    I like S3Fox for some tasks and mine for others. Best of luck with your journey into S3.