Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a sprawling list of over 200 different cloud services hosted on Amazon’s global data centers. You can read more about how AWS underpins the internet in our AWS hosting guide.
In our AWS review, we’ll focus mainly on Amazon Lightsail, the AWS service most closely aligned with the best web hosting and the best VPS (virtual private server) solutions on offer today.
AWS review: Snapshot
AWS has web services applicable to everything from tiny single-page sites to multi-server installations, and Lightsail is the best of the bunch for SMEs. It compares favorably in functionality and performance to the best VPS providers like Bluehost and HostGator, yet it beats them on pricing at every turn.
Lightsail is marginally more difficult to set up and use than a typical VPS, and there’s no free support tier. You can purchase support, but it’s quite expensive. So, Lightsail best suits SMEs with a competent tech team that are looking to save on the cost of hosting a web application on the cloud.
Read on for our full and detailed review.
Amazon Lightsail’s competitors
|Pros||Superb pricing – Instant app deployment||Unlimited bandwidth – Fast support||Free Cloudflare – CDN 24/7 phone and live chat assistance|
|Cons||Expensive support – Complex pricing structure||High renewal prices – Slow page load speeds||Uptime issues – Aggressive upselling|
|Verdict||Great pricing, flexibility, and features for tech-savvy users||The best choice for an unlimited data plan||A solid VPS provider with 24/7 phone support included|
|View deals||Visit site||Visit site||Visit site|
AWS includes a few web services that can be used for hosting—AWS Amplify (for single-page web apps with no server-side scripting), Amazon S3 (for basic file-hosting sites), and Amazon EC2 (for massive sites that require web servers in at least two data centers).
Amazon Lightsail is the AWS solution for hosting low-to-medium-traffic sites like content websites, blogs, and company websites. The process of building and maintaining a website on Amazon Lightsail is similar to that of renting a VPS from a web host. You pay a monthly subscription to get a virtual server with a set amount of processing power, storage, and bandwidth.
Indeed, many of the most popular and best cloud hosting companies essentially resell Amazon infrastructure. Choosing Lightsail enables you to go directly to the source. With Lightsail, you can set up the usual LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python) stacks, or quickly install content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress or ecommerce applications like Magento.
Every Lightsail plan includes static IP addresses, DNS management, SSH or RDP access, SSD storage, backups, and server monitoring features. You can create multiple “instances”, with each instance like a separate VPS with its own virtual CPU, storage, and applications.
When deploying an instance, you can choose a region close to your typical user so that latency is reduced. Amazon currently offers 14 regions, from Ohio and Virginia to Sydney and Seoul. Each region has multiple zones, too, so you can choose to host apps in separate physical locations for improved redundancy.
Instances are very easy to set up, and you can assign a static IP address to each in a matter of seconds.
Amazon Lightsail: Key features and highlights
When deploying an instance, you can choose a preset image known as a blueprint. This can be a bare operating system such as Windows Server, Ubuntu, Debian, FreeBSD, or CentOS. Or, you can choose an operating system with apps pre-installed, including WordPress, Joomla, Magento, GitLab, cPanel, or Drupal. This makes typical app deployment extremely fast, and your site can be up and running in minutes.
There are several extra features you can add to your setup, including databases and object storage. Each has its own pricing model with multiple plans. For example, if you need a database, you can quickly add the popular options MySQL or PostgreSQL to your setup. Pricing starts at $15 a month, but goes up to $230 a month for a more powerful database with increased redundancy and a bigger transfer limit.
In July 2021, Amazon added an object storage service to Lightsail. With this, you can easily store objects such as files, images, videos on the Amazon S3 service.
In your object storage (Amazon calls this a “bucket”), you can store files to make them available across the internet. For example, you can get 250GB of storage for $5 a month. This includes 500GB of transfer allowance. If you go over the transfer allowance, you’ll need to pay an overage charge.
You can set up authentication methods, grant or deny access to others, manage versioning, and monitor usage. Usefully, you can connect your Lightsail stored objects to a WordPress site to store images and attachments.
Another benefit is being able to set your stored objects as the origin of a content delivery network (CDN) distribution. This will speed up the delivery of the objects to users around the world, as they will be accessing a regional copy of the object.
You can try a basic Lightsail plan free for three months. Lightsail pricing works on a pay-as-you-go basis, so you only pay for what you use, and costs are highly variable. You’ll pay differently depending on the hardware, data transfer capacity, object storage, managed databases, CDNs, load balancing, block storage, and instance snapshots you use.
Storage and data transfer pricing are also unique to each of the 14 geographical regions you can choose. To boil this down a little, here is a summary of the prices you’ll pay for the three cheapest Linux virtual servers on offer from Lightsail if you remain within the data transfer limits.
|Plan type/feature||Lightsail plan 1||Lightsail plan 2||Lightsail plan 3||HostGator||Bluehost|
|Cost per month||$3.50||$5||$10||$79.95*||$29.99*|
|Cost per year||$42||$60||$120||$959.40*||$359.88*|
*after introductory offers expire
Testing Amazon Lightsail
For a web application to perform well, the servers it is hosted on must be available at all times and respond quickly. To test Amazon Lightsail, we built an Amazon Lightsail instance in Amazon’s us-east-2 region, which is in Ohio. The instance was running with 512MB of RAM, a 20GB SSD, and a single vCPU.
On this instance, we installed a default WordPress website, and ran uptime, response time, and page speed tests over the course of two weeks using Uptime.
What is Amazon Lightsail’s uptime?
We used Uptime to check whether Lightsail commonly experienced outages. We verified that our instance was available from US East, US West, US Central, and United Kingdom locations every five minutes for two weeks.
Amazon Lightsail showed us a consistent 100% uptime with no spikes in wait time. Though we’d need to run tests over the course of a year or more to get an accurate picture, our first test suggests a web application running on Amazon Lightsail will rarely experience outages.
How fast is Amazon Lightsail’s response time?
Another indication of how a web application is likely to perform on hosting is the response time. We checked the response time of the site from US locations including Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York every five minutes for two weeks.
Lightsail gave us an average response time of 116ms, with a single significant spike to 965ms over the course of the two weeks. Apart from this spike, the response times we saw were particularly consistent, suggesting Lightsail’s load balancing is tuned well. In the real world, this translates to web pages loading quickly for users, and websites overall feeling snappy.
How quickly does a WordPress website load on Amazon Lightsail?
How quickly pages load in entirety is an important metric in web applications. To compare services as fairly as possible, we use a base WordPress website using the default template. We compare the load speed from a single location—New York, US—and run the tests multiple times on different days to get an average.
Our WordPress website hosted on Amazon Lightsail completely loaded on average within 171ms. For comparison, our WordPress site on DreamHost completely loaded in 139ms, and the same site hosted at WordPress.com took 473ms. This suggests that out of the gate, without any further optimization, web applications on Amazon Lightsail will perform well.
Alternatives to Amazon Lightsail
Amazon Lightsail’s pricing is compelling. HostGator and Bluehost’s cheapest VPS hosting have better specifications (each includes 2GB of RAM and a two-core CPU). But what if you don’t need so much power, as is the case with many web applications? Lightsail offers a single-core, 512MB plan for a tenth of the price.
But even on high-end setups, Lightsail’s pricing beats the competition. For $80 a month, you can get a VPS with the same four cores as Bluehost’s $119.99 a month Ultimate plan, but with double the SSD storage, RAM, and transfer allowance.
HostGator’s pricing looks even worse at first, but one must remember that it offers unlimited bandwidth where Lightsail does not. Depending on how much traffic your site will see, this could make HostGator more competitive.
Another big difference from other VPS services is that with Lightsail, you’re on your own unless you pay for a pricey support plan. HostGator and Bluehost both offer free 24/7 support over the phone and via live chat. Find out more about both competitors in our HostGator review and our Bluehost review.
|CDN||Free for the first year||No||Yes|
|Support||Email support during business hours starts at $29/month||24/7 free phone and live chat||24/7 free phone and live chat|
|Basic plan||$3.50 a month||$79.95 a month*||$29.99 a month*|
*after introductory offers expire
If you’re looking for a VPS, AWS is a compelling alternative that runs on Amazon’s tried-and-tested cloud network. It’s also easier to set up, and has a simpler pricing model, than Amazon’s more complicated enterprise-level EC2 cloud platform solution.
Lightsail’s pricing is extremely competitive, no matter how you look at it. It significantly undercuts more traditional VPS companies like Bluehost and HostGator at every turn. On the downside, there’s virtually no customer support offered here unless you’re willing to pay a lot extra for it, whereas many VPS companies offer free 24/7 support.
But as long as you have an understanding of web hosting concepts, you’ll be able to deploy an entire business website within minutes using Lightsail. The interface is wonderfully straightforward. It takes just minutes to spin up an entire operating system with your favorite apps included, all hosted in your chosen geographical location with a static IP address, ready to serve your users.
Amazon Lightsail is perfect for mid-range website applications that will see a mid-range amount of traffic, such as online stores, corporate websites, news sites, or internal applications. And with Amazon’s huge infrastructure powering your Lightsail site, you can be sure your application will be highly scalable, repliable, and perform well for your visitors.
For more information on AWS, see our introduction to AWS. If you’d like to learn more about VPS hosting, check out our feature outlining everything your business needs to know about VPS web hosting.
Of course, AWS is just one of the cloud hosting services providers you can choose. We’ve put together a list of the best cloud hosting services available today so you can weigh up your options.
Finally, if you don’t need the scalability of a VPS or cloud-hosted website, you can always choose traditional hosting from the best web hosting companies, which will be easier to set up and manage.