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How much are free cloud computing services worth?

Free trials from cloud computing providers like Microsoft and Google are one way to lead new users toward cloud adoption. Our expert breaks down the value of each offering.

Free trial offers are de riguer for cloud computing providers looking to further cloud adoption. Microsoft’s Azure Platform and Google App Engine are the two major contenders in the Platform as a Service space; Amazon Web Services is today’s 800-pound Infrastructure as a Service gorilla. And all three have free offerings.

Here are explanations of their "freemium" services and comparisons of quotas for no-charge cloud-based computation, data storage and data ingress/egress, as well as calculations of their total value to users.

Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced its Free Usage Tier on Nov. 1, 2010; it's available for 12 months after a customer signs up for an AWS account. The tier, which also covers AWS’ new Elastic Beanstalk service for deploying Java applications, includes the following monthly quotas and their value in dollars per month:

  • 750 clock hours of a single Linux Micro Instance on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) with 613 MB of memory and 32-bit or 64-bit platform support [$0.02 x 750 = $15.00], as well as Elastic Load Balancer support [$0.025 x 750 = $18.75] with 15 GB of data transfer [15 x $0.008 = $0.12]. Load balancing is superfluous for a single compute instance, so its value isn't included in the total.
  • 5 GB of Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) blob storage [$0.14 x 5 = $0.70], 20,000 Get (read) requests [20,000 x $0.01/10,000 = $0.02], and 2,000 Put (write) requests [2,000 x $0.01/1,000 = $0.02].
  • 10 GB of Amazon Elastic Block Storage (EBS) [10 x $0.10 = $1.00]; 1 million input/output operations [1,000,000 x $0.10/1,000,000 = $0.10]; 1 GB of snapshot storage [1 x $0.14 = $0.14]; 10,000 snapshot Get requests [10,000 x $0.01/10,000 = $0.01] and 1,000 Put requests [1,000 x $0.01/1,000 = $0.01]. EBS snapshots are data blobs that can be stored in Amazon S3 at lower cost.
  • 30 GB of Internet data transfer for all services (except Amazon CloudFront): 15 GB in [15 x $0.10 = $1.50] and 15 GB out [14 x $0.15 = $2.10]. 1 GB per month of outbound data transfer is free for all users.
  • 25 machine hours of Amazon SimpleDB compute utilization, 1 GB of storage, 100,000 Simple Queue Service (SQS) requests, 10 Amazon CloudWatch alarms, 2,000 e-mail messages from Simple Email Service (announced on Jan. 25, 2011) for EC2 users, and 100,000 HTTP and 1,000 email notifications from Simple Notification Service (SNS) requests. These quotas are free to all users and do not expire.
  • The total value of AWS’ Free Usage Tier -- based on the preceding calculations -- is $20.60 per month or $247.20 per year. Costs in the EU (Ireland), Asia Pacific (Singapore) and US West (Northern California) are slightly higher.

Google App Engine
Google App Engine (GAE) offers Free Default Quotas for all services but requires enabling Google Checkout billing with a credit card for Blobstore, Datastore and Mail operations, along with requests to applications. Unlike AWS and Azure, which charge clock time for hosting applications, GAE charges for CPU-hours consumed. The following are daily Free Default Quotas and their values:

  • 6.5 CPU-hours per day [6.5 x $0.10 = $0.65] and 43,200,000 Python or Java application requests, as well as 1 GB inbound [1 x $0.10 = $0.10] and 1 GB outbound [1 x $0.15 = $0.15] bandwidth. That includes data sent to and from the Blobstore and URL Fetch API, along with data in email messages.
  • 1 GB of Blobstore data [1 x $0.15 = $0.15] and 140,000,000 Blobstore API calls.
  • 2,487 Datastore CPU-hour;, 1 GB of Datastore data [1 x $0.15 = $0.15]; 0.5 GB of High-Replication Storage (0.5 x $0.45 = $0.225); 200 Indexes; 141,241,791 API calls; 417,311,168 Queries; and 72 GB inbound and 695 GB outbound data to and from the API.
  • 45,000,000 Image Manipulation API calls; 560 GB Data Sent to API; 427 GB Data Sent from API; 47,000,000 Transformations executed.
  • 7,000 Mail API Calls; 2,000 Recipients Emailed [2,000 x $0.0001 = $0.20]; 5,000 Admins Emailed [5,000 x $0.0001 = $0.50]; 60 MB Message Body Data Sent; 2,000 Attachments Sent; 100 MB of Attachment data.
  • 192,672,000 Memcache API Calls; 558 GB Data Sent to API; 640 GB Data Received from API.
  • 100,000 Task Queue API Calls; 1,000,000 Stored Task Count; 100,000 MB Stored Task Bytes; 657,000 URL Fetch API calls; 46,000,000 XMPP API Calls; 1,046 GB XMPP Data Sent; 46,000 XMPP Recipients Messaged; 100,000 XMPP Invitations sent.

The total value of GAE’s Free Default Quotas, which enable about five million page views per month and don’t expire, is $2.125 per day, $63.75 per month or $765.00 per year, assuming you take advantage of all Mail API Calls. If you don’t use the Mail API, the values are $1.425, $42.75 and $513.00, respectively, which is about twice the value of AWS’ Free Usage Tier.

Microsoft Azure
Microsoft Azure developers have several free-trial choices, such as MSDN Premium, Ultimate and BizSpark subscriber benefits and the Cloud Essentials Pack for Microsoft partners, which offer the free services described in the following table:

Windows Azure Platform Element MSDN Subscriber Value Cloud Essentials Pack Value
Windows Azure: Trial duration 16 months*   Perpetual**  
Compute instance, per month 750 hours, Small $90.00 750 hours, Extra Small
25 hours, Small
Azure Table/Blob Storage 10 GB $1.50 3 GB $0.45
Storage transactions 1,000,000 $0.10 250,000 $0.025
SQL Azure Web Databases 3 x 1 GB each $29.97 1 x 1 GB $9.99
Azure App Fabric        
Access Control transactions 1,000,000 $19.99 100,000 $1.99
Service Bus connections 5 $9.95 2 $7.98
Data transfers, except Asia-Pacific        
Data transfer in 7 GB $0.70 3 GB $0.30
Data transfer out 14 GB $2.10 7 GB $1.05
Total value per month   $154.31   $62.29
Total value per year   $1,851.72   $747.42

* MSDN Subscriber benefits terminate if the user’s MSDN subscription lapses.
** Cloud Essentials require the user to register as a member of the Microsoft Partner Network, sign up for the Microsoft Platform Ready program and profile a Windows Azure Platform application. This benefit doesn’t expire; the OakLeaf Systems blog has more details.

Microsoft issues a Windows Azure Platform 30-Day Pass, which requires a promo code but not a credit card, that is intended primarily for use with Azure training programs. A single Live ID qualifies for only one 30-Day Pass. Microsoft plans to terminate the Introductory Special on March 31, 2011 and migrate its users to the Cloud Essentials Pack (see above):

Windows Azure Platform Element 30-Day Pass Value Introductory Special Value
Windows Azure: Trial Duration 30 days   1 year  
Compute instance 4 x Small, 30 days $345.60 1 x Small, 25 hours per month $3.00
Azure Table*/Blob Storage 3 GB $0.45 3 GB $0.45
Storage transactions 250,000 $0.025 250,000 $0.025
SQL Azure Web databases 2 x 1 GB each $19.98 1 x 1 GB $9.99
Azure App Fabric        
Access Control transactions 100,000 $1.99 100,000 $1.99
Service Bus connections 2 $7.98 2 $7.98
Data transfers, except Asia-Pacific        
Data transfer in 3 GB $0.30 3 GB $0.30
Data transfer out 3 GB $0.45 7 GB $1.05
Total value per month   $376.775   $24.785
Total value per year   N/A   $297.42

* Azure tables are replicated, indexed Entity-Attribute-Value (EAV) persisted stores, which are similar to AWS’ SimpleDB and the GAE Datastore’s High-Replication Storage.

Microsoft’s trial offers are unique in that they include a cloud-based relational database, SQL Azure.

Roger Jennings is a data-oriented .NET developer and writer, the principal consultant of OakLeaf Systems and curator of the OakLeaf Systems blog. He’s also the author of 30+ books on the Windows Azure Platform, Microsoft operating systems (Windows NT and 2000 Server), databases (SQL Azure, SQL Server and Access), .NET data access, Web services and InfoPath 2003. His books have more than 1.25 million English copies in print and have been translated into 20+ languages.

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