Disclaimer: I’m not at all sponsored by anything I review on here. If there ever comes a time where someone is crazy enough to sponsor a review, I’ll definitely let you guys know
I’ve been considering the idea of posting some short reviews of products or services I use. Not at all meant to make this a review site, but just a bit of “here is what I use and what I think of it”. This is going to be the first shot at that idea – so let me know what you think!
When I was first looking to start up my own personal blog again, I did quite a bit of digging around to try and find where to host it. I considered hosting it myself at home, but overall I didn’t really want to manage that overhead. I also looked at a number of hosting providers, but I never really found anything that I was quite happy with. So many of them would offer you an instance of a web platform like WordPress or Drupal, but not much control beyond that. I really wanted something where I could have full control over my own VM, like a VPS, but most of these services cost more than I wanted to pay.
Right in the middle of my research for a hosting provider last year, Amazon announced a new AWS service offering: LightSail. I had already briefly considered picking up a small AWS VM for what I wanted to do, but I honestly didn’t want to try and manage usage when every single little thing is an additional cost (storage, bandwidth, etc). However, LightSail really caught my attention because of the stupid-simple pricing structure – the smallest allocation is only $5 a month and includes 512MB of RAM, 1 core CPU, 20GB SSD, and 1TB of free data transfer. This was probably more than enough for me to get started with a site, and the pricing was very tempting. As if they wanted to provoke me to try it even further, Amazon actually offers your first month free (for the $5/mo instance). Additionally, Amazon offers up to three free public IP addresses and free DNS management along with every plan – which I thought made this a fantastic offer.
With all that LightSail seemed to offer, I decided to jump on the $5/mo plan and use the free trial period to give it a shot. The setup of my first VM was extremely simple and only a few clicks: Pick a size, give it a name, and select which applications you want pre-deployed (optional). I went ahead and selected my options, and within seconds my VM was already powered on, pre-configured, and ready to use. Unfortunately, it seemed like my VM deployment didn’t quite go as smoothly as I would have liked. I wasn’t able to log into the admin console for my pre-deployed web application, and the deployment guide didn’t seem to match up with what I was seeing on my VM. I spent about ten minutes or so trying to troubleshoot this before it hit me: I could just delete and re-deploy this VM in seconds. So I did exactly that, and within 2 minutes I already had another VM instance deployed – and this one worked perfectly.
Next I went ahead and applied a static IP to my instance. You don’t necessarily have to do this, and if you host your DNS within LightSail then it will automatically update your DNS any time your instance IP changes. However, since they offer up to three static IP addresses for free, I don’t really see a reason why you wouldn’t use it – unless the VM was temporary or not being published publicly. This process is also extremely straightforward: Click the button to create a new static IP, give it a name, and select which VM to assign it to. Easy enough, right? I also tried out the DNS hosting for only a very brief period of time. I ultimately ended up opting to move my DNS hosting out to CloudFlare, which I would like to cover in another post.
Once the LightSail VM is up and running, it’s easy enough to connect to it. They offer a web-based SSH console, and by default allow access to ports 443 and 22 for remote connections. Remote SSH connections are handled by public/private key pairs only – no username/passwords permitted for login. I actually prefer this, and there is an extremely simplistic interface for generating new or additional SSH keys and automatically configuring them within your VM. The management console also offers an easy-to-use firewall system, where you can open ports for common services via a drop-down menu. You’re also able to enter custom port numbers, or remove any/all open ports entirely. As a quick note: LightSail offers no traditional console access to your VM – so if you close port 22, then you won’t even be able to manage the VM from the web console since it uses SSH. For me, I would rather take the additional security step to only enable that port when I absolutely need to access the VM via SSH.
So it’s been almost a year since I started using Lightsail and overall I am extremely pleased. I’ve run one primary VM since I opened my account, and I’ve spun up a few additional VMs here and there for different testing. It’s easy enough to just turn up a new VM, try it out, and then just purge it if/when you don’t need it any more. The billing reports are very straightforward too – and I’ve so far never come close to using all of my 1TB free data transfer. The VM itself is extremely snappy for only a single core with 512MB of RAM.
Overall I would highly recommend giving LightSail a try, even if you only use it for the 1 month free trial. I’ve been very happy with the service so far, and I’m looking forward to any new features/functionality that might be added in the future.
As a quick summary:
- Extremely easy to use (Simplistic interface)
- Three free static IPs
- Free DNS management
- Up to 1TB of free data tranfer
- First month of a $5 instance is free
- Pre-deployment/configuration of multiple different web applications
- You can’t move which zone your VM is deployed in
- You can’t rename your VM instance
- In order to upgrade plans, you have to take a snapshot and restore it to a new VM – and this is currently only available via the AWS APIs, so no way to do this in the web portal
- Snapshots take forever, and you get charged for how long they are stored for (I’ve had a snapshot of a 20G VM take >30 minutes in the past)
- An integrated load balancer – even one with very basic options available
- Native support for IPv6 addresses – Amazon already offers a free IPv4 address, so why not v6 too?
- More storage options – I am careful about how many images i upload to my site, because I only have 20GB of space available. I don’t want to pay for S3 if I don’t have to.
UPDATE 12/19/2017 – As of the end of November, Amazon has added both Load Balancing and additional storage to LightSail. Currently the load balancing functionality costs $18 per month, and additional disk space is $0.10 per GB per month.
Have you used LightSail before? What are your thoughts? Comment below!