What is Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)?


As cloud adoption accelerates, one of the most fundamental services to understand is Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). This core AWS offering provides scalable, on-demand computing capacity to run applications and workloads in the cloud. Read to discover EC2’s capabilities and value proposition.

We’ll explore key concepts like instance types, security groups, and auto-scaling. Whether you’re new to AWS or looking to leverage EC2 more effectively, this guide will equip you with the knowledge to harness the flexibility and power of elastic cloud computing for your apps and services.

By the end, you’ll understand why EC2 is a foundational building block for migrating workloads to the cloud and enabling innovation.

What is Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)?

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a foundational web service offered by AWS that provides scalable computing capacity in the cloud. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a key component of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the cloud-computing platform by Amazon.com. EC2 empowers users to lease virtual computers for running their applications.  

Here’s what you can expect with EC2:

Scalable, Customizable, and Pay-As-You-Go

EC2 facilitates scalable deployment through a web service that enables users to launch instances by configuring virtual machines from Amazon Machine Images (AMIs). These are called “instances” and are fully customizable and can be created, started, and terminated as needed. The term “elastic” reflects the pay-as-you-go model, where users are billed by the second for active servers. 

Optimized Latency and Enhanced Redundancy

EC2 also grants users control over instance locations, optimizing latency and enhancing redundancy. In a notable move, Amazon migrated its retail website platform to EC2 and AWS in November 2010.

Compatible With Multiple Operating Systems

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), launched on August 25, 2006, is compatible with multiple operating systems, including Linux, Microsoft Windows, FreeBSD, and even macOS, offering a versatile and inclusive platform. Available in English, EC2 falls under the category of virtual private servers, providing users with a proprietary software license.

Use Cases of Amazon EC2

From uncomplicated websites to intricate machine learning applications, users and organizations worldwide harness the potential of Elastic Compute Cloud in diverse ways.

That’s because EC2 appeals to enterprises large and small, individual developers and teams, and offers limitless compute capacity and seamless integration with other AWS services, making it the go-to platform for an array of cloud-based solutions.

Having said that, among the most common EC2 scenarios are:

  1. Hosting Environments – EC2 is a cornerstone for hosting applications, software, and websites on the cloud. It even facilitates cloud-based game hosting, enabling on-demand server activation. Its scalability ensures consistent quality service, as exemplified by Netflix, Reddit, and Nintendo.
  1. Development and Test Environments  – EC2’s scalability facilitates the creation and deployment of expansive testing and development setups with unprecedented ease, eliminating upfront hardware investments.
  1. Backup and Disaster Recovery – EC2 is leveraged for robust disaster recovery in active and passive environments. Rapid activation during emergencies ensures quick failover with minimal application downtime.
  1. Banking and Financial Sector – Security and scalability are paramount in banking and finance, both of which EC2 delivers. Major financial institutions trust AWS for secure, scalable cloud solutions, including Capital One, BBVA, UniCredit, and Pacific Life.
  1. Marketing and Advertising – The cost-efficiency and rapid provisioning of EC2 drive its adoption for dynamic hosting of marketing and advertising campaigns.
  1. High-Performance Computing (HPC) – EC2 offers specialized virtualized servers for high-performance networking and computational tasks, serving needs like Big Data analytics and processing. Notably, NASA’s JPL and Pfizer rely on EC2 for HPC tasks.

From hosting to disaster recovery, financial services to marketing, and high-performance computing, Amazon EC2 demonstrates its flexibility and capability across a wide range of use cases.

AWS EC2 Features

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) offers a comprehensive range of features that empower users to deploy and manage virtual servers in the cloud with flexibility and scalability:

  • Virtual Servers (Instances) – EC2 allows users to create and launch instances of virtual servers, which can be customized to meet specific computing needs. Various instance types are available, each optimized for different workloads, including general-purpose, compute-optimized, memory-optimized, storage-optimized, and GPU instances.
  • Instance Flexibility – Users can choose from a variety of operating systems, including various Linux distributions, Microsoft Windows, FreeBSD, and macOS. They can also customize instance configurations by selecting CPU, memory, storage, and networking resources.
  • Auto Scaling – EC2’s Auto Scaling feature enables the automatic adjustment of instance capacity based on real-time demand. It ensures optimal performance during traffic spikes and cost savings during low-demand periods.
  • Elastic Load Balancing – Users can distribute incoming application traffic across multiple instances using Elastic Load Balancers, which enhance the availability and fault tolerance of applications.
  • Storage Options – EC2 provides various storage options, including Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) for block storage, Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) for object storage, and instance store for temporary storage directly attached to instances.
  • Security and Networking – EC2 offers robust security features, including security groups and network access control lists (ACLs) for controlling inbound and outbound traffic. Users can also create Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs) to isolate and secure resources.
  • Scalability – EC2 instances can be easily scaled up or down to match computing requirements. This horizontal scalability ensures efficient resource utilization.
  • Pricing Flexibility – EC2 provides various pricing models, including On-Demand instances for pay-as-you-go usage, Reserved Instances for cost optimization, and Spot Instances for accessing spare computing capacity at lower costs.
  • Global Reach – EC2’s global infrastructure enables users to deploy instances in multiple geographic regions, improving latency and redundancy.
  • Monitoring and Management – Users can monitor instance performance and resource utilization through Amazon CloudWatch. They can also manage instances through the AWS Management Console, AWS Command Line Interface (CLI), or SDKs.
  • Instance Types for Diverse Workloads – EC2 offers instance types optimized for various use cases, such as compute-intensive, memory-intensive, storage-intensive, GPU-accelerated, and more.
  • User Data and Metadata – EC2 instances can be launched with user-defined scripts, allowing automated configuration during startup. Additionally, instance metadata provides details about the instance’s configuration and identity.
  • Integration with Other AWS Services – EC2 seamlessly integrates with other AWS services, such as Amazon RDS for databases, Amazon S3 for object storage, and AWS Lambda for serverless computing.
  • Customization and Automation – EC2 instances can be customized using Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), enabling the creation of pre-configured instances. EC2 instances can also be provisioned and managed programmatically using APIs and SDKs.

Types of EC2 Instances

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances can be broadly categorized into several families based on their key features and use cases. 

Here are five main instances:

1. General Purpose Instances

General-purpose instances offer a balanced mix of compute, memory, and networking resources. Instances like the “t2” family provide burstable performance, allowing for short bursts of high CPU usage. They are suitable for applications with variable workloads, such as development and testing environments, low-traffic websites, and small databases.

2. Compute Optimized Instances

Compute-optimized instances focus on delivering high CPU performance. These instances, such as the “c5” family, are ideal for compute-intensive tasks like batch processing, high-performance web servers, scientific modeling, and simulations.

3. Memory Optimized Instances

Memory-optimized instances are designed for memory-intensive workloads. The “r6” family, for example, offers a significant amount of memory per vCPU, making it suitable for applications that require large in-memory databases, real-time analytics, and memory caching.

4. Accelerated Computing Instances

Accelerated computing instances are equipped with GPUs to accelerate tasks like deep learning, video transcoding, and scientific simulations. Instances like the “p3” family, featuring NVIDIA GPUs, are commonly used for machine learning training and inference, as well as other GPU-intensive workloads.

5. Storage Optimized Instances

Storage-optimized instances prioritize high disk throughput and I/O performance. The “i3en” family, for instance, is tailored for data-intensive applications such as data warehousing, NoSQL databases, and data lakes, where fast and efficient storage access is crucial.

Each instance type within these families comes with specific CPU, memory, storage, and networking configurations to address distinct workload requirements. It’s essential to choose the appropriate instance type that aligns with your application’s demands to optimize performance and cost-effectiveness.

AWS regularly introduces new instance types and enhancements, so consulting the latest official documentation is recommended when making decisions about EC2 instances.

EC2 vs. S3

Amazon EC2 functions as a gateway to access cloud-based servers, while Amazon S3 serves as a data storage solution. However, there are scenarios where utilizing both of these services is advantageous for your operations. In many cases, the utilization of one service may lead to the incorporation of the other. 

This is particularly evident in the following contexts:

  • Amazon EC2 stands out as a favored choice for hosting diverse applications within the cloud environment. Yet, these applications often necessitate static data to function effectively. 
  • To address such use cases, Amazon S3 provides a seamless and immensely scalable storage platform tailored for static data. An example of this includes data required for website hosting.

Creating Amazon S3 buckets can serve as a reliable backup destination for safeguarding Amazon EC2 data. Amazon S3 buckets prove valuable for data exchange, enabling seamless data transfers between EC2 instances or between the cloud infrastructure and local systems.

However, it’s important to note that EC2 and S3 don’t universally align in all scenarios. Amazon S3 isn’t well-suited for the storage of dynamically changing website data, such as server-side session information. Additionally, while S3 bucket backups exclusively encompass data housed within those buckets, devising supplementary backup methods becomes essential to secure data stored within the EC2 instance.

AspectAmazon EC2Amazon S3
FunctionGateway to access cloud-based servers.Data storage solution.
Use CasesHosting diverse applications.Storing static data (e.g., for websites).
Integration BenefitsProvides static data needed by applications hosted on EC2.Offers seamless and scalable storage for static data.
Backup and Data TransferEC2 data can be backed up to S3 for reliability.Serves as a backup destination and enables data exchange.
Data TransferEnables data transfer between EC2 instances and local systems.Supports seamless data transfer between cloud and local systems.
LimitationsNot suitable for storing dynamically changing data like server-side sessions.Doesn’t accommodate dynamically changing website data well.
Backup ScopeSupplementary backup methods needed to secure data within EC2 instances.Backs up data within S3 buckets; EC2 data requires additional backup methods.

In summary, Amazon EC2 and Amazon S3 represent distinct service categories. EC2 simplifies cloud-based server deployment with minimal user involvement, whereas S3 excels in storing substantial volumes of static data and serves as an optimal choice for data backup.

Despite these disparities, EC2 and S3 synergize effectively, frequently operating in tandem to meet diverse operational requirements.

Leverage Advanced Security For Your EC2 Projects

When it comes to cloud computing, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) emerges as a cornerstone service, revolutionizing the way businesses approach scalability and flexibility. With its diverse range of use cases and rich set of features, EC2 has redefined the paradigm of computing resources provisioning.

As organizations increasingly seek to optimize their operations, EC2 offers a powerful arsenal of capabilities. From hosting websites and applications to running complex simulations, EC2 caters to a spectrum of needs, transcending industry boundaries. The ability to select from a variety of instance types, each tailored to specific workloads, underscores EC2’s commitment to customization.

In the EC2 vs. S3 discourse, EC2 shines as the dynamic enabler of computational prowess, while S3 excels as a static data haven. However, this divergence doesn’t imply a dichotomy; rather, it highlights the symbiotic relationship that AWS services often exhibit. While EC2 propels computational efficiency, S3 safeguards crucial data and complements EC2’s capabilities.

Amazon EC2 reimagines the landscape of cloud computing. Its versatile applications, robust features, and integration potential exemplify the dynamic evolution of technology, empowering businesses to transcend limitations and chart new frontiers. And you should do that safely by using Perimeter 81’s advanced AWS Cloud VPN solution.


Is Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud a public cloud or a private cloud?
Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) operates within the realm of the public cloud. In this context, AWS offers a wide array of services, with Amazon EC2 standing out as a prominent example. 

As part of the public cloud landscape, Amazon EC2 extends its infrastructure and services across the public internet. These services find their home within specific AWS Regions, which can be exemplified by locations like Canada Central. 

This configuration aligns with the fundamental characteristics of the public cloud, wherein resources are accessible over the internet and are provisioned in a shared, multi-tenant environment. This approach ensures scalability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness by eliminating the need for organizations to invest in and manage their own physical hardware.
Why is EC2 called Elastic?
The term “Elastic” in EC2 is derived from its dynamic scalability and resource management capabilities. Users have the ability to effortlessly generate, initiate, and conclude server instances based on real-time demands, with the payment structure revolving around active server usage per second. This elasticity underscores the system’s agility in responding to varying workloads efficiently. 

Furthermore, EC2 extends users the authority to dictate the geographical placement of instances, affording advantages such as optimized latency and robust redundancy measures. This strategic control over instance locations contributes to elevated performance and fault tolerance, aligning with the adaptable nature implied by the term “elastic.”
Is EC2 a Virtual Machine?
Yes, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) provides the capability to create and manage virtual machines in the cloud, which are commonly referred to as “instances.” These instances behave similarly to traditional virtual machines, allowing users to run various operating systems, applications, and services on virtualized hardware infrastructure. EC2 instances are scalable, flexible, and can be easily configured to meet specific computing requirements, making them a fundamental component of Amazon’s cloud computing services.
Is Amazon EC2 SaaS or PaaS?
Amazon Web Services encompasses a blend of distinct service models, including infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), which grants users the fundamental building blocks of computing resources, platform-as-a-service (PaaS), which offers a higher level of abstraction for developers to build and deploy applications, and packaged-software-as-a-service (SaaS), which delivers ready-to-use software applications over the internet. This amalgamation of service models within AWS showcases its versatility and adaptability to cater to a wide array of business needs and technical requirements.
Is EC2 infrastructure as a Service?
Yes, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) falls under the category of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) within the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform. As an IaaS offering, EC2 provides users with virtualized computing resources, including virtual machines (instances), storage, and networking capabilities. This empowers users to have granular control over the configuration and management of their virtual infrastructure without the need to invest in and maintain physical hardware.