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UWB Hacks the Cloud Documentation

All the essential information needed to create an amazing cloud-based application at the UW Bothell 2020 hackathon.

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Getting Started with Cloud Providers

For this hackathon, you can create, test, and deploy your project on any cloud provider of your choice. This page has resources for account setup and billing considerations for the three main cloud providers:

Free Accounts

For this hackathon, the applications you create and host will most likely have low traffic and will not be deployed long-term, and the financial cost of your services will be limited. However, depending on the goals of your application, there may be a specific cloud platform which meets your needs and will incur the lowest financial cost for your team.

Two common needs and pain points for students are:

  1. Receiving account credits
  2. Requiring a credit card to be on file

Let’s compare and contrast the costs and billing requirements of the three primary cloud providers.

Provider Free Services Free Services for Students
Amazon Web Services AWS has a Free Tier for most of their common services, which meets most common needs for prototyping applications and small-scale deployment. No platform credits are provided on the free tier by default. AWS has a student program called AWS Educate, which provides a $35 platform credit and does not require a credit card to register.
Google Cloud Platform GCP has a Free Tier; many common services are free to use and new customers get a $300 platform credit. GCP has an online learning platform which provides free courses to students and faculty. For this hackathon, it isn’t a suitable platform.
Microsoft Azure Azure has a Free Tier; many common services are free to use and new customers get a $200 platform credit. Azure offers a special platform credit for students; a $100 platform credit is included and registration for Azure for Students does not require a credit card on file.

Platform Credits

Besides obtaining platform credits directly from the providers (as is the case with GCP and Azure), there are several resources to get account credits and eliminate out-of-pocket costs initially.

First and foremost, use your .edu email address to register for the GitHub Education Pack. GitHub’s corporate partners provide benefits and credits that are not accessible elsewhere; this includes free access to AWS Educate and $100 of additional Azure credits. The Education Pack also has amazing benefits with other companies, such as a $50 account credit for Digital Ocean, a popular VM provider.

Account Creation & Setup

Begin the registration process for each provider’s free tier at the following pages:

Note that Azure for Students and AWS Educate may take several business days to be set up; applying for access to these platforms 2 weeks before the hackathon is recommended if you don’t want to use a standard free tier account during the event.

Cost Management

For enterprise-level applications, there can be significant monthly bills from cloud providers. Typically these applications produce millions of service activities from thousands of users, and the organization hosting these applications have a business model to support the costs.

As students, our needs are substantially different from those of a company with seed funding and revenue streams. Even so, it is easy to burn through a substantial amount of money without realizing it.

Culprits of Unexpected Costs

Each user’s needs will be different, but there are a few common gotchas which tend to inflate AWS costs:

The primary lessons here are to clean up resources which you don’t need and research the costs of services which you plan on utilizing heavily. Read more about the ‘gotchas’ here.

Many of AWS’s hidden or unexpected costs also apply to GCP and Azure.

Preventing Unexpected Costs

At scale, GCP seems to be the friendlier platform for cost management than AWS, and they have significant advantages in specific service niches. GCP also allows you to set budgets and monitor cost utilization in a more granular fashion than AWS billing monitoring.

For enterprise systems and corporate customers, Azure may provide advantages and disadvantages depending on the existing system configuration, but for students, the difference is likely not noticable.