What is an EC2 Instance?

Configuring EC2 means knowing about images and instances so that you can create the features as and when needed. But what is an EC2 instance, and how does Amazon define it?

The technical explanation is that an EC2 instance is a single session used to perform one or more related tasks. At the simplest level, an instance can be thought of as a virtual server — the same as you might rent from companies that provide VPS, or virtual private servers, on a monthly basis.

And indeed, many people are using Amazon EC2 in the same way that they would a VPS.

The Amazon cloud platform is perfectly serviceable in this respect.

However, the company has built a wide array of really interesting features and technologies that can help you and your organization make the most out your cloud experience. And this is something simple rented servers can’t match, be they virtual or dedicated.

Let’s break down what an EC2 instance exactly is, and how it is different from virtualized workloads.

So, what really is an EC2 instance?

Amazon EC2 instances are the most important elements for the computing experience on the AWS Cloud platform for most users. They are a core component of any customer infrastructure, and being so, Amazon Web Services offers a variety of instance types, each with its own unique combination of CPU, memory, storage and networking capabilities.

This provides users with the freedom to select the appropriate mix of resources for the cloud needs.

They can select their instance type and size based on their requirements, and AWS provisions them on the fly, allowing these users the incredible ability to boot up hundreds of servers if they so desire within just minutes.

In a nutshell, this is what Amazon EC2 is — a virtual server service that offers thousands of images and hardware combinations for every imaginable use case. An EC2 instance is, for all intents and purpose, a virtual server that you boot up in the cloud. Only one that plays nicely with all the other cloud services and technologies that Amazon Web Services provides. These services are spread across the globe, and can be used in concert with an EC2 instance to build a highly available, low latency application.

This is what sets instances apart from your run of the mill VPS from a hosting company.

An EC2 instance, simply, a server running in the cloud, but one that offers nearly limitless design, development and usage possibilities. All thanks to the range of additional features and services that are part of the Amazon cloud platform.

A virtualized reality?

This, then, raises the question that is an instance just a fancy name for a virtual machine, and nothing new? To answer that, and understand instances a little better, we will need to travel a little back in time in the very near past. A decade or so back, would be fine.

When there was a boom in the implementation and utilization of the virtualization technology.

IT companies back in the 2000s ran their workloads off virtualized platforms. VMware vSphere, Citrix XenServer and Microsoft Hyper-V were all the rage back then. AWS also got into the act soon after it launched, but the engineers at the cloud giant modified the way these VMs were spun up and used.

And how exactly does all this differentiates AWS instances from the other virtualization technologies, you ask?

Amazon Web Services has put in a lot of time and effort to designing the images and instances that it makes available to its cloud users. This is done to ensure that they not only spin more quickly, remain lightweight, but can also be easily ported from one place to another. They then integrated these with the other cloud services and technologies built for the Amazon cloud platform.

These are all factors that, as you’ll find out, make a world of difference when it comes to designing and deploying scalable and fault-tolerant application environments in the cloud. To have a look at the costs of an EC2 instance read my other article on EC2 costs.