How to choose the right AWS region for your business

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Imagine you are an ecommerce business and the holidays are coming. This time of year can make or break your brand, and a breakdown or insufficient capacity failure (ICE) is your worst nightmare. To ensure your service can meet rising demand, request an additional 4,000 copies to support peak demand in a specific Availability Zone (AZ) within the N.California region of AWS. But unfortunately this particular AZ cannot meet your needs. So instead you use two AZ’s in N.California. Problem solved right?

Not exactly. While this solves the capacity issue, the huge cost of data transfer between AZ means it’s not a viable solution as the cost can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, which you didn’t have a budget for.

After a deeper dive into your options, you’ll discover that migrating to the Oregon region will meet your future demand and save your organization 20% on EC2. In addition, the move to Oregon is ideal due to the requirement to have this environment adjacent to a co-location (on-premises data center hosted by a third party) that is close to strategic customers in the area.

This scenario is just one example of the many situations I experienced in my previous role as a TAM (Technical Account Manager) at AWS where customers had to switch regions to accommodate their future growth, budget constraints, and other strategic initiatives.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a region. In my experience, customers are under the false assumption that cloud infrastructure is infinite, which can make the region selection process quite confusing. As of now (April 2022), AWS has 26 regions with 84 AZs, and not all of them have unlimited capacity or host the same amount or type of infrastructure.

So how can you select the best fit from scratch? By finding out several key metrics and needs. Three of the most important things to consider are latency and performance, capacity management and of course cost.

1. Latency and Performance

Latency and performance are important factors when running your infrastructure in the public cloud. You can use CDNs to cache your static content and use other network accelerators, but in many cases you may still want to place your systems close to your customers, so the location of your customers is probably one of the main reasons to choose a region . Many customers use their systems in continents other than their users, but resist this temptation whenever possible.

Local Zones is another service that AWS released a few years ago to bring infrastructure closer to customers. These zones provide customers with infrastructure capacity connected to key regions and located in metropolitan areas where AWS regions are not present. This gives you the ability to run compute resources even closer to users, but there is a fee to consider. Currently, there are 17 local zones available in AWS, but the company plans to add 30 more this year. AWS also announced Wavelength Zones, which are located in the data centers of telecom providers, giving mobile users a better presence.

2. Capacity Management

If you run large-scale applications that require thousands of instances during peak hours, you may run out of EC2 capacity (although this is a rare situation, it can occur in popular regions).

Likewise, using a small region can cause you to get ICE (Insufficient Capacity Error) and your service to be interrupted. One option to overcome ICE is to be instance flexible. While AWS offers a variety of options for, say, types with different processors, in most cases there are multiple instance types that can do the work you need. Being flexible can help you avoid ICE because if your optimal choice isn’t available, you can always work with others as well.

In addition to the challenges related to ICE, when you run in a small region, you may miss a new feature or service that you would get in a larger region (for example, when EKS was released, it was not initially available in the N.California region). It is AWS policy to provide AWS services, features, and instance types to all AWS regions within 12 months of general availability.

Different regions generally receive new features and services first (N. Virginia, Ireland, and Oregon), but pushing new code and services can also lead to service disruption.

Another consideration is AZ’s capacity. Since the capacity of each AZ varies, if your system is tied to one AZ with less capacity, you may get an ICE when you run EC2 Spot instances or start new On-Demand instances. This risk motivates customers to locate in the larger regions such as N.Virginia, Oregon and Ireland, which offer the most capacity in most of their AZs. Another option is to use the AWS Spot Placement Scoring feature, which helps provide greater visibility and accessibility to the largest number of instances, allowing customers to determine in which region they can get more capacity for Spot Instances.

3. Cost

Cost management is one of the most challenging aspects of the cloud. You start out with small workloads, and once you’ve chosen a region, it’s difficult to search across regions and compare the unit costs of the most common instance types. Instead, you should check the price of the most common instance types you plan to use (for example, M5.large) in each region. Frankfurt, for example, is a much more expensive region than Ireland, and you can find up to 15% price difference between the same instances in these regions when you check the AWS pricing page.

Regional data transfer costs are another aspect to consider. While data transfers between regions can be expensive, AWS has created a special rate between N.Virginia and Ohio ($0.1/GB), the same price normally awarded for data transfers between AZs.

While the three factors I’ve focused on here are the most important that should determine your choice, there are others. A few final tips:

Plan and build your solution so that it is agile enough to move around with the minimum of effort. Choose one of the largest regions whenever possible. Larger regions tend to be cheaper because AWS’ pricing model offers economies of scale, while larger regions have lower TCO. This discount is passed on to customers. Consult with AWS representatives. Map out the managed services you need and make sure they’re all supported in the region you choose.

As you can see, there are many variables to consider when selecting an AWS region. Doing some homework ahead of time can save you the huge headache of changing your region later on. So do the research, understand your needs/use case, and thoroughly research your long-term requirements before making your choice.

Aviram Levy is Head of Product Enablement at Zesty. He has 16 years of professional experience in the IT and cloud industry, most recently as a TAM at AWS.

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