How to choose the right AWS Region for your business

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Imagine you are an e-commerce business and the holiday season is approaching. This time of year can help your brand break through, and an outage or Insufficient Capacity Error (ICE) is your worst nightmare. To ensure your service meets the increasing demand, request an additional 4,000 instances to support peak demand in a specific Availability Zone (AZ) within AWS’s N.California Region. But unfortunately, this particular AZ cannot meet your needs. Instead, use two AZs in N.California. problem solved correctly?

Not exactly. While this solves the capacity problem, the huge cross-AZ data transfer costs mean this isn’t a viable solution as the fees add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that you haven’t budgeted for.

After delving deeper into your options, you realize that migrating to the Oregon region will meet your future needs while saving your organization 20% on EC2. Additionally, moving to Oregon is ideal as this environment needs to be close to strategic customers in the region alongside a co-location (local data center hosted by a third party).

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

There are many factors to consider when choosing a region. In my experience, customers make the wrong 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 have unlimited capacity or host the same amount or type of infrastructure.

So how do you choose the best fit from the start? By identifying several key metrics and requirements. Three of the most important things to think about are latency and performance, capacity management, and of course cost.

1. Latency and Performance

Latency and performance are key factors when running your infrastructure on the public cloud. You can use CDNs to cache your static content and use other network accelerators, but in many cases you might still want to place your systems close to your customers, so the location of your customers is probably one of the main reasons for choosing a region. Many customers operate their systems on different continents than their users, but resist the temptation if 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 the main regions and located in metropolitan areas with no existing AWS regions. This gives you the ability to run compute resources even closer to users, but there’s an additional cost to consider. There are currently 17 local zones available in AWS, but the company plans to add 30 more this year. AWS also announced Wavelength Zones, located in telecom carriers’ data centers, offering mobile users a closer presence.

2. Capacity Management

If you’re running large applications that require thousands of instances during peak periods, you may run out of EC2 capacity (although this is a rare situation, it can happen in popular regions).

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

In addition to the challenges associated with ICE, when running in a small region you may be missing a new feature or service that you would get in a larger region (e.g. when EKS released it wasn’t originally in the region N.California). AWS policy is to make AWS services, features, and instance types available in all AWS Regions within 12 months of their general availability.

Several regions generally get new features and services first (Northern Virginia, Ireland, and Oregon), but pushing new code and services can also cause service disruptions.

Another consideration is AZ capacity. Because the capacity of each AZ varies, you may receive an ICE when running EC2 Spot Instances or launching new On-Demand Instances if your system is tied to an AZ with less capacity. This risk motivates customers to use larger regions such as N.Virginia, Oregon, and Ireland, which offer the greatest capacity in most of their AZs. Another option is to use the AWS Spot Placement Score feature, which helps gain more visibility and access to the largest number of instances, allowing customers to determine which region they can get more Spot Instance capacity in.

3. costs

Cost management is one of the most challenging aspects of the cloud. You start off with small workloads, and once you’ve decided on a region, it’s difficult to look around different regions and compare the unit costs of the most popular instance types. Instead, you need to check the price of the most common types of instances you want to use (e.g. M5.large) in each region. For example, Frankfurt is a much more expensive region than Ireland, and you can see a price difference of up to 15% between the same instances in those regions by checking the AWS pricing page.

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

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

  1. Plan and build your solution to be agile enough to move with minimal effort.
  2. If possible, choose one of the largest regions. Larger regions are typically cheaper because AWS’ pricing model is based on economies of scale, while larger regions have a lower total cost of ownership. This discount is passed on to customers.
  3. Contact AWS representatives. Match the managed services you need and make sure they are all supported in your chosen region.

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

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

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