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Amazon EC2 vs Amazon RDS : How to choose right hosted database?

Amazon EC2 vs Amazon RDS: How to choose right hosted database?

Written by Hyojung Yoon

Hello! Today we're going to explore the world of cloud databases.

In today's fast-paced, data-driven world, it's important to have a reliable and efficient database system. Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers two main services, Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS, that cater to different database needs. But which service to use is your choice?

This article will help you decide between EC2 and RDS. We'll compare the two in various ways, look at how they work, and discuss the cost differences. So let's get started!


What is Amazon EC2?

1. Features of Amazon EC2

Amazon EC2
  • Scalable compute capacity to meet your needs

  • Choosing from a variety of instance types to fit your use case

  • Choosing your operating system, applications, services, and even boot partition size

  • Integration with other Amazon services, including Amazon S3, RDS and VPC

2. Configuration of Amazon EC2

Configuration of Amazon EC2
  • AWS EC2 Instance

    1. Similar to a physical computer or server

    2. A virtual server on which you can run applications

    3. Instance power on = computer power on

  • Amazon AMI (Amazon Machine Learning Image)

    1. Similar to the default operating system and software on a computer

    2. Pre-configured templates for creating new instances

  • Amazon EBS (Elastic Block Store)

    1. Similar to a computer's hard drive

    2. Providing raw block-level storage that can be connected to EC2

3. Instance Types of Amazon EC2




General Purpose


Low-cost general purpose

Web services, DB


general purpose

Application Server

Memory Optimized


Processing large data sets

Memory-intensive workloads

Compute Optimized


Compute Optimization

Compute-intensive applications

Accelerated Computing


Graphics Optimization

Machine learning, pixel streaming


Graphics Optimization

3D modeling, encoding


What is Amazon RDS?

1. Features of Amazon RDS

Amazon RDS
  • Saas-based service that autoconfigures and maintains databases in the cloud.

  • Instant compute scaling. Storage scaling is also easy

  • Can handle high volume application read traffic by creating one or more replicas of a DB instance

  • Supports 6 DB engines, giving you the ability to choose the right one for your needs

2. Types of Amazon RDS Database

Amazon Aurora

MySQL and PostgreSQL compatible relational databases


Open source relatiaonal databases


The world's most popular open source relational databases


An offshoot of MySQL

Provides similar functionality to the RDS MySQL service


A relational database from Oracle


A relational database management system developed by Microsoft


Differences between EC2 and RDS

Imagine you're planning a dinner party. You have two options: cook it yourself or hire a professional caterer.

Cooking yourself gives you complete control over the menu selection and preparation to your liking, but it's time-consuming and requires cooking skills. On the other hand, hiring a professional caterer is more convenient and allows you to enjoy the party without worrying about cooking. The downside is that it can be expensive, and you have limited control over the menu.

This is similar to choosing between Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS for your database needs. You could say that EC2 is like cooking the dinner yourself and RDS is like hiring a chef.

Like cooking dinner, using EC2 means that you do all the work yourself. You have to set up the kitchen (server), get the ingredients (software), and cook the meal (database management). Just as you can choose your database software and configuration in EC2, you have the freedom to choose your ingredients and cooking method, but it takes time and effort to prepare the meal. Similarly, managing a database in EC2 requires skills and resources, as you are responsible for maintaining and updating the server.

RDS is like hiring a professional caterer for a dinner party: they handle everything from menu planning to food preparation to clean up. Just like you don't have to worry about cooking or cleaning when you hire a professional, you don't have to worry about managing your servers when you use RDS because AWS handles all the mundane tasks like backups and updates. However, hiring a professional is often more expensive than cooking for yourself. Similarly, RDS can be more expensive than EC2, but the time savings and convenience can make it worth the cost.

Amazon EC2

Amazon RDS


Full control of server and database permissions, operating system, database engine version, and choice of configuration settings

Less Control than EC2


Requires hands-on management. Updates, backups, and security are your responsibility.

AWS handles administrative tasks such as backups, updates, and failover support


Highly flexible. Ability to customize the server and database to your needs

Less flexible than EC2. You can't modify the underlying server or database engine.


Generally less expensive than RDS. Costs for EC2 instances, storage, and data trasfer.

Generally higher than EC2. Include features like instances, storage, automatic backups, and software patching


User is responsible for ensuring high availability, such as setting up multiple instances or regions.

RDS provides built-in redundancy and failover support for high availability


Comparison in temrs of cost

1. Same usage scenario

Suppose you need a single t3.medium instance with 100 GB of general-purpose (SSD) storage and are running a database operating in the Eastern (Northern Virginia) region of the United States.

(All costs are calculated as of May 2023)


- Instance cost(on-demand t3.medium) : $0.0416/hr

- EBS storage cost(gp2) : $0.10/GB/month


- Instance cost(on-demand db.t3.medium) : $0.068/hr

- RDS storage cost(gp2) : $0.115/GB/month

Let's calculate the monthly costs assuming the instance runs 24/7 (approximately 720 hours per month).

EC2 Monthly Cost

- Instances : 720 hours * $0.0416/hr = about $30

- Storage : 100GB * $0.10/GB = $10

- Total : about $40

RDS Monthly Cost

- Instances : 720 hours * $0.068/hr = about $49

- Storage : 100GB * $0.115/GB = $11.5

- Total : about $60.5

When comparing costs, EC2 looks cheaper, but RDS is a managed service, while EC2 requires you to manage the database yourself. The extra cost of RDS pays for convenience and features like automated backups and software patches.

2. Cost variation depending on the situation

There are scenarios where the cost difference between Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS can be different.

High availability

If your application requires high availability, you might need to run multiple instances. In this scenario, RDS might be more cost-effective because it provides features that you would have to implement and manage on your own in EC2, such as automated backups, failover support, and other high-availability features.

Reserved instances(RI)

Both EC2 and RDS offer reserved instances, which can save you a significant amount of money with a one or three-year commitment. The savings are potentially greater with RDS because the base cost is higher.

Data transfer

Depending on the amount of data you transfer, your costs can also vary. In most cases, RDS includes more data transfer costs than EC2. Therefore, choosing between EC2 and RDS based on cost alone can be misleading. RDS may cost more upfront, but when you factor in management costs and features like automatic backups, patch management, and high availability, it can save you money in the long run. It's always a good idea to consider the total cost of ownership, which includes both direct and indirect costs associated with each service.


Decision-making process between Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS

Decision-makeing process between Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS

The figure above is a diagram that visualizes Amazon's documentation to assist in the decision-making process to help you choose between Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS.



Just like deciding whether to cook for yourself or hire a professional caterer for a dinner party, choosing between EC2 and RDS depends on your specific needs, budget, and desired level of management.

The choice isn't just about cost or features, it's about understanding your needs and how the service fits into your long-term goals. As you navigate the ever-evolving cloud landscape, choose wisely to optimize your operations and increase user satisfaction.


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