What Is AWS EC2? A Beginner’s Guide

Headshot of CareerFoundry contributor Alex Williams.

In the world of cloud computing, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a true leader.

Its collection of services, provided through its EC2 cloud platform, is both vast and complex.

There’s no doubt that Amazon EC2 is one of the most-used services of AWS. It lets users launch and manage server instances whenever they need to, for as long or short a time as they want.

In this article, we’ll give you a beginner’s guide to Amazon EC2, including its features, types, and ways to learn more about it. By the end, you’ll better understand this powerful service and how it can help your business. 

If you’re already familiar with a topic, use the clickable menu below to navigate between the different sections of the article.

  1. What is AWS EC2?
  2. Why is Amazon EC2 important?
  3. The types of AWS EC2 instances
  4. Features of AWS EC2 instances
  5. How to learn AWS EC2 and cloud computing
  6. Final thoughts

1. What is AWS EC2?

Amazon EC2 is a cloud-based computing service that allows users to quickly launch virtual servers and manage cookies, security, and networking from an easy-to-use dashboard. This scalable capacity enables organizations to develop applications faster without needing to make any upfront investment in hardware.

2. Why is Amazon EC2 important?

Amazon EC2 is important for many reasons. It provides users with on-demand, scalable computing resources that can be used to run a variety of applications.

Additionally, Amazon EC2 can be used to launch and manage virtual private servers (VPS), making it an ideal platform for hosting websites and applications. 

3. The types of AWS EC2 instances

When discussing instances, it’s important to understand the difference between physical and virtual instances.

A physical instance is a server allocated to you by Amazon. This server exists in the real world and can be used to host your applications.

A virtual instance, on the other hand, is a simulation of a real server. Virtual instances are run on top of physical instances and can be used to test or develop applications.

Amazon EC2 offers a wide range of instance types, each designed for a specific purpose, the most common being:

General purpose

A virtual machine created to hold a wide range of tasks. These instances have been designed to offer CPU cores in large numbers, as well as on-demand memory and storage.

Common uses for this type of instance cover hosting web servers and testing and developing software.

They can also be used for other purposes that don’t need high-powered CPU cores.

GPU optimized

These instances offer a means to run graphic-intensive programs more quickly than the traditional EC2 servers.

Systems that use graphic processing units include design and gaming work.

For instance, Linux distributions often use GPUs for running graphic user interfaces, increasing compression speeds, and improving the speed of database queries.


These instances can be used to power large-scale data apps requiring vast quantities of memory and processing power in the AWS cloud.

Instances are created and advanced for running high-performance, data-intensive and computational applications that need extensive availability, a fast network speed, and high output/input operations per second.

These applications include financial and scientific modeling, simulation computer-aided learning, business intelligence, and enterprise-level data warehouses.

Storage optimized

These instances optimized for storage are great for apps that need the highest I/O performance; for example, NoSQL databases storing and retrieving real-time data.

They’re also ideally suited to intensive applications that use memory, such as log processing or processing data for data warehouse analytics.

Storage-optimized instances can offer high sequential read and write performance for large data stores and high-traffic websites.


This instance employs solid-state drives with high speeds for super-fast data access.

The memory-optimized instance is perfect for apps needing more memory but less power, such as open database sources and real-time big data analytics

Micro instances

These are designed to be used for applications that have limited throughput.

Micro instances could be used as a smaller database server, an application platform for testing software, or a server not requiring high transaction rates.

Spot instances

This type of instance allows users to request extra EC2 capacity at a price they’re willing to pay.

When there are unused EC2 instances within the AWS region, the spot instance is given to the user at a lower cost.

It can be used for flexible applications that can handle intermittent interruptions such as batch processing, containerized workloads, high-performance computing (HPC), and test & development processes.

4. Features of AWS EC2 instances

Plenty of server attributes can be changed, for example, the storage capacity and amount of processors, memory, AMI, and the instance’s operating system.

The following is a list of some features that can be found on an Amazon EC2 instance:

  • OS: EC2 is compatible with various operating systems, including Microsoft, Debian, Linux, and CentOS. With the help of AMI, you can set up a virtual machine with any operating system you wish.
  • Elastic IP addresses can be linked to instances and move from one instance to another without needing a network administrator, making them perfect for fail-over clusters and load balancers. A great example of this is a PBX phone line. These private phone networks commonly used by businesses are reliant on the cloud for service stability. If an instance handling the phone line goes down, the Elastic IP can be quickly re-routed to another instance to maintain communication.
  • Persistent storage: Amazon’s Elastic Block Storage (EBS) service allows blocks of storage that can be linked to EC2 servers and then utilized as hard drives. With EBS, you can increase or reduce available storage for an EC2 instance and connect EBS volumes to multiple instances simultaneously.
  • Automated scaling: The auto-scaling feature on EC2 automatically increases or decreases capacities from Amazon virtual instances in reaction to demand. Automatic scaling offers additional capacity for handling the temporary increase in traffic volume during a launch or for increasing or decreasing capacity depending on the threshold level.
  • ​Amazon CloudWatch: This feature allows surveillance of applications deployed on AWS and its cloud services. CloudWatch can store, collect and analyze real-time and historical performance data. It can also monitor applications, increase resource use, improve efficiency, optimize spending, and increase or decrease capacity according to the demands of changing workloads.
  • Pause and restart: EC2 instances can be stopped and restarted from the previous state later. For example, if an app consumes excessive resources, it may be discontinued without incurring any usage charges.

These are just some of the features found on Amazon EC2 instances. Whether you’re looking for a simple virtual machine or a more complex and powerful instance, EC2 has what you need.

5. How to learn AWS EC2 and cloud computing

Cloud computing and AWS EC2 can be difficult to learn, but it’s possible with the right tools and resources. The first step is to understand what cloud computing is and what AWS EC2 and other features like the Virtual Private Cloud offer. Once you have a basic understanding of these concepts, you can begin learning how to use them.

There are online resources that can help you learn cloud computing and AWS EC2. For example, Amazon offers a variety of tutorials that can walk you through the basics of using AWS EC2. These tutorials are beginner-friendly and cover various topics, from creating your first instance to managing AWS security settings.

CareerFoundry’s Cloud Computing for developers course is a great way to start getting to grips with not just S3 and the Web Services platform, but cloud computing in general.

Starting with the fundamentals of the cloud, you’ll gain hands-on practical experience with not just EC2 but other widely-used AWS tools such as S3, the VPC, Lambda, and Identity and Access Management (IAM).

Offering developers a basic to intermediate level of deploying web applications on AWS cloud services, this mentored course can be taken by itself, or as part of the Full-Stack Development Program.

Final thoughts

We hope this article has helped you understand what AWS EC2 is and how it can benefit you. AWS EC2 is a powerful tool that can help you save time and money, and it’s definitely worth considering if you are looking for a way to improve your business efficiency.

If you are interested in learning more about AWS EC2, be sure to check out the resources we’ve listed in the previous section. With the right tools and resources, you can learn everything you need to know about this powerful service.

If you’d like to read more about the world of web development in general, check out these articles:

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to web development and build your first website from scratch with our free, self-paced web development short course.

  2. Take part in one of our FREE live online web development events with industry experts, and check out recent graduate Tanimara’s successful career-change story.

  3. Become a qualified web developer in just 5-10 months—complete with a job guarantee.

  4. This month, we’re offering a partial scholarship worth up to $1,365 off on all of our career-change programs to the first 100 students who apply 🎉 Book your application call and secure your spot now!

What is CareerFoundry?

CareerFoundry is an online school for people looking to switch to a rewarding career in tech. Select a program, get paired with an expert mentor and tutor, and become a job-ready designer, developer, or analyst from scratch, or your money back.

Learn more about our programs