Learn to Navigate the AWS Services Landscape

A seemingly innocuous question like “what does AWS offer” often results in a not-so-abbreviated answer. 

Yes, AWS is the big, bad do-everything tool that has totally changed how we utilize the cloud. Yes, your friend’s company made (or saved) beaucoup bucks by “moving to AWS.” No, navigating the expansive AWS landscape isn’t easy. Well, unless you know all of the services. (Psst, keep reading.)


Breaking AWS down into categories

With over 100 services spanning nearly every aspect of IT, it’s easy to get lost. That’s why boiling down AWS into modern and relevant categories is the best way to understand the full services landscape.


Any service in the AWS catalog must fall under one of the following categories

•  Storage: In my humble opinion, storage is where it all starts. AWS knows that once you move your data over to their platform, it’s all over for your other IT solutions, both up and down the stack. Storage in AWS doesn’t involve streaming, it doesn’t involve HDFS and it doesn’t involve databases. It’s just straight-up storage. With this limited view, it’s the actual low-level services that fall into this category: S3, EBS, Glacier, EFS, Storage Gateway, or the hard-to-resolve cloud data migration services. S3 is sort of the gateway drug—by moving your static content (images, CSS, Javascript, etc.) over to S3, your users will get something north of 20 to 30% lower latencies when accessing your site, and you will get a 20 to 30% reduction in your bill thanks to AWS’ “tiered discounts. AWS knows this will fuel further expansion into their platform, and believe it or not, saving you money is actually one of AWS’ core goals.

•  Compute: This includes the expensive, burdensome, can-do-everything-but-is-too-often-demonized “legacy” EC2 (is it weird we’re already using that term with the cloud?). Compute also involves some disruptive, game-changing tech like Lambda and EMR (which now runs Apache Spark), as well as fast-starting and highly-portable LXC containers via ECS. And for the mom-and-pop cafes and locally-run users, there’s Lightsail.

•  Networking: Although you may not have the same low level of networking control and visibility you’re used to, AWS Software-Defined Networking (SDN) products will deliver you the same level of functionality you need, at a much lower (often times free) price point. It all starts and ends with the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) offering—it’s free to use and able to mimic the same network topologies you’ve been creating on-premise. For DNS routing, they offer Route 53, and for Load Balancing, they offer the highly-secure, DDoS-hardened ELB, which now comes in three flavors, Classic, Application Load Balancer (ALB) and Network Load Balancer (NLB). If you need low-cost, low-latency and high-security fiber interconnects from your data center into an AWS region, you’ll want to look into Direct Connect. 

•  Databases: You still need a reliable and low-latency place to store all of that highly-relevant, mission-critical data from your users, your systems, and your internal collaborative apps. In AWS, this is one of the areas where your on-prem team will have nothing but accolades when they move over. AWS offers a standard RDBMS (a.k.a. OLTP) functionality, it’s long-term, higher-volume sibling Data Warehouse (a.k.a. OLAP) functionality, and that snappy “new kid on the block” NoSQL functionality. AWS CTO Werner Vogels is a genius, but when he says “Every modern app should be built using NoSQL,” we couldn’t disagree more. NoSQL is fantastic but when it comes to both ACID compliance and developer productivity, nothing does the trick like a good old-fashioned RDBMS. Every AWS developer should be looking to leverage the Relational Database Service (RDS). For a “Three Vs” scenario (high volume, velocity or variety), you’ll want to let at least part of your app rely on NoSQL. In AWS, this boils down to several services, namely DynamoDB, Elasticache, and Neptune. If you’re tired of shoveling wheelbarrows full of cash at Oracle or Microsoft for your on-prem Data Warehouse, you’ll probably want to check out Redshift, or even Spark SQL, on top of EMR.

•  Mobile: If any “slice” of the AWS developer community has benefitted from their platform, it’s the mobile folks. With mobile-specific services like Cognito, SNS, SQS, API Gateway, Device Farm, Pinpoint, and Mobile Analytics, developers should be able to quickly and easily spin up any dev, test or production workload they need without roadblocks or long-term commitments.

•  IoT: IoT brings a whole new level of low-latency, sporadically-manic ingestion concerns to the table. In addition to the mobile services mentioned above, this category adds the highly popular Kinesis service for streaming, IoT Core for building highly fault-tolerant, responsive IoT back-ends, Device Management to register and manage remote devices, Greengrass to manage compute on local devices, IoT Analytics to help make sense of the deluge of device data coming at you, a free Real Time Operating System (FreeRTOS), a connected devices security manager (Device Defender), and a host of machine learning services that do everything from integration with the Alexa platform to deep ML.


Of particular relevance is the AWS “Best Practices” guide for new architects, the Well-Architected framework—a constantly updated guide of the common tips, tricks, and gotchas that new adopters of the platform may encounter. In addition, DevOps practitioners will be pleased to find a whole DevOps area on the AWS site, and the security teams will likely find all they need at the AWS Security Center.

Everything Else

Did we not warn you that AWS has over 100 services? AWS has a whole swath of big data services, most of which are covered in our mobile, IoT, storage and databases categories. They also offer plenty of exciting capabilities in:

Machine Learning 
Virtual Desktops 
Elastic Transcoder

AWS also has plenty of options that are free to try

Overwhelmed? Here’s where to start

If one of the categories or services above made your ears pop up, you probably want to start there. Like I tell my kids at least once a week, “Do what you love and all else follows.” Start with your area of passion, do some research and begin your journey.

If your current company or role prevents you from getting any work-related, hands-on training with AWS, you’ll probably want to spin up a pet project. I’m sure your favorite café, your kid’s soccer team, or your husband’s favorite hobby could use a website or a refresh. Or you may want to just study to take an AWS certification, which can turn out to be a game-changer, professionally.

In Global Knowledge’s annual IT Skills and Salary Report, the AWS Architecture Certification (we’re talking just the Associate level) is often one of the highest paying certifications in the industry. It commands an average annual salary higher than other favorites like the MCSE, PMP and CISSP. If you’re motivated to get certified, taking an official AWS-authorized training from Global Knowledge can help you get certified faster than just about any other route.

You’ll also want to check out our AWS learning paths before you plot out your next step.


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