When running a company that relies on software, one of the largest costs is cloud infrastructure. For startups that are planning to scale, cloud computing spend can increase exponentially. Therefore, optimizing cloud costs can be an important lever for startups looking to be capital efficient, a concern especially prevalent in the current macroeconomic environment.
Fortunately, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the largest cloud provider in the world, offers discounts, in the form of AWS promotional credits, through several specific AWS credit programs. The monetary value of these credits ranges from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars (although the lifetime credit amount that one business can receive is generally $100,000). Once you’ve received credits, you can apply them to your AWS account to cover eligible usage. Eligible services range from compute power (EC2 instances) to cloud storage (S3) to a cloud database (Aurora, RDS). There are other methods by which organizations can minimize their cloud costs, such as utilizing Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances, but for the sake of this writeup, we’ll cover how to get and use cloud credits. Keep in mind that credits are only valid for a limited time, usually 1 or 2 years, when figuring out how many you'll need for the AWS services you'll use.
How to get credits from AWS
AWS Free Tier
The AWS Free Tier is always available for startups just getting off the ground and is quite useful if your resource and cloud services usage is extremely low. For startups with greater resource usage, there are several ways to apply for and receive more free AWS credits.
AWS Activate Program
The most applicable method to obtain promotional credits for most startups is through the AWS Activate Founders program. For early-stage startups, this program allows you to apply for credits and includes other benefits like training for AWS best practices. Eligibility requirements for these startups include being founded within the past decade, having an active company website or online profile, being unfunded or funded (up to Series A), and being new to the Activate program. However, the general amount of promotional credits received through this program is likely not $100,000.
For startups that are associated with AWS Activate Providers, which includes accelerators such as Y Combinator. For these venture-backed companies, there is the AWS Activate Portfolio. Oftentimes, if your startup has gone through an accelerator program or raised money from a venture capital firm, you most likely have access to AWS credits through your investors as well. Another thing to keep in mind is if your startup runs machine learning (ML) workloads, you may be able to receive an even greater amount of promotional credits, potentially up to $250,000 - just ask your AWS representative.
Other AWS programs for promotional credits
Healthy Equity Initiative
If your organization is geared towards health equity and is specifically aiming to accomplish one of the goals outlined by the AWS Global Social Impact Team, you can apply for the AWS Health Equity Initiative. Applicants can request up to $250,000 in free credits, but if your organization is a private business, you would need to provide a match of at least 25 percent of your request.
There is an accelerator program for startups whose founders are underrepresented minorities: the AWS Impact Accelerator. This program provides $125,000 in cash, $100,000 in AWS credits for cloud services, and many other benefits for early-stage startups with Black, Latino, women, and LGBTQIA+ founders. Startups focusing on education technology can also apply for the AWS EdStart program.
Non-profit organizations, research, and the public sector
If you’re a non-profit organization, you can check out the AWS NonProfit Credit Program, which allots up to $5,000 in free credits. US-based nonprofits can also apply for the AWS IMAGINE Grant, a program offering up to $150,000 in capital and $100,000 in AWS credits.
There are public sector programs through which an organization can receive AWS credits for their cloud computing needs. For researchers, there is the AWS Cloud Credit for Research Programs. If you’re part of a research institution, you can apply here; student awards are capped at $5,000 but faculty awards are uncapped. If you are creating software related to sustainability efforts and falls under the eligibility requirements, there is the Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative. Also, if you’re currently a student, you can receive credits through the AWS Educate Program, along with access to the Educate Student Portal. For students of institutions that participate in AWS Educate, you can receive up to $100 in credits, and if not, up to $35. Open Source projects can receive AWS credits as well, although the amount potentially received is unclear.
Other ways to get AWS credits
AWS partners in the APN receive other benefits considered AWS business support, including:
- Staff training and development
- Building skills via labs and sandboxes
- Building proof of concepts (POC) through labs, sandboxes and other tools
- Developing Go-To-Market Strategies with Market Development Funds
- Planning and migrating workloads to AWS (Migration Acceleration Program)
There are other ways to receive AWS promotional credits than directly applying for one of the AWS credit programs or by becoming an AWS partner, such as joining a startup community.
Y Combinator’s startup school, for example, offers AWS discounts and cloud credits.
How to use your AWS credits
AWS has laid out how it optimizes your credit utilization in your AWS account, and what changes you can make, including:
1. How your credits are applied to your AWS bills and eligible services
2. How credits are applied to shared accounts under an AWS Organization
3. How credits are applied across multiple accounts and AWS bills
4. Credit sharing between AWS accounts and how to disable it
More detailed information is in AWS’ documentation here.
How to manage your DevOps on AWS with Porter
After claiming and putting your credits to use, you may find that managing your cloud infrastructure is quite complicated. Good news: Porter is a fully managed PaaS that automates DevOps from infra setup to CI/CD, so you and your team can focus solely on application logic and building great products without worrying about managing cloud infrastructure.