Created on:
August 20, 2019

The free cloud (and things you can do with it)

In case you didn’t know it yet, there are big freebies hiding behind the gates of major cloud providers who put some of their best services in what they call a ‘free tier’. This means that registering just with your name, email and a valid credit card (don’t worry you won’t be charged if using this type of tier), gives you no-cost access to a wide array of products and services.

Whether you are looking to learn more about the platforms or you are building a prototype for a startup idea, you can leverage these free services to work your way without spending a single dollar.

We did some homework on what these free tiers offer for the three major cloud providers: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. Here are the results.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services  has a comprehensive list documenting all their free offerings here. It currently separates their free tier into three categories:

  1. 12 Months Free
  2. Always Free
  3. Trials

The list is literally huge but we’ve taken a look and have some suggestions of things you can do with these services. For example with the 12 month and trial free tiers you could:

  • Run a web app in EC2 that uses a database in RDS for a full month.
  • Set up a CDN with CloudFront for a limit of 50GB (or 2 million requests).
  • Use 10,000 request on Amazon Lex, a service that powers voice and text chatbots.
  • If you have affinity for the medical field, you have up to 2.5 million characters you can retrieve from Amazon Comprehend Medical, a NLP service that extracts medical information from unstructured texts.

The only caveat with the Trial tier is that you can use that offer only once. After that, standard service usage fees apply.

On the other hand, the Always Free tier comes with no strings attached in terms of time limit but it does put a cap on the amount of resources you can use for each service. It’s still a good choice to do one of the following things:

  • Have your code executed in AWS cloud using Lambda for up to 1 million requests a month.
  • Use the Amazon push messaging service, SNS, for up to 1 million publishes.
  • Store files for the very long term in Amazon Glacier with 10GB of free retrievals per month.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft’s free tiers for Azure are split into three offerings:

  1. 12 Months Free
  2. $200 Credit (for new customers)
  3. Always Free

The year of free services includes 8 popular services which are limited in terms of resources but still can give you a good run. You could for example:

  • Run a SQL server database 24/7 with 250GB of storage.
  • Use a Windows VM  with 1 vCPU and 1 GB of RAM for 750 hours (a full month of usage).

A suggestion would be to combine these credits with the $200 credit you get if signing up. Be advised that this amount is only valid for a month so you’d probably want to use it to get a service that is not within the 8 services included in the 12 months free.

The Always Free tier includes a bit more than 25 services that you can use in an unlimited way as long as you stay within the resource caps each service has. Some of the things you could do are:

  • Publish and run up to 10 web, mobile or API apps using the serverless compute App Service.
  • Use a pre-trained, AI-powered, Facial Recognition API for up to 30000 calls per month.
  • Send up to 1 million push notifications (per month!) using the Notification Hubs service.

Google Cloud Platform

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) offers a two stage free tier basically composed of:

  1. $300 credit (for new customers)
  2. Always Free tier

There are of course a few catches with how to use the services in these tiers but it’s nothing out of the ordinary set in place so people don’t take advantage and try to do very intensive usage of the platform. However, one important tip of advise is that you pay attention to the region/zones you use as some of them are not available in the free tier mode.

Having that said, here are a couple of ideas of what you can do with those $300 in credit:

  • Run a server with 1 vCPU, 3.75GB of RAM, 24/7 for a year (with some change to spare).
  • Run a state-of-the-art NoSQL database instance with 250GB of data, 24/7 for a year.
  • Deploy a serverless function and invoke it 45 million times.

Also keep in mind that you only get 12 months to spend this credit amount once you activate it. It’s better than Microsoft’s 30 days but make sure you already have at least one project in the pipeline to take advantage of this offer.

As with Amazon Web Services, the GCP’s Always Free tier of services can be much more resourceful in terms that you are not constrained by either money or time as it happens with the initial credit you get when you sign up. This implies unlimited usage, at least until Google changes this offer. Among the interesting stuff you could do (potentially forever!) with this tier:

  • Use GCP’s data warehouse, BigQuery, free up to 10GB of storage per month, and 1 TB of query data. Keep in mind that Google Cloud Storage also offers an always free tier, so combining these two gives you the power to load BigQuery data unlimited times from GCS without charge as long as you are within the storage size limits.
  • Use pre-trained machine learning services, like speech-to-text, vision, and cloud natural language for up to 60 minutes a month, with 1000 units (or calls) a month and 5000 units a month respectively.
  • Set up your own automated code build pipeline using Cloud Build which allows 120 minutes free of daily processing.
  • BONUS: The GCP Shell console is practically a full-fledged linux on its own that offers  5 GB of free persistent disk storage. An extra always-free VM! Yay!


There are very interesting things you could do in these major cloud providers without spending any of your budget. A word of advise is that you make sure to check for updates before using any services, as these offers could change without notice. But other than that, happy cloud development!