How your charity can make the most of Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers solutions that cover almost every element of organisational IT infrastructure. Below, we’ll be looking at three of the most popular AWS services available, what they do, and why they’re useful. Through the Charity Digital Exchange programme, eligible UK charities can access $2,000 of AWS Promotional Credits each year for only £151.

AWS pricing is worked out from the exact amount that you use each service, so it’s tough to say exactly how far this goes, but $2,000 is more than enough to cover the needs of most charities.

The image to the right compares conventional services pricing (top image) with that of Amazon. Only paying for what you use means you never have to pay for underutilisation!


Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2)

What it is:

Amazon EC2 is a web service that can be used to launch as many or as few virtual servers as you need, configure security and manage storage. It allows you to scale up and down to handle spikes in popularity and changes in requirements.

What it offers:

  • Virtual computing environments, known as instances
  • Preconfigured templates for your instances, known as Amazon Machine Images (AMIs)
  • Secure login information for your instances using key pairs(AWS stores the public key, and you store the private key in a secure place)
  • Persistent storage volumes for your data using Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), known as Amazon EBS volumes
  • Multiple physical locations for your resources, such as instances and Amazon EBS volumes, known as Regionsand Availability Zones
  • A firewall that enables you to specify the protocols, ports, and source IP ranges that can reach your instances using security groups
  • Quick setup using AWS management console, command line tools or SKD.

Why this is useful:

One very appealing element of Amazon EC2 is the ease and efficiency in scaling up or down depending on what works best for your charity. Only being charged for what you use means you only pay more when you are doing more with your service.

This is an ideal resource for organisations who anticipate growth, or whose demand varies throughout the year, making a usage-based payment plan an ideal fit.

Beyond scalability, it offers easy integration with other available services and a range of choice when it comes to instance types or operating systems. This means you can tailor the system around the infrastructure you may already have in place, with quick and easy setup. is one of many charities who is already benefitting from Amazon EC2. They were looking for a more scalable web platform as they began growing rapidly, so decided to move some core services across.

They began using EC2 for their email targeting and batch pipeline work as it offered the ease and scalability they were after. was able to move only certain elements of their infrastructure to AWS, which also meant the transition didn’t need to be at all disruptive.


Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3)

What it is:

As the name states, Amazon S3 is a storage service designed to collect, store and analyse data in an array of formats. Data can be retrieved from websites, apps or internet-of-things sensors to run analytics without having to extract the data.

What it offers:

  • A reliable and durable platform: the largest, global cloud-infrastructure in the world, which make operations more seamless than if they were working from a single data centre.
  • Storage and distribution at any scale: the storage capacity means that performance isn’t slowed by demand.
  • Data lakes: offering agility and flexibility when your analytics involve large amounts of data from a range of sources.
  • Transfer acceleration: allowing fast transfer of big data across large geographical distances.
  • Security and disaster recovery: more security standards and compliance certifications than any other cloud platform. Having data centres around the world makes rapid recovery of entire infrastructure possible.

Why this is useful:

Amazon’s storage service is a popular choice for its ease of setup and use. Organisations can use either the AWS management console, a web-based interface, or the Amazon storage gateway. It can integrate successfully with existing applications through third-party software.

Once installed, it offers speed, security and (like most AWS offerings) scalability. Having upfront protection as well as disaster recovery means users can trust that their data is in safe hands, whilst transfers are also straight-forward, even on a global scale.

This service is ideal for organisations working with sensitive data from a variety of sources, particularly if this data requires analysis or sharing.

JustGiving is currently using AWS on a large scale, and Amazon S3 is one of the many services they are benefitting from. Their aim was to reduce the need for staff to have to support and maintain a physical infrastructure. They saw AWS as an ideal fit.

As they work with large data sets, a large-capacity storage service was and is an essential and the ability for quick transfer and data lakes meant they can now store and move their data at will.


Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS)

What it is:

A relational database that operates entirely in the cloud, with the ability to automate administrative tasks to save you time. Additionally, it’s compatible with a range of database engines.

What it offers:

  • Resizable capacity: a simple API call can scale your compute and storage resources.
  • Fast deployment: use the management console, command line interface or API calls to access your relational database in minutes without need for infrastructure provisioning.
  • Availability on several database instances: all optimised for memory and performance, some of the database engine options include MySQL, Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server.
  • Reliable infrastructure: if you provision a multi-AZ DB instance, this is synchronously replicated to a standby instance.

Why this is useful:

For charities, the on-demand pricing system can be suitable as it avoids upfront costs or long-term commitments whilst remaining affordable.

Amazon’s IT infrastructure is famously secure, ensuring you receive a high level of service at affordable rates. Automated backups, database snapshots and automatic host replacement ensures your data is reliably stored.

This service would be best suited to organisations looking for a relational database service that offers flexibility and ease in setup and a highly reliable infrastructure on which to store data.

The League of Women Voters chose to make the move across to Amazon RDS after reviewing a range of hosting solutions and finding RDS’s scalability and price plan appealing.

They have now built two databases of voters on the service. The ability to create instances on demand makes it easy for them to handle their data clean-ups without disrupting their overarching goals.


If you’re keen to look into Amazon Web Services, they have a great deal of information on their site. Otherwise, head over to Charity Digital Exchange to get your credit today!

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