Free and Low-Cost Cloud Hosting Resources for Students

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Many free and low-cost options exist for students who need a home in the cloud for their digital projects. For most web projects, managed or shared hosting is the way to go.  The managed/shared host will handle most of the routine maintenance on the server allowing you to focus your efforts on building your project.  In contrast, hosting your project on a dedicated server will give you more control over the server, but also the responsibility to perform all of the maintenance.  Unless you need to install non-standard or custom software for your project, it will generally be much easier and cheaper to use a shared/managed host.  Managed/shared servers will generally come pre-installed with many standard software options to choose from.  You will often want a web server, typically Apache.  Many web applications will require a database to store your data such as MySQL or PostgreSQL.  Dynamic websites will typically require a server-side scripting language such as PHP, Python, or Ruby.  Some sites which want to run Javascript on the server-side will need Node.js installed.  Most managed/shared hosts will offer many of these options, but be sure that the specific requirements for your site are offered by the host you choose.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

AWS is an industry leader in cloud hosting platforms.  It provides hosting for very large companies in addition to smaller companies and individuals.  AWS’s main strengths are the number of different server configuration, storage options, etc, available as well as its ability to scale from a very small server instance with low bandwidth to huge multi-processor servers capable of serving websites with lots of web traffic.

For the first year after you create your AWS account, users are eligible for a free tier of services.  This gives a user a chance to explore a wide range of AWS offerings without having to spend a lot of money.  This level of hosting is often sufficient for small projects or the development and testing phases of larger projects.   

Find out more about AWS’s free tier here.  And read about some of the limitations of the free tier here.  AWS has a useful calculator which allows you select from all of their services and determine the monthly cost.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure offers many of the same cloud hosting services as AWS. In addition it also offers access to many Microsoft APIs, services, and suites of specialized software, such as the Azure Machine Learning Studio.  Students can participate in Azure’s Dreamspark program for discounts on Azure services and software.  In addition, teachers are eligible discounts for themselves and their students through the Microsoft Educator Grant Program.  Through this program educators can receive a 12 month, $250/month account and their students can receive a 6 month, $100/month account.  

Digital Ocean

Digital Ocean offers virtual private servers (VPS) which have some of the advantages of dedicated servers such as root access and also some of the advantages of shared/managed servers such as easy installation of pre-configured software.  There are somewhat fewer options than AWS or Azure, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as the options they provide will fit most users’ needs.  Digital Ocean participates in Github’s student developer program which gives discounts to students for server space.  Find out more about Digital Ocean’s participation in GitHub’s Student Developer Program here.

Github

Software projects, especially collaborative projects, should be stored in a version control system on the cloud.  Git is by far the most popular version control system.  Github hosts git repositories which can store source code and other materials for a software project.  Github offers a Student Developer Pack which includes discounts on git hosting as well as many other services.  Apply using your email account ending in edu.  

Bitbucket

Bitbucket is another cloud host for Git repositories.  Bitbucket offers unlimited free git repositories for academic users.  Just sign up using your email account ending in edu.  Find more information here.

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