I have deliberately titled this blog post such that it gets more hits when people search one of the most common issues related to hosting: free web hosting :D. Of course Amazon does not provide just free hosting, its much more that than. But the general blogger, community leader, shop owner or similar is still more interested in hosting a WordPress, Drupal, Joomla or some e-commerce application. Let me explain a bit what Amazon Web Services is all about and what this free deal means.
Amazon Web Services is a collection of products offered by Amazon (yes the original book seller on the web) which allows users to avail compute power, storage, database, content delivery and other stuff with no up front commitment. You pay for what you use. These allow you to have your application hosted on Amazon infrastructure whenever you need. You do not need to buy resources in advance since Amazon gives you access to them when needed and charges you only for what you use. Lets take WordPress as an application. It runs on PHP, uses MySQL for storage. You may also need normal disk storage if you upload audio/video content or file attachments. What Amazon gives you is building blocks. You have EC2 for running WordPress. It behaves like a complete machine which you can log in to. You buy bandwidth on a per use basis. So basically you install PHP, MySQL and necessary stuff and then throw in WordPress and hurrah! Your own blog on Amazon's servers!
Now you may be interested in hosting your blog (WordPress) or content management system (Drupal, Joomla), custom website (on PHP/Python/Ruby, MySQL etc.) or e-commerce application (Magento, Ubercart). What we are going to do is get to use Amazon's products and run our website on them for free. How free? Well Amazon is giving a free tier to every new customer till about end of this year (2011). Go and sign up for the free tier; you may also read through their product details.
Confused about how these stuff enable to host your website? Well I will agree it is not as simple as buying a hosting account from a web hosting company. Amazon gives you lower level platform on which you can build your own application. But no need to worry, you can look at services like JumpBox who provide you easy starting points and ready to start machine images for most popular software. They are even supporting the free AWS tier with ready to lunch solution for WordPress, Drupal, MediaWiki and Joomla.