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Reserved Instances and Savings Plans are complementary, not substitutes. Each is optimal for specific purposes. Here’s when to use them.
A decade after launching Reserved Instances (RIs), Amazon Web Services (AWS) introduced Savings Plans as a more flexible alternative to RIs. AWS Savings Plans are not meant to replace Reserved Instances; they are complementary.
SPs and RIs have some significant differences that make each better suited to specific uses. As an example, while Savings Plans are applicable to both EC2 and Fargate instances, RIs are only applicable to EC2 instances.
This guide will cover:
Table Of Contents
With AWS Savings Plans, you do not purchase actual instances but commit to one or three years of On-Demand Instances at a discounted price. This discount can amount to 72% off the regular On-Demand price.
Here's a screenshot from AWS illustrating how Savings Plans work:
AWS offers three types of Savings Plans: EC2 Instance Savings Plans, Compute Savings Plans, and Amazon SageMaker Savings Plans. Each plan applies to the kind of usage they named it for. For example, Compute Savings Plans apply to AWS Lambda, Amazon EC2, and AWS Fargate usage.
Our AWS Savings Plans guide explains how these plans work and their pros and cons. We also covered how Queuing AWS Savings Plans works.
AWS Reserved Instances (RIs) is a discount pricing model that enables organizations to save up to 75% on On-Demand Instances when they purchase them in advance for a fixed term of one or three years.
RIs enable you to "book" a certain amount of computing power and pay in advance. The three payment options are:
We have also covered AWS Reserved Instances, the differences between On-Demand and Reserved Instances, and the pros and cons of Reserved Instances in this AWS RI guide.
So, are Reserved Instances and Savings Plans the same?
AWS Savings Plans (SPs)
AWS Reserved Instances (RIs)
Save up to 72% on Amazon EC2 usage by committing to use a set level of compute power in $/hour for 1 or 3 years.
Save up to 72% on Amazon EC2 usage by committing to use a set level of compute power in $/hour for 1 or 3 years in a specific AWS Region and instance family.
Compute Savings Plans
EC2 Instance Savings Plans
Queued Savings Plans
Convertible Reserved Instances
Standard Reserved Instances
Scheduled Reserved Instances
Up to 66% for Compute SPs and up to 72% for EC2 Instances SPs
Specifically, 40% off for 1 year; 60% off for 3 years
Up to 66% for Convertible RIs and up to 72% for Standard RIs
Specifically, 31% off for 1 year; 54% off for 3 years
Usage applies to
Amazon EC2 instances (Compute SPs apply regardless of instance family, operating system, AWS Region, instance size, or tenancy.
EC2 Instance SPs apply to a specific AWS Region and instance family)
Amazon EC2 instances (must match the instances you currently use to work)
Not by default. But you can reserve capacity through On-Demand Capacity Reservations
Yes, by default for usage within a specific Availability Zone. Convertible RIs can be exchanged or modified. Standard RIs can be modified but not exchanged
Ideal use case
Usage is mostly steady and may require changes to instances from time to time
Steady and predictable usage with the same instances
RIs and Savings Plans both offer a similar commitment period and payment options. Some similarities include:
Still, each billing model is unique. It's also not possible to change to the other billing model mid-contract. So, which one do you pick?
Here are some differences between both options, so you can decide which one best suits your organization.
Savings Plans and Reserved Instances differ in flexibility, where to buy, the amount of savings for specific AWS services, and where you can apply each model's discount.
To begin with, Reserved Instances are based on the commitment to use an instance at a particular price over a specific period, while Savings Plans are based on the commitment to spend a particular dollar amount per hour over a specific period.
ProsperOps, one of our partners and a service that programmatically optimizes your AWS compute RIs and Savings Plans, created the following image to help explain some quick, key differences between Reserved Instances and Savings Plans.
The following are the differences between Reserved Instances and AWS Savings Plans:
Compute Savings Plans offer multiple locations/regions and usage types, while Convertible Reserved Instances are assigned to a specific location/region, instance type, operating system, and tenant. You cannot change these once you've purchased RIs.
When your computing needs change, you can repurpose your Compute Savings Plans or transfer workloads across instance types regardless of operating system or tenancy. In comparison, you could use Standard Reserved Instances with various instance types. But you’d need to have a Linux OS and Default Tenancy.
You can also queue AWS Savings Plans to apply automatically at a future date rather than immediately. By scheduling Savings Plans to deploy before or after your existing subscription expires, you can avoid using more expensive On-Demand instances.
Reserved Instances apply across Amazon EC2, Elasticsearch, Relational Database Service (RDS), and RedShift; Compute Savings Plans support Amazon EC2, AWS Fargate, and AWS Lambda. Savings Plans do not cover Amazon RDS, just as RIs do not cover Fargate for serverless applications.
Savings Plans continue to apply in case of changes in your instances or infrastructure, but RIs have to be monitored continuously to ensure they are applied.
As a result, Savings Plans may offer lower management overhead than RIs.
You can resell surplus RIs or purchase additional Standard RIs from the AWS Reserved Marketplace. AWS keeps a 12% service fee.
You can also exchange your Convertible RIs to enhance your commitment without resetting your contract. AWS Marketplace does not allow you to sell or buy Savings Plans.
Reserved Instances offer higher discounts, especially over three years. The key to capturing these savings is to ensure they are not underutilized or over-provisioned. More on this later.
In the meantime, when should you use Savings Plans vs. Reserved Instances or vice versa?
Savings Plans offer flexibility, making them ideal for organizations and systems prone to usage changes. They are ideal when you:
Reservations are non-cancelable. So, make sure you purchase RIs when you:
Despite this, both AWS Savings Plans and Reserved Instances require meticulous planning. You can quickly lose potential savings by over-provisioning or under-utilizing the instances.
To match your computing needs, you can use Auto Scaling, Spot Instances, and rightsize RIs or Savings Plans. This also requires a great deal of planning and forecasting. But most companies cannot accurately predict future utilization because their usage patterns fluctuate. Additionally, AWS Cost Explorer struggles to predict future usage beyond 7, 30, and 60 days.
Something else. Because Cost Explorer needs historical data to calculate and make reliable purchase recommendations, it cannot calculate or make accurate recommendations if your AWS Savings Plan expired recently.
However, manually selecting the most suitable AWS instances for your needs can be time-consuming. For example, there are more than 400 EC2 instances to choose from. In addition, most AWS cost management tools estimate your needs based on the instances you have now, not on what you will need in the future.
Most cost tools struggle to link the people, processes, and products that drive AWS usage and associated costs. This makes it challenging to pinpoint where you can make trade-offs or pull strings to reduce consumption and costs without sacrificing availability, performance, or engineering velocity.
All of this makes it difficult to predict usage over several months, let alone a year or three years down the road. So, what do you do?
1. Choose an AWS Savings Plan based on your engineering needs. Track your usage and costs for one to three months with CloudZero. With CloudZero, you can see precisely who or what is driving your AWS costs down to:
This cost granularity can help you identify which areas to prioritize and which ones to trade-off to lower your bill without compromising service quality.
to see how CloudZero can help you forecast and allocate AWS costs, including cost anomaly detection.
2. You can then use ProsperOps for both RIs and Savings Plans benefits. Using real-time automation, ProsperOps programmatically blends Savings Plans and Convertible RIs to extend your multi-region, Lambda, and Fargate coverage (AWS Savings Plans) with additional term control and database coverage (Reserved Instances).
3. If you use Spot Instances for short-term workloads, you can automate switching to them when the price is right with Xosphere. Xosphere automatically switches your system back to On-Demand Instances once Spot Instances become uneconomical, in time to prevent performance issues or cost surprises.
This blog post was written and reviewed by the CloudZero team. Combined, our team has more than a quarter century of experience in the cloud cost space. Every blog post is extensively researched and reviewed by several members of our team for accuracy and readability.
CloudZero is the only solution that enables you to allocate 100% of your spend in hours — so you can align everyone around cost dimensions that matter to your business.