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5 AWS whitepapers actually worth reading before your exam

by Sean Ziegler

If you’re preparing for an AWS certification exam, or you’re just an AWS professional trying to broaden your knowledge, you’ve probably considered reading AWS whitepapers.

Then, if you’re like me, you realized there are over 200 of the stupid things and immediately gave up on that idea. The sheer number of published AWS whitepapers is overwhelming.

I read way too many of these whitepapers when I was prepping for my certification exams, so I’m going to do everyone else a favor and save you the pain of reading hundreds of pages about implementing Oracle PeopleSoft on RDS (why is that even a whitepaper? Honestly.)

I excluded any whitepaper that only talks about one service (in that case, just read the service’s FAQ) and tried to choose whitepapers that give the most information in the fewest number of pages.


Here’s the AWS whitepapers actually worth reading before taking your AWS exam.

1 – Overview of Amazon Web Services

This whitepaper is supposed to be an overview of AWS, but somehow clocks in at 95 pages long. The good news – you only need to read the first seven pages to get an overview of AWS. The rest of this whitepaper is just a list of AWS services followed by a brief description.

That might sound boring, but it’s actually quite useful. Often I hear that one of the most difficult parts of studying for an AWS certification is just remembering which service is which.

As you are studying for your exam, keep this whitepaper open in another tab. If you come across an AWS service you aren’t familiar with, use CTRL + F to search for the service in this whitepaper. Keep doing this until you can remember all the core services without using the whitepaper – this is a big part of being prepared for your exam.

Overview of Amazon Web Services [PDF]

2 – How AWS Pricing Works

There are a few different pricing models in AWS and you need to know all of them for your exam. This whitepaper covers all the pricing models you’ll encounter on the AWS exams (like on-demand, per-second, dedicated hosts, and capacity reservations, etc.) and how to choose between them for each AWS service.

Not sure whether to choose on-demand or spot instances for EC2? Confused about S3 storage tiers like Standard and Glacier? This is the whitepaper for you.

How AWS Pricing Works [PDF]

3 – AWS Well-Architected Framework

The Well-Architected Framework is AWS’s guide to building applications in the cloud. The Well-Architected Framework covers the key concepts, design principles, and best practices for all things related to AWS.

If you need to understand how to build secure, high-performing, resilient infrastructure and applications then look no further than the Well-Architected Framework.

The Well-Architected Framework is becoming a large part of all AWS exams, so I suggest reading it.

UPDATE: AWS has re-engineered the AWS Well-Archtected Framework to be more than a whitepaper. It now includes hands-on labs and the AWS Well-Architected Tool. AWS is investing heavily in this framework, so you should too.

AWS Well-Architected Framework [PDF]

4 – AWS Storage Services Overview

AWS has way too many storage options – EFS, EBS, Snowball, Snowmobile, there’s a ton. The AWS Storage Services Overview gives you a look into each service including its usage patterns (important for exams), performance, scalability, and cost.

This one is especially useful for those of you pursing the Solutions Architect exam because it heavily tests storage architecture and they base many questions on the features and use cases of the AWS storage services.

AWS Storage Services Overview [PDF]

5 – Fault-Tolerant Components on AWS

In my opinion, one of the major advantages of AWS is being able to build applications that can seamlessly recover from failures. The Fault-Tolerant Components on AWS whitepaper helps you design compute, storage, and networking solutions that can withstand outages and errors.

This paper is also a great way to learn more about AWS Regions and Availability zones as they are a core component of fault-tolerance on AWS.

The AWS certifications tests fault tolerance and high availability in all of the certification exams (some more than others) so this is a good whitepaper to read before any exam.

Fault-Tolerant Components on AWS [PDF]

6 – Implementing Microservices on AWS

Transitioning to a microservice architecture is important for organizations looking to scale their applications in the cloud. This whitepaper covers the three common microservice patterns (API driven, event driven, and data streaming) and discusses the benefits and challenges of microservice architecture on AWS.

This whitepaper is also a great overview of API Gateway and AWS Lambda. Microservice and serverless architecture questions comprise a sizable portion of most of the AWS certification exams, so it’s worth a read.

Implementing Microservices on AWS [PDF]

7 – Overview of Deployment Options on AWS

You have to get your code on to AWS somehow, and boy are there a lot of options. This whitepaper covers ways to deploy your code on to AWS infrastructure like Elastic Beanstalk, CodeDeploy, ECS/EKS, and more. It also covers all the deployment strategies the exams test on, including blue/green, rolling, and in-place deployments.

Pay special attention to the deployment strategies, I guarantee you’ll get asked about at least one of them on your exam.

Overview of Deployment Options on AWS [PDF]

Think I missed one?

Let me know in the comments below. I try to keep this list up to date, so I’ll look and see if I think it deserves a spot on the list!

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