Mastering AWS Step Functions Pricing

Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a plethora of solutions that streamline and manage business operations, one of which is AWS Step Functions. This fully managed service simplifies the orchestration of complex, distributed applications into simple visual workflows. Given the importance of cost management in cloud-based operations, understanding AWS Step Functions pricing and cost management is crucial for optimizing efficiency and budget.

1. AWS Step Functions – An Overview

What is AWS Step Functions?

AWS Step Functions is a serverless workflow service that orchestrates different AWS services into serverless workflows. This allows for the swift construction and updating of applications. It enables developers to design and run workflows that stitch together services such as AWS Lambda, AWS Fargate, and Amazon SageMaker into feature-rich applications.

Related Reading: Top Step Functions Interview Questions & Answers

Key Features and Benefits

Key features of AWS Step Functions include visual workflow management, enabling users to see their application’s workflow in a simple, intuitive diagram. Automatic error handling reduces the need for try-catch programming, and built-in security features mean that data and tasks remain secure across multiple services.

One of the major benefits of AWS Step Functions is the ability to design intricate workflows without getting entangled in the infrastructure that lies beneath. This allows developers to focus on the business logic and leave the coordination and state management to AWS Step Functions.

2. A Deep Dive into Step Functions Pricing

Overview of Pricing Model

When it comes to the pricing model of AWS Step Functions, the fundamental element is the state transition. A state transition, in essence, represents a change in the status of a process within your workflow. For instance, in a workflow that involves processing an image, a state transition could represent a step like resizing the image or applying a filter. Every single step of this sort, representing a change in state, is considered a state transition. The total number of state transitions, which means the number of these steps executed in your workflows, largely determines the cost.

Pricing for Workflow Types

The price you pay for using AWS Step Functions also depends on the type of workflow you choose to use: Standard Workflows or Express Workflows.

  • Standard Workflows are designed for long-running, durable, and auditable workflows. For instance, if your application involves complex business processes or long-running transformations that may last up to a year, Standard Workflows would be your go-to option. It’s worth noting that Standard Workflows offer features like error handling, retry policies, and execution history, which is why they cost slightly more.
  • Express Workflows are optimized for high-speed, large-scale event processing, and short-duration, high-volume microservice orchestration. They are designed to support workflows that experience a burst of thousands of requests per second. Consequently, Express Workflows offer higher execution rates and shorter execution durations, resulting in less cost compared to Standard Workflows.

It’s crucial to choose the workflow type that best fits your application’s needs, keeping in mind the price difference and your budget constraints.

Related Reading: See our guide on standard vs. express workflows.

3. Factors Affecting Step Functions Cost

State Transitions

As we established earlier, the number of state transitions forms the crux of AWS Step Functions pricing. Every step executed in your workflow signifies a state transition, and therefore, more the number of transitions, higher will be the cost. Carefully designing your workflows to minimize the number of steps can significantly reduce costs.

Workflow Types

The type of workflow you opt for (Standard or Express) has a direct impact on the cost. Although Express Workflows tend to be cheaper due to their high execution rate and shorter execution duration, they may not be suitable for long-running and durable tasks, which is where Standard Workflows come into play. Therefore, choosing the right workflow type based on your application requirements is key to efficient cost management.

Service Region

The geographical AWS region where your service is hosted can also impact the cost. AWS prices may vary slightly from region to region due to differences in operational costs across various geographical locations. For instance, operating costs in regions like North America and Europe might be different from those in regions like Asia-Pacific or South America, which is reflected in the price differences.

Execution Duration

The duration of execution or how long a step function takes to execute can affect the cost. This is especially true for steps that use AWS Lambda functions. If a step function takes longer to execute due to complex computations, increased data processing, or other factors, it can increase the overall cost. Efficient coding and optimization of step functions can help in controlling these costs.

4. Practical Examples of Step Functions Pricing

Consider a simple use-case: a photo-processing application that uses AWS Step Functions for orchestrating a serverless workflow. This workflow includes steps such as uploading a photo, resizing it, applying filters, and finally saving the processed photo.

Suppose this application processes about 100 photos each day, and each processing step involves 5 state transitions. Therefore, you’d have 500 state transitions daily, which translates into 15,000 state transitions per month.

The cost can be calculated using the pricing details for the specific AWS region where the app is deployed. In the US East (N. Virginia) region, the first 4,000 state transitions per month are free, and beyond that, it costs $0.025 per 1,000 state transitions.

Therefore, for 15,000 state transitions in a month, the first 4,000 transitions are free, and the remaining 11,000 transitions would cost about $0.275. This example provides a basic understanding of how Step Functions pricing works in a real-world scenario.

5. Cost Optimization Tips for AWS Step Functions

Cost optimization can be a crucial part of managing your AWS Step Functions. Here are a few tips for managing costs effectively:

Design Workflows for Cost-Effectiveness

Workflows should be designed to minimize the number of state transitions without compromising the functionality. This requires thoughtful planning and efficient use of resources.

Related Reading: Top Cloud Architecture Questions Answered!

Pair with Other AWS Services for Cost Efficiency

Pairing Step Functions with other AWS services like AWS Lambda or AWS Fargate can potentially reduce the total number of steps in your workflows, leading to cost efficiency.

Monitor and Manage Costs using AWS Tools

AWS provides a number of tools like AWS Cost Explorer and AWS Budgets that can provide insight into your usage patterns and help identify areas for potential savings. Regular monitoring and management of costs can lead to significant long-term savings.

Utilize AWS Resources for Cost Optimization

AWS provides a number of resources and best practices for cost optimization. It’s worthwhile to take the time to understand these resources and implement suitable practices within your operations.


Q1: Are AWS Step Functions expensive?
The cost of AWS Step Functions depends on your usage, specifically the number of state transitions. For many use cases, AWS Step Functions can be quite cost-effective, especially compared to the operational overhead of managing your own workflow orchestration.

Q2: What factors affect AWS Step Functions cost?
Key factors that affect the cost of AWS Step Functions include the number of state transitions, the type of workflow (Standard or Express), the AWS region where your service runs, and the execution duration of your functions.

Q3: Are AWS Step Functions more expensive than AWS Lambda?
AWS Step Functions and AWS Lambda have different pricing models, making direct comparisons challenging. The cost can depend heavily on your use case. While Lambda charges based on the number of requests and execution time, Step Functions charges based on the number of state transitions. For certain orchestration-heavy workloads, Step Functions could potentially be more cost-effective.

Q4: How can I reduce my AWS Step Functions costs?
You can lower your AWS Step Functions costs by optimizing your workflow design to reduce state transitions, using AWS Lambda or AWS Fargate effectively, and routinely monitoring your costs with AWS Cost Explorer or AWS Budgets.

Q5: Does AWS offer any free usage for Step Functions?
Yes, AWS offers a Free Tier for Step Functions. As of my last update in September 2021, AWS provided 4,000 free state transitions per month for Standard Workflows.

Q6: Are Express Workflows cheaper than Standard Workflows?
Generally, Express Workflows are less expensive than Standard Workflows as they’re optimized for high-speed, large-scale event processing. However, your specific use case and workflow design will ultimately determine the cost.

6. Conclusion

AWS Step Functions is a powerful service that provides users with a streamlined method for coordinating microservices and distributed applications. Understanding the pricing structure and the factors that can impact costs is key to optimizing the usage and cost management of this service.

By understanding AWS Step Functions pricing and mastering cost management, you can make the most of this service while keeping your costs in check. Effective cost management doesn’t just save money; it also drives more value from your cloud investment and can help your organization achieve operational excellence.