Estimating the Cost of Hosting a Global PMTiles Dataset

In his NACIS conference talk, Brandon Liu positions Protomaps as an altenative to what he call scarcity maps: Tile services offered by commercial companies that cost a small fortune once your project becomes popular and exceeds the number of tile requests in the free tier.

Nothing is free in this world, even hosting PMTiles yourself isn’t. If you want to convince someone that hosting Protomaps is a financially viable alternative then you need to compare numbers.

So let’s do some quick math and compare a rough estimate of the costs for hosting PMTiles on S3 to the monthly costs of Mapbox Vector tiles.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that clients make 1.5 million tile requests per month. The costs incurred on S3 fall into two categories. Data storage and transfer.

On 3 November, the size of a PMTiles dataset based on OpenStreetMap covering the whole world was 107.62 GB. AWS charges $0.023 per GB and month to store data in S3, so the cost to store a global map is $2.47.

To estimate the transfer costs, we need to know the average size of a PMTile that is delivered over the network. The Protomaps website conveniently has an example that shows size of each tile response. I zoomed and panned around on the map and logged the individual size of about two hundred requests. The average size per tile in my sample was 68.88KB. 1.5 million tile requests at 68.88KB rack up about 103GB in transferred data. AWS charges $0.09 per transferred GB from S3 to the internet, so the overall data-transfer cost is $9.27.

The cost to host and serve a world-wide map dataset is about $12. But here’s a catch. If you put a Cloudfront CDN in front of your S3 bucket (which you probably want to do), then data transfer from S3 to Cloudfront is free, so is the first terra-byte from Cloudfront to the internet. Chances are your can host your PMTiles for less than $5.

The same 1.5 million vector-tile requests on Mapbox will cost you $325; a significant difference. Even considering the labour costs of setting up the infrastructure and data on AWS, and making the occasional update, PMTiles will save money. Like a lot of money.

Disclaimer: This is an informed estimate not a scientific study. I literally did this on the back of an envelope. It’s not my fault, if you take these numbers to your boss to convince them to adopt Protomaps and it turns out you’re paying $25 per month.