An Expensive Way To Learn a Cloud Service

The majority of cloud service providers provide a free tier account. The free tier account allows you to explore and test out numerous cloud services for free, according to the limits/duration established for each service. It is useful if you are a beginner, student, or developer interested in learning about different cloud providers and their offerings.

However, you will occasionally come across instances about people being charged unexpectedly for using cloud services when they thought they were free. This student, for example, was charged $200 for participating in a Sagemaker teaching lab. After completing the experiment, the student assumed they had erased all of the resources. However, this was not the case, and they were charged $200.

Similar instances on Reddit abound of individuals being charged suddenly while thinking it was free or that what they were doing was free and they wouldn't be charged. To be fair, according to the comments, the cloud provider reimbursed the money in the majority of situations.

Some commentators were quick to judge newcomers, learners, and students for failing to set up billing notifications after they started using the free tier. However, it is highly unlikely that the first thing on their thoughts would be to set up billing alerts. Setting billing alerts is not something they would have studied or had on their mind in every course.

Even individuals with prior experience can be caught off guard at times. Just ask AWS Chief Evangelist Jeff Barr. Here's is Jeff's cost of mistakenly creating a DB cluster for testing in his account rather than the official one. I, too, have been caught off guard. A post for another day.

A service provider could use a variety of techniques to address such a problem and guarantee that people are not left exposed with unexpected bill. Some of these solutions are already being used by service providers to address the problem. Among them are the following:

  • Time limited account
  • Credit limited account
  • Sandbox account
  • Educate starter account

I also feel that everyone (especially beginners/students) learning about a cloud service should go through a cost lesson. Even classes unrelated to cloud charges should devote some effort to educating students about costs. The more we study and become comfortable with the cost consequences, the better for everyone. Otherwise, we'll keep hearing these stories over and over.

Please keep in mind that I am not suggesting that just service providers be held accountable at all times. Everyone must accept some kind of accountability. However, I believe that service providers have more to offer in this area. Especially for vulnerable members of the community, such as students.

Finally, as a service provider, what protections do you have in place to protect newcomers, learners, and students who use your service? Do you use any of the strategies listed? Would you mind sharing a different strategy with the community if you employ one?


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