AWS Billing: A Leap of Faith


This post is part of a blog series: Road to re:Web.

The AWS sign-up is a pretty scary experience for individuals without prior AWS experience.

But it’s an experience that became a motivation for me.

A Leap of Faith

For individual users, every dollar counts. Every dollar I save is a dollar I got. This is different from companies, where expected savings must be significant to justify expensive humans spending time on cost optimization.

And individual users isn’t just hobbyists – it’s students, freelancers, FOSS developers, small non-profits, people eager to “learn Cloud” and many others.

As an individual user, signing up for AWS is scary. I remember that vividly. It took me weeks to get over that paranoia. That’s my credit card, dammit. If I misunderstand something, or I forget to turn something off, or I don’t pay attention and click some super-expensive option instead of the covered-by-free-tier option, it’s my ass that gets fucked – this can go into four-digits territory fascinatingly fast. This gets less intimidating quickly with some AWS experience, but that’s kinda Catch 22 for completely novice users.

And it’s not unjustified fear: There’s a lot of such horror stories out there. To be fair, most of them ended well, because AWS seems to be very understanding with rookie mistakes. This is good to hear, but a far cry from any guarantee that I won’t be broke tomorrow.

In the end, I took a leap of faith and signed up.

Cost Optimization as a Mindset

So yeah, the whole sign-up billing fear is off-putting – and I bet AWS is losing tons of future power users and decision makers this way.

I also bet a lot of services are never tried because it just feels too risky to an AWS novice, or the pricing information is just too confusing.

But the experience has taught me a very valuable lesson, once I made the jump: It forced me to go on a first-name basis with AWS billing. It makes me think about costs constantly. I’m always on high alert when I’m trying new things on my personal AWS account. I carefully read the pricing information of services. I check that Billing Dashboard religiously. That is, of course, in addition to the recommended safeguards like configuring Budgets.

I believe most AWS users act differently if they haven’t been through the experience themselves – if it’s not their own credit card that’s backing the charges. It’s just like security – either you actually care and consider this in your decisions, or you do not care. Neither security nor cost-awareness can be bolted onto projects easily once they’re “done”.

… and as a Motivation

With my personal account, I’m a hobbyist who has some nonsense projects running on AWS.

But designing and building things on AWS for customers is also my day job, so costs are always a topic.

It’s kinda weird, but cost optimization has now become a bit of a game for me. It’s a complex issue to think about, and what we would have considered a good and cost-efficient architecture back in the Olden Days can have completely different cost characteristics on AWS, especially with changing usage patterns.

It’s a fun challenge, and it’s part of my motivation to push serverless architectures with re:Web.

So that’s the reward for this leap of faith, I guess.

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This post is part of a blog series: Road to re:Web.