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Growing Concerns among Developers about the AWS Free Tier

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In recent weeks many experts in the AWS community have been advocating for sandbox accounts on AWS and hard billing limits that cannot be exceeded to let engineers experiment with new services without jeopardizing their personal well-being.

Forrest Brazeal, director of content & community at A Cloud Guru and AWS Serverless Hero, wrote the popular article "Please fix the AWS Free Tier before somebody gets hurt" that was triggered by a message on the A Cloud Guru Discord server.


He tweets:

This shouldn't be possible, period. There needs to be an easy, safe way for students to explore AWS without incurring unexpected megacharges.

Comparing the potential risk with recent events on Robinhood, he explains:

All I can think of is that horrible story that appeared during the worst of the pandemic, about the young man who died believing he’d lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the stock trading app Robinhood. And I keep thinking: what if this student hadn’t reached out to a developer community? What if AWS Support hadn’t been nudged on Twitter, and had taken a few days to get back? What if the costs (and the panic) had kept spiraling?

The article triggered many reactions from developers on Hacker News and Reddit, comparing options on Azure and Google Cloud. User swiftcoder writes:

I'm also going to point out, as a former AWS engineer, that "too hard" isn't in the AWS engineering vocabulary. The problem isn't that it's too hard. It's that it isn't a business priority. As soon as it becomes prioritised, a legion of very smart AWS engineers will solve it.

AWS Support documents how to avoid incurring charges when using the AWS Free Tier and has multiple times proved to be supportive and reimburse the accidental charges, but there is currently no way to set a hard limit on billing. Forrest Brazeal is not the first AWS expert raising questions about the Free Tier, as reported by InfoQ last September. Corey Quinn, cloud economist at The Duckbill Group, reacted to the recent events writing:

It would appear that I'm not the only person who has lost patience with AWS's free tier scaring the crap out of newcomers with large bills. (...) It's rare that AWS billing is a life-or-death situation; the day that changes is a watershed moment that there's no coming back from. If I'm AWS I'd be treating this as a raging fire in the building. I hope they are.

Microsoft offers a spending limit functionality turned on by default to all new customers who sign up for an Azure free account or subscription types that include credits over multiple months. Users running on the Google Cloud free program are not charged unless they explicitly enable billing by upgrading the Cloud Billing account to a paid one. Forrest Brazeal acknowledges that some options exist in the AWS space but they are currently limited:

Some have pointed out the existence of AWS Educate Starter Accounts, which provide no-credit-card access to a limited subset of services. Only via participating educational institutions, though. Opening this up to all learners would be a huge step forward.

The growing number of services and options on AWS will likely increase the request of safer options for developers moving their first steps on the cloud or testing new services.


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