The true cost of evaluating EC2

Back in July I was evaluating Amazon's cloud computing platform, EC2. I figured, why not? It's only $.10/CPU hour. Starting an instance, connecting with a browser, SSHing in would cost me less than a cup of coffee, and would be good practice. The experiment went along, I deemed EC2 too difficult to provision and use for my purposes, and forgot about it.

Today I got an email from Amazon saying I owed them about $7 for web services. I vaguely remembered seeing this before. I always thought that it was saying that I owed $7 for that one time I tried the service out: way too much, of course, and something I kept meaning to call amazon and find out about. Today I read it more carefully: turns out I've been billed about $7.50/month since I tried the service out. (Finding this out was much harder than it should have been: AWS billing and usage interface is truly awful. I ended up just doing a search in gmail for "amazon web services billing statement" and summing the amounts.)

Concerned, I used Amazon's contact form (they don't have an actual email address). I received a form letter back explaining how to cancel EC2 and S3. This was odd for a couple of reasons - first, I didn't ask how to cancel anything, I asked to understand why I had been charged for the last 6 months. I also asked for instructions on how to figure out how much they have actually charged me for. Not having my questions answered, my first instinct was to reply to the email. Turned out that the "from" address doesn't accept email. Then I read carefully and clicked on a buried link within the email itself that "no, this did not answer my question", and clicked on link that asked them to call me. Much to my delight (and surprise), I was talking to a service rep within 2 minutes (via a neat 'click to call' service called estara from atg). An apologetic, very nice women (Tessa) was completely unable to address me issue, she told me she'd have to forward my request to the web services team, as she wasn't able to help me.

Lessons: I've already "cancelled" EC2 and S3 although since I had nothing provisioned I'm not sure what that means. Hopefully it will stop new charges, at least. I realize now how dangerous it is to allow Amazon to have my credit card number, and I've removed all banking and CC information from Amazon. If I had seen a growing amount due over the last few months I would have realized sooner something was wrong. But because they just pay themselves with my CC, it didn't register that I was getting a receipt, not a bill, all this time. Second, I'm concerned that someone may have my Amazon information. Third, I have to check my bank and cc statements more carefully. Finally, if I play with EC2 again it's going to be on a different Amazon account.

It's still a mystery exactly what Amazon was billing me for: $7.50 is enough for 75 hours of a small instance, a wierd number. When I find out I'll update this post.

Update: 6 Jan 2009 I finally received a response from "Luke":

Greetings from Amazon Web Services.

I have been notified of your recent inquiry regarding your AWS charges. I have taken a look at your AWS account. These charge is due to a non-attached Elastic IP address associated with your account. Elastic IP addresses that are allocated to your account but are not associated with an EC2 instance will accrue a $0.01 charge per hour. You can view your Elastic IP addresses with this command:

> ec2-describe-addresses

Any elastic IP addresses that you associate with your account remain associated with your account until you explicitly release them. To ensure our customers are efficiently using elastic IP addresses, we impose a small hourly charge when these IP addresses are not mapped to an instance. When these IP addresses are mapped to an instance, they are free of charge. You can use the EC2 API command line tools to release the Elastic IP address with this command:

> ec2-release-address <ip-address>

I also see that you have closed your AWS account. These usage charges have ceased as of your account cancellation. Please note that any applicable charges for January 1 and 2 will be collected at the end of the month.



Wow! What awful customer service on so many levels! First, their emails look like invoices, not charges. Second, they don't explain anywhere what the charges are for. Third, when a customer goes to great lengths to find out what's going on, they don't offer to reverse the charges that obviously should never have been charged. Fourth, they never did answer one of my basic questions: how can I find out for myself what I'm being charged for? Fifth, they don't apologize or take note of the horrible messaging that started this whole mess. The icing on the cake is the last sentence, assuring me that I'll still be billed for the two days in January I didn't use the IP - gee, thanks, Amazon.

I've responded with another email asking for a refund and complaining about their messaging and customer service. For God's sake, do NOT evaluate EC2 unless you really know what you're doing!

Month, Amount
7 $1.32
8 $6.51
10 $6.53
11 $7.45
12 $7.42
Total: $36.65

[Update: they refunded my $36.65. But I found a better bookstore, Better World Books.]

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