How to NOT melt your Credit Card on AWS

How to NOT melt your Credit Card on AWS

Sreekesh Iyer
·May 1, 2022·

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Table of contents

  • How do you avoid Bill shocks in AWS?
  • Some Technical Tips to Save Costs
  • BONUS

Cloud services can be funny, they obviously provide you with high-quality services for computing, storage, etc. but can also crank up your bills even before you realize it.

image.png AWS, like most cloud services, asks you for your credit card at sign-up. You're charged based on the time and usage of a service.

Any piece of code/event that can potentially take a lot of computing power or storage can trigger a massive bill going ahead. To know what we're up against, here are some of the bill-scare stories you might wanna read -

I don't know about you but those numbers are scary, especially how quickly they go up. Bills can go up exponentially in a matter of hours.

How do you avoid Bill shocks in AWS?

Handling large bills once they are in is a different ball game, but first priority should always be to prevent these bills in the first place. If you are someone like me who is just trying to experience the Cloud for the first time, learning how different services work, you should try not to have any bills at all.

Understanding Free Tier Limits

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AWS has a pretty generous Free Tier that lasts for 12 months after creating your account.

A lot of services like AWS Lambda, Cognito, Cloudwatch, DynamoDB and SNS are free until you reach a threshold limit.

Whereas, services like EC2, S3, RDS, etc. provide free services until the threshold limits for only 12 months, i.e. until you're a part of the Free Tier.

On the other hand, there are also services like AWS SageMaker, Redshift and Lightsail that are available on a trial period for 2-3 months with their respective limitations.

Set Up Budgets

One solid way to avoid massive bills in AWS or any other cloud service is to set up Budgets and Budget Actions that can alert you when things start to get out of hand.

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Search for Billing in your AWS Console and open up the Billing Dashboard.

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The Billing Dashboard provides a complete overview of all monetary information with regard to your AWS account.

Creating a Budget in AWS

Under Cost Management, click on Budgets to open up the Budgets page.

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Now click on Create to start working on a new Budget.

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Budget Threshold

image.png We'll go ahead with a Cost Budget and give a name to our new Budget. We'll choose Monthly as the period for our Budget. Since I am a student and I don't really have any cloud services running, I'll just choose the threshold to be 1$. We can proceed to the next step now.

Budget Alerts

image.png This is one of the key steps in creating a Budget, which is to set up an alert that notifies you via email when your bill is close to the budget threshold. Click on Add to create a new Alert.

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Here, you can configure the percentage of the bill when there is an alert popping up and also a list of emails to notify. You can also use SNS and ChatBot as notifiers.

So in my case, when the bill reaches 0.75$, I get an email.

Forecasted Alerts

image.png In one of the stories, you saw how a startup company got a 72000$ bill in a matter of just a few hours. There are possibilities you end up being too late to see the alert. Here's where Forecasted Alerts come into play.

Every time there is a tiny increment to your bill from 0.00$, a forecasted cost is generated based on your current usage to predict what your bill would be at the end of the month. You can use this metric to create an alert, based on which you can identify if any service is costing you more than usual. Just create a new alert and choose Forecasted instead of Actual in the Trigger parameter.

Budget Actions

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You can have AWS automatically perform certain actions when a budget crosses a certain alert threshold by attaching an IAM Service Role to the alert under Actions.

With this role, you can target a certain instance of a service or multiple instances and/or services based on your requirements. This would also require the particular role to have all the necessary permissions to perform the said actions.

image.png And that's all you need to do, to set up your budget.


Some Technical Tips to Save Costs

  • Write Efficient Code

Everything on the cloud is event-based and every time there is a new event, it potentially adds to your bill. This is why it's critical to avoid infinite loops in the cloud, where one service is triggered after the other and there is no end.

Focus on how every time there is a new user, a new record, a new entry, how many extra operations it takes to run the same function. This gives you a good idea of the complexity of your code. Higher the complexity, the larger the bill in the long run.

  • Follow Proper Security Practices

Use environment variables whenever you're using secret keys or API keys in your code. Use strong passwords and MFA for logging into your AWS account. Make use of IAM Users, Policies and Permissions to access different services. Any vulnerability can be exploited and any misuse can cause serious problems.

  • Scale only when required

Auto Scaling is a very useful feature of the Cloud, but it can be dangerous when not controlled. It is recommended that you only scale as much as required. There are maximum thresholds available for all services and they can significantly affect your bills.

  • Terminate/Delete Services that are not in use

Just like saving electricity, it's recommended to turn off services that you're not using anymore. This is key especially if you are exploring the Cloud like me. Once done using a certain service, it's best practice to just shut it down to avoid usage costs.


BONUS

Here's one last bonus feature I'd like to talk about in AWS that can help you reduce your costs.

AWS Cost Anomaly Detection

image.png AWS Cost Anomaly Detection, as a part of the AWS Cost Explorer API, uses advanced Machine Learning Techniques to identify anomalous costs that can help avoid your bills skyrocketing suddenly. You can set it up and receive alerts on SNS, Emails even periodically. This not only helps you avoid surprise bills but also analyzes the root cause of the hike.

That's it from me in this thread, I hope it comes in handy in your Cloud journey. Thanks for reading :)

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