An NYU Professor Conducted An Experiment And Lost $1200 To Amazon When It Went Awry

Guy dollar signPanos Ipeirotis

Photo: Google+/Panos Ipeirotis

Poor Panos Ipeirotis, an information operations professor at New York University. He rang up a nearly $1,200 Amazon bill in a few hours before Amazon alerted him and made it all stop.He did it, unwittingly, to himself in what he jokingly refers to as a “denial of money” attack.

Ipeirotis was experimenting with crowdsourcing. He wanted to see how well lots of people could identify images. So he posted 25,000 images to Amazon’s S3 storage cloud, known for being dirt cheap, and hired Amazon’s Mechanical Turk.

He then created a massive spreadsheet in Google docs that linked to thumbnails of the images, so he could track the progress of his experiment.

Oops! Google docs went crazy. It started grabbing those images every hour — 100+ requests per second. To respect privacy Google doesn’t permanently store URLs marked private. In this case, it checked every hour to see if the document still linked to those photo thumbnails. It did … 25,000 of them.

Ipeirotis normally paid about $100 a month to Amazon so when he hit $750, Amazon sent him an alert e-mail. By the time he logged into his account, the bill had already been run up to $1177.76.

“A thousand, one hundred, 70 seven dollars. Out of which $1065 in outgoing bandwidth transfer costs. The scary part: 8.8 Terabytes of outgoing traffic! Tera. Not Giga. Terabytes. To make things worse, I realised that the cost was going up hour after hour. 50 to hundred dollars more in billing charges with each. passing. hour. I started sweating,” he wrote.

He tracked down the problem, called Google and made it all stop. But not before he was out some serious cash.

Lesson to be learned: Beware using free cloud services with pay-per-use ones.

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