I normally don't go into the economics or pricing side of Distributed Computing, but I've had a few friends that have been surprised by a bill lately and I wanted to quickly address at least one aspect of it.
Most folks are used to buying software and owning it outright - like buying a car. We pay a lot for the car, and then we use it whenever we want. We think of the "cloud" services as a taxi - we'll just pay for the ride we take an no more. But it's not quite like that. It's actually more like a hotel.
When you subscribe to Azure using a free offering like the MSDN subscription, you don't have to pay anything for the service. But when you create an instance of a Web or Compute Role, Storage, that sort of thing, you can think of the idea of checking into a hotel room. You get the key, you pay for the room. For Azure, using bandwidth, CPU and so on is billed just like it states in the Azure Portal. so in effect there is a cost for the service and then a cost to use it, like water or power or any other utility.
Where this bit some folks is that they created an instance, played around with it, and then left it running. No one was using it, no one was on - so they thought they wouldn't be charged. But they were. It wasn't much, but it was a surprise.They had the hotel room key, but they weren't in the room, so to speak. To add to their frustration, they had to talk to someone on the phone to cancel the account.
I understand the frustration. Although we have all this spelled out in the sign up area, not everyone has the time to read through all that. I get that. So why not make this easier?
As an explanation, we bill for that time because the instance is still running, and we have to tie up resources to be available the second you want them, and that costs money. As far as being able to cancel from the portal, that's also something that needs to be clearer. You may not be aware that you can spin up instances using code - and so cancelling from the Portal would allow you to do the same thing. Since a mistake in code could erase all of your instances and the account, we make you call to make sure you're you and you really want to take it down.
Not a perfect system by any means, but we'll evolve this as time goes on. For now, I wanted to make sure you're aware of what you should do. By the way, you don't have to cancel your whole account not to be billed. Just delete the instance from the portal and you won't be charged. You don't have to call anyone for that.
And just FYI - you can download the SDK for Azure and never even hit the online version at all for learning and playing around. No sign-up, no credit card, PO, nothing like that. In fact, that's how I demo Azure all the time. Everything runs right on your laptop in an emulated environment.