Tips to take advantage of Cloud credits for voice developers!

My December 2018 AWS Bill!

Want some free money? You may not be aware that the industry leaders provide generous credits when you create applications for their smart speakers. I’ve published several applications on both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. I’ve taken advantage of thousands of dollars in credits. But you don’t have to be a prolific voice developer to get these credits . They are available to people who publish even one application.

Amazon provides a $100 monthly AWS credit for anyone who publishes an Alexa skill (their term for a third-party application). Google provides a $200 monthly Google Cloud Platform credit for developers who create an action (their term). While Google states that their credits are only provided for a year, Amazon’s have so far been ongoing, though they do note the program can be stopped at any time.

Good for Amazon and Google

These programs make a lot of sense for the industry leaders. They get developers over the hurdle to build and maintain third-party content. With a dozen skills on Alexa, my AWS bill is at the point where I’d be paying $90 per month ($1,000 per year) without the credit. Most likely I would have stopped working on Alexa development long ago. Now I’m at the point where I’m getting some developer rewards and monetization from my popular skills. Even if my usage increased, I would still stick with it since I have skills that are bringing in money.

These incentives encourage innovation by freeing developers to push platform boundaries. This helps Amazon and Google more than a short-term focus on cloud revenue. For example, I added a high score feature that required an external cache to aggregate scores. Normally, I’d have to worry about this added cost. Because of this program I was able to test and delight my customers with a new feature.

These incentives can also tie successful developers into first-party solutions. When I was looking to send myself mailings of daily usage statistics, I only considered Amazon’s Simple Email Service (SES) solution. I knew it would be free. This adds stickiness to AWS, and should my usage grow, starts turning me into a paying customer.

Designing with Cost in Mind

Of course, as your usage goes up, there are things you can do to keep within the budget. Since a focus of my team’s work at CarRentals.com is to contain our cloud spend, this practice is useful for my day job too.

First, even though your bill may be $0, start by looking through the bill to understand where the largest costs would be. Think about how those services fit into your architecture, and whether you can reduce their usage. In my account, DynamoDB is the largest cost driver. I use it for storage and run periodic reports such as the daily usage statistics I mail myself. The cost of these scans start adding up after time. To manage this, I prune users that are more than six months old, which provides more meaningful reports anyway.

Managing Storage and back-end systems in AWS

Another thing to consider if you develop for both platforms is to consolidate infrastructures. I did this when I decided to port one of my Alexa skills to Google. I could have replicated my setup within Google Cloud Platform. After all, they provide free credit too … but only for a year. Instead I chose to re-use the infrastructure I had in AWS. I used API Gateway to create an API into my Alexa skill implementation, knowing that this would only add incremental cost for usage. This also allows for code reuse and better maintainability. I did have to write a mapping function between the Google and Amazon formats. I also had to make changes within my skill code to check for features that are unique to one of the platforms — a list that continues to grow!

Whether you are an active voice developer, or just a cloud enthusiast who would like some help with your cloud bills, be sure to take advantage of these credit programs!