Digging into EC2 Spot Price History

In December 2009, Amazon Web Services team introduced yet another innovation - spot pricing for EC2 instances. Several sites were created shortly to track spot price history by creating price charts. But price charts are relatively boring - juicy meat is in the dynamics hidden inside series of numbers which represent the price history. Let’s do some exploring!

Several notes first.

  1. All references to times and dates below are GMT for all regions.
  2. Spot instances went live on December 14, therefore I ignore all data points before that (for simplicity, my cutoff was set at UNIX timestamp 1260777600 - it's 8am on December 14 GMT, which translates to midnight in Seattle where AWS is headquartered).
  3. Spot price history was obtained on January 25, 2010 at 10:54pm via API and cached locally for analysis.
  4. In order to be able to deal with integers instead of floats, all prices below are represented in points where 1,000 points = $1 per compute hour.
  5. Each product is specified as [region, instance_type, product_description] tuple.
  6. I am only going to outline facts below, all interpretation is up to you.
  7. These results have not been exhaustively verified, my analysis code may have bugs. Use at your own risk.
#1 Price averages

Here is a chart of average spot price for each product relative to regular price for the same product (averages take into consideration for how long each price was valid). Percentage next to a product identification represents the ratio between average spot price and regular price.

#2 Price increases in a row

Maximum number of price increases in a row was 6. It occurred on January 23-24 for [us-west-1, m1.large, Windows] and the price went up from 256 to 273.

5 price increases in a row happened also once, 4 in a row - 16 times, 3 in a row - 95 times, 2 in a row - 643 times, and a single increase immediately followed by price reduction happened 2,433 times. Of the latter, 684 times (28%) were a single price increase followed by price returning to where it used to be right before the increase (X -> X+Y -> X).

#3 Individual price increases

Maximum single price increase in absolute terms was 928 - it occurred for [us-east-1, m2.2xlarge, Windows] when the price went up from 572 to 1,500. Second biggest was 890 for [us-east-1, m1.large, Linux/UNIX] and third biggest - 551 for [us-east-1, m1.small, Windows]. Note that all of these occurred in us-east-1.

The biggest price increase as percentage of the regular price was 460% when a price for [us-east-1, m1.small, Windows] jumped from 49 to 600 on January 24. The second and third biggest in the category were 262% increase for [us-east-1, m1.large, Linux/UNIX] (110 -> 1000) and 64% increase for [us-east-1, m2.2xlarge, Windows] (572 -> 1500).

The same two biggest increases were also the biggest price increases as percentage of current spot price - 1,124% and 809%, respectively. Third place in this category was a 186% increase for [eu-west-1, m1.small, Linux/UNIX] when the price went up from 28 to 80.

Here is a chart showing price increases and reductions day by day.

#4 Number of datapoints per product and/or product family

There were a total of 4,469 spot price revisions for Windows and 3,885 for Linux/UNIX. By region, us-east-1 had the least price revisions in total - 2,491, of which 1,254 were for Windows and 1,237 for Linux/UNIX (50.3% vs 49.7%). A total of 2,809 price revisions in eu-west-1 were distributed 1,518 for Windows vs 1,291 for Linux/UNIX (54% vs 46%). A total of 3,054 price revisions in us-west-1 were distributed 1,697 for Windows vs 1,357 for Linux/UNIX (56% vs 44%).

[eu-west-1, m1.small, Windows] had the most price revisions - 287. [us-east-1, m2.4xlarge, Windows] had the least - 40.

Across all regions combined, the most price revisions per day happened on January 22, 2010 - 351 price revisions.

#5 Percentiles

Here is a Google Fusion table with percentile estimates for each product. I tried to calculate percentiles from 50th through 95th (step 5) and 99th, but since a price function consists of discrete values, not all percentiles could be estimated. For each percentile, a nominal price is provided along with its percentage of the regular instance price for a given product. Percentiles take into consideration for how long a given price was valid.

#6 Spot price over regular price

Situations when a spot price is equal or exceeds regular price are especially interesting. Most such situations occurred in us-east-1, and none of them occurred in eu-west-1.

Spot price has reached but not exceeded the regular price for [c1.xlarge, Linux/UNIX] twice, [c1.medium, Windows] twice, [m1.small, Windows] 6 times, [m1.large, Windows] once - all in us-east-1.

In us-west-1, spot price for [m1.large, Linux/UNIX] exceeded the regular price by 20 for under 2 hours on December 29.

Spot price for [us-east-1, m2.2xlarge, Windows] exceeded the regular price by 60 for over 20 hours on January 11-12.

Spot price for [us-east-1, m1.large, Linux/UNIX] exceeded the regular price by 64 on December 17 and by 660 twice on December 18.

And finally, spot price for us-east-1, m1.small, Windows exceeded the regular price by 480 once and by 430 once - both on January 24.


There are hardly any surprises in the spot price history so far, but it’s only been less than 2 months since the feature was launched. As the usage ramps up, I expect it will become more interesting. Kudos to AWS team for coming up with this innovative pricing mechanism and being the first to introduce it at such a large scale in a real environment. Only time will tell if it will stick in its current form or if it will morph into something else (I have a couple of ideas), but the first small step towards dynamic pricing of computing resources has been made.

Read other posts on my blog tagged amazon-ec2-spot.

Categories: cloud-computing |