Cloud computing can be costly. And while there are a variety of techniques available for optimizing cloud spend, any company with a sizeable cloud footprint should also be working to make their cloud bill easier to understand. If you struggle to figure out what you actually paid for when reviewing a cloud bill, it's hard to know where resources are being wasted or how you can make your cloud more cost-effective.
This article isn't about reducing overall cloud spending, a topic that has already been covered widely on this site and elsewhere. Instead, it's about empowering yourself to make sense of the cloud bill with it arrives, enabling you to manage cloud costs more effectively.
What's in a Cloud Bill?
Cloud bills vary from one cloud vendor to the next, but they all share some common characteristics. They are usually delivered in the form of an interactive Web-based console that summarizes your overall cloud computing costs for a given period, and breaks down those costs into different categories of services (like virtual machine instances and data storage). Most cloud billing interfaces also let you drill down deeper into these categories to see exactly where and when specific costs were incurred.
Cloud providers usually provide tools to help you interpret or visualize your various costs, too. And some predict future expenditures based on current billing. These sorts of tools can be somewhat helpful for interpreting complex bills, but they're usually not enough on their own to get a full understanding of where you're spending your money in the cloud.
And that's only to be expected; after all, cloud vendors are in the business of making money, and they don't exactly go out of their way to help you figure out how to spend less and lower your cloud bill.
Simplifying Your Cloud Bill
All of this is why it's important to take additional steps to ensure that your cloud bill is easy for you to interpret. You want to ensure that you can easily:
- Identify where you are spending the most and the least
- Map expenditures to the various departments or teams within your organization that are responsible for them
- Understand how cost trends for different services or departments, as well as the company as a whole, are changing over time
- Assess how cost trends correlate (or don't) with other events, such as a seasonal peak in demand
There are several steps you can take to achieve this type of visibility into your cloud bill, no matter how much faith you put in the cost-analysis tools provided by your cloud vendor.
1. Implement a cloud tagging strategy.
On most cloud platforms, you can "tag" different resources to help organize and manage them. Creating and enforcing a consistent tagging strategy is useful for many reasons. For example, it makes it easy to perform a collective action (like "delete all databases with the tag 'temporary'") in one click, rather than having to perform the action repetitively.
But tags are also critical for making your cloud bill easier to interpret. When all of your resources are tagged, you can use tag groups to help identify which resources are costing the most money, track spending trends, and so on.
Ideally, your tagging strategy will allow different teams and departments in your company to use the same tags for similar resources, while also applying their own unit-specific tags. That way, you can track spending trends for certain resources across the entire organization, as well as within individual groups of users.
2. Give your cloud resources meaningful names.
In addition to tagging resources strategically, you can take the simple but powerful step of assigning meaningful names to cloud resources when you create them. Instead of naming a new virtual machine instance something like "VM27," for example, consider a name like "HR-dev-testing."
Having easily recognizable names will make it that much easier to figure out which costs correspond to which workloads and organizational units when you are reviewing your cloud bill.
Keep in mind that, in some cases, you can't rename resources once you create them, so it's wise to assign logical names from the start.
3. Assign different cloud accounts for different teams.
Another effective strategy for helping to keep track of who is spending what is to configure different billing accounts for different groups within your organization. If you are a small or midsize business, where all bills are paid by a central unit, this may not seem necessary. And, sometimes, it does make sense to use a single billing account. More accounts mean more complexity and more potential security risks.
Nonetheless, when it comes time to review bills and track spending, having expenses broken down into different accounts makes it much easier to map costs to specific units within your organization.
4. Use multicloud carefully.
There are lots of benefits to adopting a multicloud architecture. But there are also drawbacks, one of which is the added complexity of tracking cloud spending. When you are receiving bills from multiple cloud vendors, it's harder to keep tabs on where your money is going. This is especially true if you run redundant workloads on different clouds (that is, if you use more than one cloud to host the same application at the same time), or if you migrate workloads frequently between one cloud and another.
This is not to say that you should avoid multicloud entirely in the interest of keeping your cloud bill simpler. That would be an extreme position to take. But it is to say that you should factor in the complexity that multicloud adds to your cloud bill management before jumping on the multicloud bandwagon.
Cloud bills are complicated. There's no way to eliminate the complexity entirely. But by adopting smart strategies like tagging, giving meaningful names to resources and separating cloud accounts effectively, you place yourself in a stronger position to see through the confusion and make sense of your cloud bill--and, in turn, to manage cloud spending successfully.