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Cloud billing APIs enable greater cost transparency

No enterprise wants to be surprised by its cloud computing bill. And, even as providers offer more visibility into users' costs through APIs and other tools, obstacles remain.

As public cloud vendors shift their attention from front-end to back-end system improvements, users have gained more insight into their cloud services costs. But a complete, end-to-end picture of an enterprise's cloud computing spend still doesn't come easy -- at least, not without putting in some work.

Providers offer visibility into cloud billing models

Cloud vendors try to make it easy for users to deploy their services. In many cases, enterprises have the power to deploy workloads with just a few mouse clicks. However, for many organizations, this kind of on-demand access to resources has made it difficult to accurately track costs.

"A big weakness has been that corporations could not easily access cloud billing data," said Torsten Volk, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates. "They often had to put in a ton of work -- tag a lot of information and write special reports -- to gain any insights."

Billing information will become a standard part of the cloud service provider's IaaS [and] PaaS functionality.
Jeff KaplanManaging director, THINKstrategies

Providers continue to make attempts to give users more visibility into their spend. For example, public cloud providers, such as AWS, Microsoft and Google, continue to enhance their billing APIs, which give customers more access to cost information. In February 2018, Google unveiled the Cloud Billing Catalog API. It provides real-time access to pricing for all Google Cloud Platform services, along with data about those services' SKUs and their regional availability. The AWS Cost Explorer API and the Azure Billing APIs also provide users with cost data, relative to those platforms.

"Billing information will become a standard part of the cloud service provider's IaaS [and] PaaS functionality," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director at THINKstrategies.

Cut cloud costs

These cloud billing APIs, alongside providers' other recent improvements to cost management tools, offer customers the opportunity to more closely monitor and control their spend, as well as provide IT teams with more usage data in easier-to-manipulate formats.

The hope for enterprise IT teams is that this increased transparency will translate to cost savings. Cloud services deployed through shadow IT, for example, have long added to enterprises' cloud bills. With these new cloud billing interfaces, IT can establish policies that allocate costs back to business departments for the services they use.

Wasted or redundant resources are another common culprit behind higher-than-expected cloud bills. For instance, a development team might create a few test environments in the cloud and then forget to spin them down once the software moves to production. In this case, the business still pays for that test workload even though it is not in use. Greater transparency into cloud spend and usage could, again, reduce this issue.

Challenges remain

The use of providers' cloud billing APIs, however, is not free of challenges. The APIs themselves can be complicated, and IT pros need to commit time and energy to become familiar with the interfaces. As their business's own cloud applications evolve, IT teams might also need to make adjustments to maintain connections to these APIs. Because of this, not all firms will take advantage of these cloud billing APIs.

"Large enterprises are usually the most interested in billing information," Volk said. “Medium and small companies find that the work required does not match the results."

In addition, multi-cloud models can present a challenge. Many businesses work with more than one public cloud provider, and 35% of businesses run more than four different cloud services, according to Volk. As these billing APIs only provide data relative to each cloud vendor's platform, multi-cloud users will have to look for other third-party tools to give them a complete picture of spend.

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