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Navigate multi-cloud billing challenges

Keeping track of cloud bills from multiple clouds or accounts can be complex. Learn how to identify multi-cloud billing challenges and how to tackle them.

Calculating the bill for a single cloud platform and a single account can be hard given the many pricing variables to account for. When you add in multiple clouds or multiple accounts, bill management becomes exponentially more complicated.

A strategic approach to multi-cloud billing gives more control over costs. Read up on common multi-cloud billing challenges and advice on tackling them.

The challenges of multi-cloud billing

Cloud billing is complicated in any context because the pricing schedules for cloud services are complex and hard to interpret. Also, pricing details vary from one service or workload to the next. Although the types of charges are generally the same, the exact price points and billing details can vary. This applies across all the major providers.

The total bill is typically based on a combination of factors, including the following:

  • How long a workload operates.
  • How much data transfers out over the internet.
  • How much data a workload stores.
  • Which cloud region hosts the workload.
  • Whether you opt for pay-as-you-go pricing or a discounted pricing plan.

Cost monitoring services can help untangle some cost issues, but each cloud provider's offerings only work with its native cloud. For instance, you can use tools like AWS Cost Explorer and AWS Budgets to track spending on AWS, but those tools won't help you manage costs on other cloud platforms.

Additionally, for container users, all the different managed Kubernetes services vary in price, as well as usage, which can affect if an enterprise is eligible for a free tier. Although AWS, Azure and Google Cloud have a similar billing policy for Kubernetes clusters, whether it applies to an enterprise depends on how they configure their Kubernetes environment.

How to manage costs across multiple clouds and accounts

Businesses often configure multiple accounts for the same cloud platform as a way of isolating different groups of users from each other. While account separation makes it easier to accommodate the varying needs of different business units, it prevents organizations from centrally tracking cloud spending. Instead, they must manage different bills for each account.

Each cloud platform manages multiple accounts and offers different billing options, which complicates matters even further. For example, Amazon has a relatively simple account framework in which a business can have multiple accounts but can optionally receive a single bill for all of them. Azure's multiple accounts involve entities, known as management groups, and subscriptions, as well as centralizing billing across all of them, which is more complex.

It's possible to stay on top of these billing intricacies with these best practices:

  • Apply consistent tags. All major cloud providers allow customers to label workloads with tags of their choosing. By using the same tags to label workload components across different clouds or accounts, users can track spending in a more consistent way and associate them with different business units or groups.
  • Use cloud-agnostic cost monitoring. Although each public cloud platform's cost monitoring tools work only with its own cloud, third-party solutions are available that work across clouds. When used in conjunction with consistent workload labeling, these tools provide a way to track cloud spending and manage bills consistently.
  • Use chargebacks. When tracking workloads across all cloud environments, implement chargebacks within the organization. Chargebacks help ensure that different business units that use their clouds are aware of what they are spending and budget for it accordingly.
  • Implement showbacks. Organizations that track multi-cloud or multi-account spending can also take advantage of showbacks. These are reports that show how much different business units spend on cloud resources. Unlike chargebacks, showbacks don't require payment but provide granular visibility into who within the business is spending what across complex cloud architectures.

Next Steps

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