This content is part of the Essential Guide: Optimize your public cloud cost management strategy

Untangle cloud billing knots across multiple providers

Tracking your spending while using multiple cloud accounts can be a budgeting nightmare, but services are available to simplify the process.

Tracking spending on a single cloud account can be difficult, so when you're managing multiple accounts, things can get quickly out of hand. If all your accounts are with a single vendor, you may be able to use that provider's cost tracking tools. However, when you need to track accounts across multiple cloud providers, a third-party service is a better bet. No matter your cloud environment, in addition to tracking what you have spent, it is important to project what you will be spending.

Consider your specific cloud setup when you're planning to streamline key budget management tasks.

Multiple accounts with a single vendor

If your company uses only a single vendor for many accounts, vendor-specific tools can generally get the job done. A good example is with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

AWS provides consolidated cloud billing, a pricing calculator, a historical cost reporting tool and alerts for notifying administrators as accounts approach predefined quotas. Other infrastructure as a service providers do not have the same suite of cost management support services, but third-party vendors can pick up the slack -- particularly when you get into using multiple clouds.

AWS' consolidated cloud billing option allows users to link multiple accounts. The account responsible for paying charges is the paying account, the other accounts associated with it are known as linked accounts. The paying account is charged monthly for the resources it uses and the resources of all linked accounts.

The primary advantage of linked accounts is that you receive a single bill that breaks down the charges by account to easily track what each costs the company. As a secondary benefit, you may qualify for volume discounts if the combined resource consumption is sufficient.

To start, sign up for a paying account at the consolidated billing page on the AWS site. Once it is established, you can send requests from that page to the owners of accounts you would like to link. AWS recommends using two-factor authentication because the paying account has cloud billing information from many accounts.

To avoid surprises with your monthly bill, consider setting up estimated charge alerts on AWS CloudWatch.

Multiple accounts with multiple vendors

Bills are like rearview mirrors -- they show you where you have been. Managing cloud costs effectively requires some ability to predict where you are going.

If your organization uses multiple cloud vendors, third-party tools can help with consolidated billing information and budgeting controls. RightScale, Cloudability and Cloudyn all provide management tools that work with popular providers.

RightScale offers a number of cloud management services, including cost control tools. Cost Quota is a report in the RightScale Enterprise Dashboard that warns when accounts are nearing their monthly budgets. Cost Quota, like AWS CloudWatch, notifies you when accounts are getting close to their limits, but does not prevent users from exceeding those limits.

Cloudability offers a number of budget alerts, daily emails and detailed analytics on cross-cloud spending. The service provides details on Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instance usage and spending by metadata tag. A reserved instance planner also helps identify appropriate RIs for your workloads.

Cloudyn offers cost analysis tools support for AWS and Google Cloud Platform. This service focuses on helping users understand their cloud workloads and resource allocation. Specific tools include an RI planner, a simulator for what-if scenarios with varying cloud usage patterns and instance sizing recommendations. There are also reporting tools for visualizing usage trends, monitoring Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes, and tracking Simple Storage Service (S3) storage.

The importance of projecting costs

Bills are like rearview mirrors -- they show you where you have been. Managing cloud costs effectively requires some ability to predict where you are going. Third-party tools can help, but if you are working only with AWS, there are two tools to consider: the AWS Simple Monthly Calculator and the AWS Cost Explorer.

The AWS Simple Monthly Calculator allows users to determine the cost of hypothetical configurations made up of multiple services. In addition to the major services (e.g. EC2, S3, EBS and Relational Database Service), the calculator supports calculations on charges for Simple Queue Service (SQS), Amazon SimpleDB, Amazon Redshift and other services. This calculator is particularly helpful because Amazon's pricing rules can be difficult with its multiple pricing tiers and different measurement units across the various services.

The AWS Cost Explorer provides access to up to four months of past usage data and allows users to browse, filter and visualize their cost data. Cost Explorer offers preconfigured views including Monthly Spend by Service View, Monthly Spend by Linked Account View and Daily Spend View. You can also customize data views if needed.

About the author:
Dan Sullivan holds a Master of Science degree and is an author, systems architect and consultant with more than 20 years of IT experience. He has had engagements in advanced analytics, systems architecture, database design, enterprise security and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail and education. Dan has written extensively about topics that range from data warehousing, cloud computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration and text mining.

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