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Free AWS Cost Explorer poised to close gap with paid tools

Amazon quietly made an update to its free AWS cost analysis tool that may be significant enough to give cloud users reason to ditch third-party tools that can cost thousands of dollars.

Amazon added features to its AWS Cost Explorer that appear incremental, but could lay the groundwork for significant...

updates that bring the free cost analysis tool toward feature parity with third-party offerings.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cost Explorer comes with the AWS Billing Console and is automatically enabled for root Identity and Access Management accounts. It provides data about a user's costs for the current month and the last four months, and calculates a forecast for the next three months. Data can be filtered in a number of different ways -- including by resource tag -- and a detailed view is available by extracting and downloading a comma separated view file.

Now, AWS Cost Explorer allows users to save reports within the Billing Console, a move that some industry watchers said may lay the groundwork for further historical cloud cost analysis features that overlap with the large third-party ecosystem, though Cost Explorer still has a distance to go to achieve the same data visualization and recommendation capabilities of those tools.

AWS Cost Explorer vs. third-party cloud cost tools

For AWS customers, however, the price of Cost Explorer is right. Third-party tools in this ecosystem include products from Cloudability Inc., Cloudyn, CloudHealth Technologies Inc., CloudCheckr, CliQr and Krystallize Technologies. Some, such as Cloudyn and CliQr, also offer free basic AWS cost analysis tools, as well as additional analytics features like compliance management, but their flagship products can cost hundreds of dollars per month.

Jobvite Inc., a talent acquisition software maker in San Mateo, Calif., has been using Cloudability for a year and must decide soon whether to renew its contract with the company, said Theodore Kim, senior director of SaaS operations at Jobvite.

"Obviously, Cloudability has more features than ... Cost Explorer but also at a premium price."

The software costs 1% or 2% of a customer's yearly AWS spending, depending on the plan, according to Cloudability's website.

If you're just sort of showing off the same data Amazon already has, well, Amazon already has that data and they're going to use it, and that's what they're doing here.
Carl Brooksanalyst, 451 Research

*Cloudability offers coverage of clouds such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, according to J.R. Storment, chief customer officer for Cloudability, and allows information to be distributed around large enterprise organizations in customized ways. Enterprise Cloudability customers include GE, Uber and Adobe.

"AWS' tools offer a good starting place for people needing simple cost visibility," Storment said. "But as spending and reporting requirements grow, big cloud users need more powerful tools for allocating and managing spending."

Meanwhile, AWS Cost Explorer may be "good enough" for free, Kim said.

Cloud consultants also see AWS Cost Explorer's gap with third-party AWS cost analysis tools closing fast.

"If you spend some time and you don't want to pay [third-party] guys 1% or 2% ... you can easily build graphs yourself using the tools that Amazon itself provides," said Sekhar Puli, managing partner at REAN Solutions Inc., an IT consulting firm in Washington, D.C. 

It wouldn't be a surprise to see future integration between AWS Cost Explorer and the QuickSight data visualization business intelligence tool Amazon previewed at this year's re:Invent conference in October, Puli said.

Analysts echoed the call to integrate AWS Cost Explorer with QuickSight, but said users can also integrate saved Cost Explorer reports with familiar on-premises tools that have been around for decades.

"This lets you take the Amazon data from its relatively basic cost analysis tool ... and put it into the far more sophisticated ones you can get on-premises," said Carl Brooks, analyst with 451 Research based in New York.

Third-party tools can still differentiate, of course, but they may have to work harder to do it as AWS' cost analysis tools improve.

"If you're just sort of showing off the same data Amazon already has, well, Amazon already has that data and they're going to use it, and that's what they're doing here," Brooks said.

Multi-cloud cost management remains a powerful differentiator for third-party tools that Amazon is unlikely to match, according to Patrick McClory, director of automation and DevOps for Datapipe Inc., a provider of managed hosting services for AWS based in Jersey City, N.J. Datapipe acquired Newvem, an AWS cost analysis tool, in 2014.

With Cost Explorer, "there are a couple of key pieces that need to be easier still, especially around Reserved Instance purchase triggers," McClory said. But "for AWS-only environments, with those sorts of alerts and mechanisms in place, this could supplant a good number of third-party tools."

With saved reports in the console, AWS could conceivably drop preconfigured reports that show where Reserved Instances would save money into users' accounts as well, McClory said. Amazon already offers Reserved Instance utilization reports as part of the Billing Console, but it doesn't predict future savings by converting other types of Elastic Compute Cloud instances into Reserved Instances.

Amazon's Trusted Advisor has such recommendation features, as do Amazon's third-party partners, but in Amazon's case AWS Cost Explorer reports would couple fine-grained usage data with the recommendation, which may be a more compelling way to inform the use of Reserved Instances than Trusted Advisor's simpler recommendations, McClory said.

As for data visualization with AWS Cost Explorer, direct QuickSight integration is unrealistic to hope for in the short term, McClory said. It's more likely that users could deploy Lambda functions and Data Pipeline to shuttle AWS Cost Explorer data into such tools.

Amazon did not comment for this story.

*Comment added after publication.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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The biggest benefit of free tools is that it allows the rank and file to work with them and experiment, whereas the paid tools are often limited to specific users. I think it's helpful to let everyday users get a feel for the true costs of their infrastructure, or at least their own use and contributions to it.
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What features would you like to see implemented in AWS Cost Explorer before switching from a third-party tool?
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AWS Cost Explorer not only helps people explore different cost models, but different infrastructure options as well, so they can develop a system that optimizes both cost effective and functionality.
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