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Use AWS cost optimization tools to avoid billing surprises

Several AWS tools enable organizations to dissect their cloud bills, visualize spending and estimate future costs. Learn when -- and when not -- to use each.

AWS and other public cloud providers completely changed the IT payment model. Instead of paying upfront AWS infrastructure...

costs, many businesses now adhere to a pay-as-you-go model. This offers more flexibility but also makes it difficult to accurately predict and calculate costs.

Thankfully, AWS cost optimization tools alleviate this problem.

Check, please

An AWS bill provides a basic overview of your monthly spending and breaks it down by cloud service. This is a great place to start cost optimization, as you can see where you spend most of your budget and how your expenses change from month to month.

For further insight into your spending, use Cost Explorer, one of the primary AWS cost optimization tools. It uses various charts to present usage data and also breaks down cost per service. It goes into much more detail than an AWS bill, as a customer can filter information, such as time range or data type. You can use AWS Cost Explorer to analyze spend from the last 13 months and to predict future costs up to three months ahead.

Administrators can use Cost Explorer to parse specific information, such as the cost produced by instances tagged for a certain project or used by a single department. Admins can also group results by region to get a more detailed overview of spending in certain geographical areas.

Because it is free, AWS Cost Explorer is an ideal alternative to costly third-party tools. One downside, however, is that the service can only show data down to a daily level of granularity. AWS can save your hourly data as well, via its Cost and Usage Reports, but it takes up to 24 hours to retrieve.

AWS Simple Monthly Calculator also lets admins check how much a service would cost based on estimated usage. The tool relies on official AWS pricing and supports many services. It is beneficial when you want to see how much you would pay, for example, if you moved 200 TB of data from Simple Storage Service (S3) back to your data center or how much it would cost to move all files from S3 to Amazon Glacier for cold storage.

Visualize costs

In 2016, Amazon released QuickSight, a business analytics service for data visualization and insight. It uses an engine called SPICE -- Super-fast, Parallel, In-memory Calculation engine -- to serve users data.

To evaluate AWS costs with QuickSight, import cost usage reports or data from Redshift or Athena. Then, use this information to drill down to usage per hour -- a feature that makes QuickSight more powerful than Cost Explorer.

Unlike some other AWS cost optimization tools, Amazon QuickSight is not free. The service is available in Standard and Enterprise editions, with the latter supporting encryption at rest and integration with Microsoft Active Directory via AWS Directory Service.

Get alerts, advice

It is easy to overspend your budget, especially for teams new to AWS. Set up billing alerts to receive a notification if you are about to exceed a set limit. These alerts are also useful for new customers who are covered by AWS' free tier of service.

If you still manage to overspend, AWS Trusted Advisor is a service that analyzes your infrastructure. The tool assesses cost, performance, security and fault tolerance and then offers recommendations for improvements. AWS Trusted Advisor helps monitor idle instances, integrates well with AWS CloudWatch and allows admins to create custom rules that trigger corrective actions.

But AWS Trusted Advisor is only available for customers with a Business or Enterprise AWS Support plan.

For a long time, admins used various third-party options to fill the gaps left by AWS cost optimization tools. CloudHealth, CloudCheckr, Cloudyn and others might provide better cost analysis capabilities, but they come with a cost -- usually a percentage of your monthly AWS bill. These tools might also require you to send your billing data to them.

This was last published in November 2017

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