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AWS Pricing Calculator promises better cost estimates, with limitations

Quickly generate cost estimates for your cloud with the AWS Pricing Calculator. Find out how it could help you budget, as well as how it stacks up to other pricing tools.

If you need to estimate the cost to run a new application on AWS, it often involves sorting out different components, such as compute, storage, load balancing, licensing and data transfer costs.

In 2009, Amazon created the AWS Simple Monthly Calculator so users could generate a quick and dirty estimate of how these costs were likely to add up. Perhaps due for an update, AWS recently added AWS Pricing Calculator, which will eventually replace the older-generation tool. It promises finer grained calculations and better collaboration capabilities. However, Pricing Calculator still has a few core limitations and internal development left to complete before it takes over for other cost-estimation tools from AWS and third parties.

Key benefits of AWS Pricing Calculator

The Pricing Calculator's main function is to generate rough cost estimates for individual developers or for co-workers that share resources in larger organizations. This makes it ideal for quick comparisons of different AWS configurations and usage patterns.

An organization selects a budget for a particular use case and Pricing Calculator automatically generates recommendations for EC2 instances. Developers can also evaluate their needs based on estimated traffic in order to identify the right services to employ. This makes it easier to evaluate different pricing plans such as On-Demand, Reserved and Spot instances. A cost-optimized option can automatically recommend a mix of Reserved and On-Demand instances to improve costs.

Pricing Calculator can also combine the AWS services you plan to use into groups, based on AWS region. You can use those groups to calculate the cost to run a workload that's distributed across regions, or to estimate the cost to run the same workload in different regions. This makes it simpler to break down expenses for complex application architectures. Groups are also useful for estimates based on an organization's cost centers or product stacks.

AWS Pricing Calculator vs. Simple Monthly Calculator

Pricing Calculator is currently in beta, so the Simple Monthly Calculator still supports more Amazon cloud services today.

AWS launched the Pricing Calculator with support for EC2 instances and Elastic Block Store. It has since added integrations with Amazon Athena, AWS DataSync, AWS Storage Gateway and others.

Pricing Calculator does provide greater customization, though that requires a few more steps to generate an estimate. Unlike the Simple Monthly Calculator, it does not currently include templates for popular configurations.

You can export Pricing Calculator estimates to a spreadsheet to share with co-workers, but you can't reuse them for further customizations. Once the browser tab for the app is closed, all data is reset. Also, you must start from scratch if you want to do a pricing comparison across regions. Amazon plans to improve the ability to save and share pricing configurations for further customization later in 2019.

Additional AWS pricing options to consider

The AWS Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Calculator is still the most comprehensive option for enterprises that want to move existing applications to AWS. The TCO Calculator provides basic tools that generate a rough pricing comparison. It also considers aspects like the number of VMs and CPU cores in use, along with additional storage and licensing costs, which Pricing Calculator does not.

Organizations interested in more sophisticated cost-control tools might consider the AWS pricing APIs. The Price List Service API enables an app to query the price of a particular service using JavaScript Object Notation. The AWS Price List API, on the other hand, lets an app retrieve a set of prices in bulk using HTML. Developers can also configure the Amazon Simple Notification Service to subscribe to alerts when prices change.

In addition to planning for new charges, organizations also need to analyze their existing monthly AWS bill. They should cross-reference estimates with actual usage, particularly for on-demand services that may vary from initial assumptions. Amazon Cost Explorer is free and analyzes data from the last 13 months to forecast expenses for the next three months. It can also recommend reserved instances that might help reduce costs.

Amazon also provides a Cost Explorer API, which you can access from other apps, but this incurs a charge of $0.01 per paginated API request. Organizations that want to analyze their cost data using other tools might be better off downloading cost data into a comma-separated values file for free.

Third-party capabilities AWS Pricing Calculator should adopt

At this point, third-party cloud cost analytics tools provide finer-grained control for generating and reusing estimates than Pricing Calculator. Services like RightScale Optima are better equipped to analyze existing on-premises workloads and cloud apps to provide cost estimates. Pricing Calculator could also model improvements on tools such as Apptio, Microsoft's Azure Cloud Cost Management -- formerly Cloudyn -- and CloudHealth. These tools can evaluate other factors, such has human and IT management costs.

Some cloud service providers have calculators that make it easier to estimate costs for specific use cases. For example, Unitrends, a backup services provider, has a calculator to experiment with data rates for different data transfer and compression methods, as you mock backup scenarios on AWS and other platforms. Another potential improvement for the AWS Pricing Calculator would be better templates for quickly analyzing the total cost and various approaches for disaster recovery, analytics and other use cases.

AWS could also adopt the capabilities of a relatively simple tool like the Unigma Public Cloud Cost Compute Comparison Calculator. This calculator breaks down the costs for different commitment strategies, such as contract duration and upfront payments across cloud providers. The AWS calculator could similarly provide more value if it were to provide better tools for comparing different cost commitments on its platform.

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