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Who said AWS can't be flexible: Understanding your bill

Explore the flexible capabilities of Amazon Web Services billing and consider the benefits of leveraging a cloud financial management system.

A few common questions that I get: How does Amazon Web Services bill for services? How do I understand my AWS bill?

The good news is that AWS does a pretty good job with billing. AWS tracks your usage and generates bills with enough detail, or even summary information, that you can see what's going on. In fact, if I get any AWS billing complaints, it's usually about AWS providing too much detail. However, everyone needs to understand that usage-based billing is a part of cloud computing. Getting comfortable with your billing operations is just a part of the game.

Getting comfortable with your billing operations is just a part of the game.

AWS wants to grow as a cloud provider. The company is aware that it must provide enough details to make the AWS bill useful. AWS also provides interfaces into its billing information, and even stores billing information on the AWS website.

When you get an AWS bill, you'll see that it breaks down costs by the hour, data or month. Moreover, it breaks down things by account within your organization, even by the cloud services that are leveraged. If that's not good enough, you can even create your own tags to define and break down your bill for future billing.

If that's still not enough, they provide these additional capabilities:

  • Bring your billing data into an application that can read a CSV file.
  • Build an application that uses your billing data.
  • Monitor your month-to-date charges.
  • Forecast your monthly charges.
  • Share your data with a partner.
  • Import your billing data into your accounting system.
  • Retrieve your bill for multiple accounts.

The amount of flexibility that AWS provides around billing seems to provide too many choices for some customers, and thus makes billing a complex process. While I think that's a bit like complaining about your car being too fast, or your food tasting too good, I do understand the issues with changes that are occurring in this space, and how the learning curve is likely to be large.

To make matters more complex, most of those who leverage AWS also leverage other public cloud providers, and may have a public cloud of their own lying around. So, you get to deal with the AWS bill, and with the potential of Azure, Google or other public clouds in the mix all sending you bills.

The solution to that problem is to leverage one of the many cloud financial management systems (e.g., Cloud Cruiser) that can track your cloud usage from AWS as well as from other providers, with a consolidated view of the amount of resources and dollars consumed. Good cloud financial management systems do this by provider, by resource, by user, by account, by day or by week … whichever you need.

About the author:
David Linthicum is the chief technology officer (CTO) of Blue Mountain Labs, the author or coauthor of at least 13 books on computing and an internationally known distributed computing and application integration expert. He has more than twenty years of experience in the integration technology industry, most recently as CTO at Grand Central Communications. He has consulted for hundreds of major corporations engaged in systems analysis, design and development, with a concentration in complex distributed systems. You can reach him via email at david@bluemountainlabs.com, follow him on Twitter or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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Does your business find the AWS billing process complex?