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Cost Accounting for Amazon WorkSpaces

Who would have thought, back in 2014, when AWS launched Amazon WorkSpaces it would have such an impact on the virtual desktop market?  Amazon WorkSpaces—AWS’ fully managed, secure desktop computing service—allows enterprises to easily provision cloud-based virtual desktops and provide users access to the documents, applications, and resources they need from any supported device. Over these three short years, Amazon WorkSpaces has made great strides in reducing the costs related to VDI deployment, support and software packaging while improving service levels and deployment time of new applications. Amazon WorkSpaces provides the flexibility to securely work from anywhere, anytime and on any device without the cost and complexity of traditional VDI infrastructure.

However, enterprises have faced a few challenges when deploying Amazon WorkSpaces.  One of the grea challenges with wholesale deployment of Amazon WorkSpaces has been how to allocate the costs associated with thousands of instances to the various departments that are using each resource.  In 2016 AWS enabled users to tag each workspace with up to 50 tags.  While this is a step in the right direction, tagging is not included in the launch process. Instead, users have to remember to tag the instance after it is launched. This is where the process tends to break down, leaving thousands of dollars related to cloud spend either un-allocated or incorrectly allocated.

To address this drawback, it is important to create and implement two processes. The first step is pretty basic: Develop a process and train all team members responsible for launching new WorkSpaces to tag each workspace after it is launched.  The second step is to set up automation to efficiently audit and provide notifications when resources (specifically Amazon WorkSpaces) are launched without a particular tag or set of tags.  Unfortunately, with Amazon WorkSpaces you aren’t able to use the AWS Config “required-tags” rule to enforce your process policy as Config only supports a limited set of AWS resource types. (NOTE: You can check out the AWS Config Developer Guide for more on using it to enforce tag requirements on Config supported resources.) Instead, you can roll your own tag enforcement solution using AWS Lambda and CloudTrail.

This process is fairly simple. When you activate AWS CloudTrail logs, AWS will dump all API calls as JSON log files to an S3 bucket.  You can then setup a trigger on that bucket to invoke an AWS Lambda function that can scan the logs for specific events, such as Amazon WorkSpace’s “CreateWorkSpaces” method. If it finds an event, it can publish a message to an SNS topic notifying you that the resource does not have the appropriate tag.  You can even set the message up to include the creator tag that AWS adds to all new resources. This way, if you need to know who launched the instance in order to determine how to tag it, you will have that information included.

Even when you have the tag in place there is still the issue of how to allocate those costs incurred before the resource was tagged.  Because AWS tags are point in time, only costs associated after the tag is in place will be included in any AWS tag report. 2nd Watch’s cloud financial management tool, CMP|FM, is a powerful resource that can provide accurate cost accounting and deep, financial insight into Amazon WorkSpaces usage by applying boundaries by month to all tags.  In other words, any tag applied during the middle of the month will be applied to the entire month’s usage— appropriately accounting for all of your costs associated with Amazon WorkSpaces—without the need to manually allocate them to the correct department.

If you are looking to deploy Amazon WorkSpaces across your enterprise, it is important to ensure that you have the systems in place for proper cost accounting.  This includes implementing documented processes for tagging during launch and automation to identify and manage untagged instances, and leveraging powerful tools like 2nd Watch CMP|FM for all your cost allocation needs to ensure accurate cost accounting.

— Timothy Hill, Senior Product Manager, 2nd Watch

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