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Budgets: The Simple Way to Encourage Cloud Cost Accountability

Controlling costs is one of the grea challenges facing IT and Finance managers today.  The cloud, by nature, makes it easy to spin up new environments and resources that can cost thousands of dollars each month. And, while there are many ways to help control costs, one of the simplest and most effective methods is to set and manage cloud spend-to-budget. While most enterprise budgets are set at a business unit or department, for cloud spend, mapping that budget down to the workload can establish strong accountability within the organization.

One popular method that workload owners use to manage spend is to track month-over-month cost variances.  However, if costs do not drastically increase from one month to another, this method does very little to control spend. It is only until a department is faced with budget issues that workload owners work diligently to reduce costs.  That’s because, when budgets are set for each workload, owners become more aware of how their cloud spend impacts the company financials and tend to more carefully manage their costs.

In this post, we provide four easy steps to help you manage workload spend-to-budget effectively.

Step 1: Group Your Cloud Resources by Workload and Environment

Use a financial management tool such as 2nd Watch CMP Finance Manager to group your cloud resources by workload and its environment (Test, Dev, Prod).  This can easily be accomplished by creating a standard where each workload/environment has its own cloud account, or by using tags to identify the resources associated with each workload. If using tags, use a tag for the workload name such as workload_name: and a tag for the environment such as environment:. More tagging best practices can be found here.

Step 2: Group Your Workloads and Environments by Business Group

Once your resources are grouped by workload/environment, CMP Finance Manager will allow you to organize your workload/environments into business groups. For example:

a. Business Group 1
i. Workload A
1. Workload A Dev
2. Workload A Test
3. Workload A Prod
ii. Workload B
1. Workload B Dev
2. Workload B Test
3. Workload B Prod
b. Business Group 2
i. Workload C
1. Workload C Dev
2. Workload C Test
3. Workload C Prod
ii. Workload D
1. Workload D Dev
2. Workload D Test
3. Workload D Prod

Step 3: Set Budgets

At this point, you are ready to set up budgets for each of your workloads (each workload/environment and the total workload as you may have different owners). We suggest you set annual budgets aligned to your fiscal year and have the tool you use programmatically recalculate the budget at the end of each month with the amount remaining in your annual budget.

Step 4: Create Alerts

The final step is to create alerts to notify owners and yourself when workloads either have exceeded or are on track to exceed the current month or annual budget amount.  Here are some budget notifications we recommend:

  1. ME forecast exceeds month budget
  2. MTD spend exceeds MTD budget
  3. MTD spend exceeds month budget
  4. Daily spend exceed daily budget
  5. YE forecast exceeds year budget
  6. YTD spend exceeds YE budget

Once alerts are set, owners can make timely decisions regarding spend.  The owner can now proactively shift to spot instances, purchase reserved instances, change instance sizes, park the environment when not in use, or even refactor the application to take advantage of cloud native services like AWS Lambda.

Our experience has shown that enterprises that diligently set up and manage spend-to-budget by workload have more control of their costs and ultimately, spend less on their cloud environments without sacrificing user experience.

 

–Timothy Hill, Senior Product Manager, 2nd Watch

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Managing AWS Billing

Without a doubt, AWS has fundamentally changed how modern enterprises deploy IT infrastructure.  Their services are flexible, cost effective, scalable, secure and reliable. And while moving from on-premise data centers to the cloud is, in most cases, the smart move; once there managing your costs becomes much more complex.

On-premise costs are straight forward, enterprises purchase servers and amortize their costs over the expected life.  Shared services such as internet access, racks, power and cooling are proportionally allocated to the cost of each server. AWS on the other hand, invoices each usage type separately.  For example, if you are running a basic EC2 instance, you will not only be charged for the EC2 box usage but also the data transfer, EBS Storage and associated snapshots. You could end up with as many as 13 line items of cost for a single EC2.

Example: Pricing line items for a single c4.xlarge Linux virtual machine running in the US East Region (Click on image to view larger)

Linux Example_Managing AWS Billing

When examining the composition of various workload types the numbers of line items to manage will vary. A traditional VM-based workload may have 50 cost line items for every $1,000 of spend while an agile, cloud-native workload may have as many as 500 per $1,000 and a dynamic workload leveraging spot instances may have upwards of 1,200 per $1,000. This “parts bin” approach to pricing makes the job of cost account challenging.

To address this complexity and enable accurate cost accounting of your cloud costs; we recommend creating a business-relevant financial tagging schema to organize your resources and associated cost line items based on your specific financial accounting structure.

Here are some recommended financial management tags you should consider (Click on image to view larger):

Financial Management Tags_AWS Billing Management

AWS Tagging data integrity is extremely important in ensuring the quality of the information it provides and is directly dependent upon the rigor applied in adopting a systematic and disciplined approach to AWS Tagging.

Financial Management Tagging – Best Practices

  • Create a framework or standard for your enterprise that outlines required tag names, tag formatting rules, and governance of tags.
  • Tags should be enforced and automated at startup of the resource via Cloud Formation templates or other infrastructure as code tools, such as Terraform, to ensure cost accounting details are captures from time of launch.
    • NOTE:  Tags are point in time based.  If a resource is launched without being tagged and then tagged sometime in the future, all hours the resource ran prior to being tagged will not be included in tag reports in the AWS console.
  • Manually creating tags and associated values is strongly discouraged as it leads to miss-tagged and untagged resources and in-accurate cost accounting
  • Select all upper case or all lower-case keys and values to avoid discrepancies with capitalization.
    • NOTE: “Production” and “production” are considered two different tag names or values.
  • Monitor resources with AWS Config Rules and alert for newly created resources that are not tagged

Once your tagging schema is created, automation is in place to tag resources during startup and alerts are set up to ensure tagging is managed, you can accurately to view, track and report your cost and usage using any of your tagging dimensions.

Financial Management Reporting – Best Practices

  • Using your tagging schema, group your resources by workload.
  • Apply Reserved Instance discounts to the workloads you intended them to be for.
    • NOTE: 2nd Watch’s CMP Finance Manager tool converts reserved instances into resources so that you can add them to the workload they were intended for.
  • Organize your groups to match your specific multi-level financial reporting structure.
  • Managed shared resources
    • Create groups for shared resources. If you have resources that are shared across multiple workloads such as a database used my multiple applications or virtual machines with more than one applications running on it, create groups to capture these costs and allocate them proportionally to the applications using them.
  • Manage un-taggable resources
    • Create a group for un-taggable resources. Some AWS resources are not taggable and should be grouped together and their associated costs proportionally allocated to all applications.
  • Manage spend to budget
    • Create budgets and budget alerts for each group to ensure you stay in budget throughout the year.
    • Key alerts
      • Forecasted month end cost exceeds alert threshold
      • MTD cost is over alert threshold
      • Forecasted year end cost exceeds alert threshold
      • YTD cost is over alert threshold
    • Sign up to receive monthly cost and usage reports for integration into your internal cost accounting system.
      • Cost by application, environment, business unit etc.

 

Even though AWS’ “parts bin” approach to pricing is complicated, following these guidelines will help ensure accurate cost accounting of your cloud spend.

 

–Timothy Hill, Senior Product Manager, 2nd Watch

 

 

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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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