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The Basics of AWS Billing Data

By Gavin Cahill on January 15, 2019
AWS usage and billing are linked by their very nature. That means the more you understand your AWS billing, the more you’ll be able optimize your cloud.

AWS billing data can be accessed a couple different ways. Each has its own pros and cons, but in the end it comes down to how deeply you want to dig into the data. The spectrum goes from simply viewing and paying your bill all the way to downloading granular usage data that can be used to fuel machine learning recommendations and forecasts.

Let’s look at the two key ways to access and use your billing data: the AWS Billing Console and the Cost and Usage Report (CUR) file.

AWS Billing Console

The AWS Billing Console has a variety of tools and products to help you make sense of your billing data:

The various out-of-box tools help translate your bill from a spreadsheet of data into a graphical representation that makes it easier to see your usage. For example, AWS Cost Explorer includes reports like Monthly Costs by AWS Service or Monthly Costs by Linked Account.

A good way to look at the AWS Billing Console tools is as a way to map costs to AWS parameters like AWS Service, Linked Accounts, Regions or RI usage. If you have a good idea of exactly how those parameters relate to your business, then you can use them to help gain valuable insights.

That being said, many businesses want to dig deeper into their AWS data and map it more directly to their company structure. That’s where the AWS Cost and Usage Reports come in. CUR files are the most comprehensive source for data about your AWS account. In your quest to fully manage your AWS spend, CUR is your ultimate tool for cloud usage.

Also, the AWS Billing Console will only ever show you AWS data. If you have a multi-cloud infrastructure, then you’ll need to use the CUR file and a cloud cost management tool to view the billing data from all of your cloud providers in one place.

Cost and Usage Reports

The central promise of AWS is that you only pay for what you use, measured down to the second. The CUR file is where they prove that promise, providing detailed usage data that’s incredibly granular. All told, a CUR file for a mature AWS infrastructure can contain hundreds of millions of lines.

As you can imagine, managing and storing a file this massive is a little trickier than just downloading a CSV file every now and then — especially since AWS updates the CUR many times a day. To help make storage and updates easier, part of setting up your account for CUR includes creating an S3 bucket to hold the CUR files. Accessing the CUR is then a matter of syncing with the S3 bucket, ideally with a tool that can make full use of the data. From the S3 bucket, the file can be downloaded, transferred into services like RedShift or directly queried using Amazon Athena.

At Cloudability, the CUR file is the source of truth for AWS accounts. When setting up accounts, we connect directly to the S3 bucket. Whenever AWS updates the CUR file, we update the data in our platform.

The CUR file is the most complete data that you can possibly get about your AWS cost and usage, which also means it’s the most versatile and flexible format for your data. The raw nature of CUR data allows you to normalize, analyze and map that data to your company’s structure, which means you’ll be able to get more dependable insights and make stronger business decisions about your AWS cloud.

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Ready to use your AWS Billing Data to optimize your cloud costs? Download our Guide to AWS Billing Data: How to Use Your AWS Billing Data to Optimize Cloud Costs.

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