Setting budgets has become a key weapon in the ongoing struggle of organizations to understand and control their cloud spend. Public cloud providers have responded by offering their users services such as budget alerts and server tagging. Users, however, still struggle to see the costs associated with the resources they’ve tagged. In this post, we’ll talk about the challenge of viewing your costs in Azure and how you can solve it.

Azure offers a few different methods of grouping services: Subscription, tagging, and resource group. Within tagging, you can set up keys and values around labels such as intended use, projects, and cost centers. There are many benefits to doing this. Labeling cost centers is a great way to get insight into your environment and see who is using what. However, there are some downsides to solely using server tagging, and specifically only using Azure’s server tagging tools, as your cost management strategy.

Azure resource tag view

This is what your tagged resources look like in Azure. Note that the costs associated with each resource is not viewable from here.

Operationally, server tagging is a great resource. Once each VM is accounted for with a tag, it’s easy to identify orphaned resources, which is one component of sprawl. In the Azure portal, you can quickly pull up all your tagged resources and make sure they’re running smoothly.

Financially speaking, however, you’re in a much different boat. Azure’s current server tagging capabilities don’t show the costs associated with each VM easily, or let you set budgets for your specific tags (ie, cost center). You can only see those numbers at the subscription level. You might think that’s good enough, but reconsider: How do you determine which department is costing the most money and adjust your cost management strategy if you can’t (easily) see what they’re spending?

Azure options

To see financial metrics, you have a couple of options. The first is writing Powershell scripts to add cost analysis of your portal data. If you know how to do this and have the time to write and test your code, great. Alternatively, you can download your usage data (which contains billing information) into Excel and wrangle your spreadsheet to show you what you need.

A second option is dividing up your Azure subscriptions so that each cost center has its own subscription. This will enable you to set budget alerts for each cost center (because that feature is only available on a per-subscription basis). You’ll also see the costs for each department, again, because they have their own subscription. However, for large businesses that quickly gets complicated because the IT department has a huge number of subscriptions to manage.

Other options

SprawlGuard dashboard view by cost center

This is what your Azure resources look like in the SprawlGuard(TM) dashboard. Within the dashboard, you can click on any of the elements in the pie charts to get more details.

If spending hours filtering data in Excel or writing scripts that might break doesn’t sound particularly appealing to you, you can also think outside the Azure box and use a third-party service. Online Tech’s SprawlGuard™ technology is one such service that already includes cost centers as a way of grouping your services and shows you the financial breakdowns on a daily basis. You’ll get a higher level of granularity without the time and skillset needed to implement it yourself. SprawlGuard™ management also offers budget alerts per cost center, enabling you to stop excessive spending faster and to examine specific budgets to decide if they need reallocating.

Resource grouping in Azure, including server tags, goes a long way towards containing cloud sprawl, but it may not go far enough for some organizations who need a finer level of control. It’s very difficult to see financial data in the Azure portal at anything lower than the subscription level, which doesn’t provide the granular budgeting data CIOS need to make informed decision. Your best options in Azure are to either set up subscriptions on a per-department basis to see financial breakdowns, or add in extra scripting to view costs. However, both of those options take time and resources that your organization may not have. Consider a third-party resource such as  SprawlGuard™ protection to help you drill down and set budgets on a more granular basis without having to drastically modify your environment. In the end, you may find that this shows the IT department as a business partner rather than a necessary burden.