Tracking AWS Costs at the Resource Level


Navigating AWS costs can feel like finding your way out of an escape room with nothing more than a broken compass—it's intimidating, confusing, and downright complicated. Unraveling the mystery behind your AWS costs is no easy task, largely due to the complexity of the AWS pricing model.

Your first tool of choice might be AWS Cost Explorer or AWS Cost and Usage Reports (CUR). However, when you're trying to answer questions like, "Which are the most expensive S3 buckets?" or "Which Lambda function is driving the monthly cost?", you'll find yourself writing complex SQL queries and cleaning, mapping, and aggregating cost data points to the corresponding cloud resource.

The complexity multiplies when you're managing multiple resources in your account. Trying to understand costs for specific teams, applications, or cost centers becomes like trying to solve a Rubik's cube blindfolded.

The average organization may have 20+ unique AWS services per environment, spanning multiple regions and accounts.

Fortunately, AWS cost allocation tags can be used in conjunction with CUR or AWS Cost Explorer to help you gain serious insights into your AWS spending.

So, if you're fed up with sifting through complex billing reports and monthly invoices, trying to make sense of your AWS costs, this article is for you. We're going to delve into AWS cost allocation tags and explore some tools you can use to gain insights into cloud spending at the resource level.

AWS Cost Allocation Tags

AWS cost allocation tags are pretty much your regular AWS tags with a twist—they need to be manually activated before they start appearing in your Cost and Usage Report (CUR). Once they're active, they appear as additional columns in your AWS CUR under the resourceTags/ namespace. These tags come in two flavors: User-Defined and AWS-Generated.

AWS Cost Allocation Tags
You must activate both types of tags separately before they can appear in Cost Explorer or on a cost allocation report.

However, AWS cost allocation tags are not a silver bullet for cost management. One challenge is that these tags must be applied when resources are created. Later addition or alteration can be a daunting task—sometimes, even impossible.

Implementing cost allocation tags requires careful planning, expertise, and above all, consistency. If tags are not applied uniformly across your organization, you won't get a comprehensive view of your costs and resource utilization.

Moreover, these tags are not retroactive—they only show costs incurred after their activation. So, if you're hoping to get historical data accurately reflected in cost reports, you might be disappointed. Any modifications or deletions of tags can also impact the accuracy of your cost reports over time. Finally, cost allocation tags are good for tracking costs within a single AWS account. If you have multiple accounts, you'll need a different method to track costs, which can be a time-consuming and tricky task.

One way to overcome some of these challenges is by establishing a clear tagging strategy for your organization and mandating the use of certain tags through tagging policies (e.g., CostCenter or Team).

Analyzing your costs with AWS Cost Explorer

When you've marked tags as cost allocation tags, they open up a new world of granular cost analysis possibilities. AWS's in-house tools, like the AWS Cost Explorer, make an excellent starting point for companies with relatively simple cloud billing requirements.

Think of AWS Cost Explorer as your trusty guide through the maze of AWS costs and usage. It gives you a visual roadmap of your expenses, letting you track and manage them over daily or monthly periods. It also lets you dive deeper using granular billing dimensions such as usage type and tags.

AWS Cost Explorer

As your company scales up and your AWS workloads grow more complex—think multiple AWS accounts—it might be time to step up your game. At this stage, you might consider graduating to a more comprehensive cost management solution to ensure your costs don't go haywire. After all, the more complex your operations, the more granular your cost tracking needs to be.

Introducing Tailwarden

Tailwarden is an all-in-one inventory platform allowing you to uncover infrastructure cost insights. With Tailwarden, you can view your AWS costs at the resource level and create a comprehensive inventory of all your resources.  It's like a magnifying glass for your cloud landscape, ensuring no resource is forgotten—idle or unknown resources can be major contributors to cost waste and security vulnerabilities.

Tailwarden lets you build a complete cloud asset inventory, listing all your AWS resources across all regions and accounts. With the newly integrated AWS cost insights feature, you can see the detailed cost of each AWS resource. A single snapshot gives you a clear picture of where your money is going.

Cloud Asset Inventory

You can also leverage the power of filters to slice and dice your resources and identify any untagged resources. With this feature, you can ensure that no resource slips under the radar.

Untagged AWS resources

Also, you can drill down to see which resources are driving your monthly costs. Want to know the cost of each Lambda function? No problem.

Which Lambda function is the most expensive
This doesn't stop at Lambda functions, though—you can use it to identify your most expensive EBS volumes, RDS databases, EC2 instances, and more.

For those struggling with AWS tagging, Tailwarden introduces virtual tags. These allow you to tag all your cloud resources no matter where they’re located. Virtual tags can unify AWS tags, Azure tags, and GCP labels into a single dashboard, simplifying expense tracking by teams, features, and environments. They can also resolve issues arising from incorrect tagging of AWS services or inconsistent tag names.

Multi-cloud inventory platform

Want to understand your actual cost per customer, feature, or team? Tailwarden provides visibility into these areas, empowering teams to cut costs collaboratively and make more informed decisions. Accountability in cloud spending has never been so easy to achieve.

Breakdown of cloud spend by teams

As your organization grows, so does the number of AWS resources to manage. Ensuring they're all tagged correctly can be a manual and tedious process. With Tailwarden's bulk actions, tagging for cost allocation purposes is no longer a chore.

Bulk manage tags across all cloud providers

Tailwarden's creation date filter can be a powerful tool in this scenario, helping you identify resources created within specific periods (like the last 7 days) to decide if they're still necessary or can be deleted.

Audit newly created AWS resources


AWS cost allocation tags and CUR are essential for any organization that uses AWS to manage its cloud infrastructure. However, they're not easy to manage or implement manually, making it quite challenging to get accurate cloud cost reports.

So, where does that leave us?

Enter Tailwarden - it takes the heavy lifting out of AWS cost management. It gives you the tools to dive deep into your AWS costs, track and manage resources effectively, and bring transparency and accountability to your cloud spending.

So, instead of getting lost in the world of AWS cost management, let Tailwarden guide your path. You'll soon find that with the right tools at your disposal, even the most complex cloud-cost tasks can become manageable and, dare we say, enjoyable. Happy cost managing!