A Look at AWS Cost Explorer

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Intro to AWS Cost Explorer, a service for cost analysis and prediction. This blog post focuses on how AWS Cost Explorer helps budgeting and planning by providing a much better understanding and management of your AWS costs.
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Cost analysis and cost prediction have always been huge factors for IT budgeting and planning. Knowing your current and future spending is critical to gain approval for your IT infrastructure purchases. But today, with the rise and adoption of cloud computing, the payment model has changed completely from capital expenses to operational expenses. This change was welcomed by many, because now you only pay for what you use and there is no upfront cost, but it creates some new challenges as well.

Analyzing spending is more complex than it was in the past, and moreover, cost prediction is often unreliable, because it can be difficult to know exactly how much you’ll actually use ahead of time. To address these issues, in April 2014, Amazon announced AWS Cost Explorer, a service for cost analysis and prediction. Cost Explorer can be very helpful for AWS cost optimization.

What Is AWS Cost Explorer and Why Use It?

AWS Cost Explorer is a service that gives valuable insights into your AWS spending by providing a complete breakdown of your AWS usage per service, using easy to understand graphical charts. With the help of Cost Explorer, you not only get a much clearer picture of your spending patterns and cost over time, but also a very precise cost prediction capability, which can be crucial for your business. It also provides a highly detailed look at your monthly spending. This makes it more useful than your Billing Management page when trying to understand how your money was spent in the previous month, so you can use it to track unnecessary expenses and reduce your overall bill.

AWS Cost Explorer Overview and Features

To start using AWS Cost Explorer, it must first be enabled. To do this, go to your Billing and Cost Management page, and choose “Cost Explorer” on the left side, and then click on “Enable Cost Explorer”. This will initiate the data preparation (which can take a day) after which, you will have access to all cost related information for the current month.

AWS Cost Explorer Welcome Screen

Cost Explorer also shows data for the past three months, as well as the forecast for the upcoming three months, but expect that information to take a couple of days to be accessed. Once you enable Cost Explorer, you can’t disable it and the data shown will be updated once per day. With Cost Explorer enabled, you can choose the time range you want to examine in detail by setting the desired start and end date in the calendar. This is very useful when you want to focus on a particular time period, especially when you are asked to present the costs. Alternatively, you can choose one of the preconfigured time ranges. These options include, among others, the last seven days, the last 14 days, the month to date, the last three months, the last six months, and more.

AWS Cost Explorer Calendar View

These preconfigured time ranges also have an option for forecasting, which shows the spending forecast until the end of the current month, the next month, or next three months. It is this feature that makes Cost Explorer such an important tool. The chart also shows confidence (in percentages) for the predicted cost shown, which is useful, as you can assess the reliability of the specific prediction. The confidence ranges from 80-95%, and if Cost Explorer’s confidence for the required prediction is not within that range, it will not show a forecast.

AWS Cost Explorer Bar Chart

All of this data can be shown in monthly or daily levels of granularity, and is presented using bars or lines. Lines provide a clear overview when looking at longer periods of time with granularity set to “daily”.

AWS Cost Explorer Line Graph

Cost Explorer keeps your information for the last 13 months. Bear this in mind if you must perform cost analyses that require the inclusion of specific time periods that go further back than one year. With Cost Explorer, you can also download the CSV file of the cost data for offline viewing. You can learn more about reading the Cost Explorer Data Table with helpful documentation provided by AWS.


There was an obvious need for an AWS native tool that would provide a closer look at spending over time. The monthly bill and basic cost breakdown it previously provided were just not enough to perform a detailed analysis and the existing third-party tools like Cloudability and Cloudyn came with a cost. The visibility provided by Cost Explorer is a welcome addition to the AWS service arsenal. This powerful tool not only offers a comprehensive view of specific costs incurred by your AWS services, but also gives you an opportunity to get an overview of the cost trends and predict your expenses in the coming months. Keep going! Click here to read part 2 on AWS Cost Explorer.

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