This is a guest post co-written with Frank Contrepois from Strategic Blue.
For over 10 years, Strategic Blue has helped organizations unlock the most value from the cloud by enabling their customers to purchase non-standard commitments. By taking a commodity trading approach to purchasing from AWS, Strategic Blue helps customers purchase commitments for varying lengths of time, such as a 9-month Reserved Instance or an 18-month Savings Plan. Over the years, they’ve been able to help customers save millions by maximizing commitments.
Buying and selling AWS differently means that the cost and usage data available to Strategic Blue on the AWS Management Console only matches what they purchased—not what their customers purchased. In order to accurately bill their customers, Strategic Blue has built a billing system that takes AWS Cost and Usage Reports (CUR) as input and outputs a pro forma CUR that matches what their customers would expect to see. Although the CUR remains a critical source of data, it can have hundreds of columns and millions of rows, making it very difficult for Strategic Blue’s customers to visualize and understand.
Initially, in order to give their customers a way to visualize and understand their spend, Strategic Blue started building a dashboard from scratch using QuickSight, AWS Glue, and Amazon Athena. The idea was to build a dashboard accessible to all of Strategic Blue’s customers (as soon as they were onboarded) that enabled them to see their true cost and usage. QuickSight provides modern interactive dashboards that enable fast time-to-insights and have features that allow for the easy embedding of dashboards into web applications linked to a customer’s single sign-on (SSO) solution. Combined with row-level-security, a dashboard can be pre-filtered to show an individual user’s cost and usage information for only the accounts they are responsible for.
However, figuring out how to accurately show cost and usage insights from the CUR from scratch was a challenge. The amount of work required to decode the raw content of the CUR to build something that matches what you would see in AWS Cost Explorer quickly became overwhelming.
To help you visualize the treasure trove of data available in a CUR file, AWS created the Cloud Intelligence Dashboards solution. The Cloud Intelligence Dashboards provide a full stack of capabilities, deployed via AWS CloudFormation or other methods, that include six different QuickSight dashboards geared towards helping you optimize your spend on AWS.
Strategic Blue deployed the CUDOS Dashboard (one of the six dashboards available as of this writing) to solve their business case for providing their customers with accurate, comprehensive insights into their cost and usage.
“The Cloud Intelligence Dashboards provided all of the accurate CUR calculations and maintenance we need. This saves us many hours of reverse engineering to keep pace with AWS innovation and changes as their product and billing mechanisms mature.”
– Frank Contrepois, Head of FinOps at Strategic Blue.
The following screenshot shows an example of the dashboard.
Embedding and scaling to all customers
Strategic Blue uses the embedding and row-level security features of QuickSight to scale the dashboards to every customer the moment they are onboarded. By integrating their SSO Amazon Cognito with QuickSight, Strategic Blue is able to provide customers instant access to an instance of CUDOS through a portal as soon as they are onboarded to Strategic Blue’s platform. The row-level security setup managed by administrators within Strategic Blue makes sure that their customers only ever see their own cost and usage data. This helps Strategic Blue offer the protection and security customers expect.
Now that CUDOS is embedded into Strategic Blue’s portal, they are able to offer additional value free of charge to their customers. Strategic Blue’s portal uses the customer’s CUDOS dashboard to find opportunities to save and optimize. After the engagement, Strategic Blue will continue to analyze the impact of their customer’s cost optimization measures, reporting back to them what they’ve saved and what additional opportunities there are to further optimize.
Strategic Blue is already seeing an impact. Since enabling an embedded version of CUDOS for every customer and for internal teams, Strategic Blue is seeing a 27% increase in positive feedback for regular meetings, 31% fewer support tickets related to questions about cost, and a move from tactical to strategic FinOps conversations.
Strategic Blue plans to evaluate and embed the rest of the Cloud Intelligence Dashboards, such as the KPI Dashboard to help customers track goals and metrics around cost optimization, and the Trusted Advisor Organizational Dashboard, which helps customers stay on top of underutilized resources as well as operational information such as security and fault tolerance postures. With the foundation in place and QuickSight’s ease of use, Strategic Blue will continue working closely with customers to customize and refine the dashboards to meet specific customer needs, improving and expanding their offerings.
In this post, we covered how Strategic Blue used Cloud Intelligence Dashboards built on QuickSight to help customers get accurate insights into their cloud cost and usage. Strategic Blue’s customers can access stunning and interactive dashboards that can be customized with ease and without the need for technical skills. The comprehensive embedding capabilities, granular row-level-security, and SSO integrations of QuickSight ensure that Strategic Blue is able to provide customers secure and seamless access to their Cloud Intelligence Dashboards.
It’s easy to install Cloud Intelligence Dashboards in your account. Visit Cloud Intelligence Dashboards for details on how to deploy the dashboards today, and let us know how it goes.
About the Authors
Frank Contrepois is the Head of FinOps at Strategic Blue. Frank and his team support a wide range of customers to implement Cloud FinOps including small-and medium-sized organizations, private equity (PE) funds and investors, enterprises and global cloud resellers striking significant deals. He is an AWS APN Ambassador and has several AWS and GCP pro-level certifications. Outside of work, he is a husband, father of two wonderful boys, and co-host of the “What’s new with in Cloud FinOps” podcast.
Aaron Edell is Head of GTM for Customer Cloud Intelligence for Amazon Web Services. He is responsible for building and scaling businesses around Cloud Financial Management, FinOps, and the Well-Architected Cost Optimization pillar. He focuses his GTM efforts on the Cloud Intelligence Dashboards and remains obsessed with helping all customers get better visibility and access to their cost and usage data.