Gavin Cahill - October 19, 2018

5 Best Practices for Building a Cloud Tagging Strategy

Tagging is one of the most important tools for getting visibility into your cloud spend and usage. There’s a lot that can be said about tagging, and we’ve brought together a few best practices to help get you started.

What Are Tags, Anyway?

Tags are metadata labels that you assign to your resources. Each tag is a combination of a key and values. A good way to think about keys and values is to picture how you would describe a bunch of shirts in different colors. Each shirt would have a key for color, then a color value of red, blue or green. Tagging your cloud uses a similar system to sort your resources.

The key thing to remember is that tagging is separate from your code architecture. To the cloud provider, tags are simply strings of characters with no semantic meaning. Because tags are only meaningful to you, they can be whatever you want them to be. That means any tagging strategy should be built around your business and how your team makes sense of the cloud.

How to Kick-Start Your Tagging Strategy

#1: Communication is vital

Get everyone involved in the process. Sit down with all the stakeholders, including Finance, Operations and Engineering, to make sure you understand what everyone needs. Once you know what they need, you can start to build a system that’s best for the whole company — not just one team.

If you already have some sort of tag system in place, then the first step is to audit what exists. Make sure the structure works for every team before you go any further.

#2: Keep it simple

A tagging strategy can seem overwhelming, especially when you have a complex infrastructure, so keep your initial strategy simple. Start with three to five obvious areas whose costs you want to understand. For example, you might initially focus on the business unit, the product, the owner and the role. Even a few small first steps yield big returns in terms of information.

Try to keep things simple as you move forward. Your goal should be to make your system as intuitive as possible. You can always get more granular and complex as your system grows.

#3: Formulate your questions

The whole point behind tagging is to answer key questions about how your company uses the cloud. So it’s important to define those questions, and to do it early in the process. Questions like:

  • Which business unit within the organization should this cost be charged to?
  • Which cost centers are driving my costs up or down?
  • How much does it cost to operate a product that I’m responsible for?
  • Are there unused resources in my dev/test environment?

Terms such as “business unit” and “cost centers” should tell you where you want to focus your attention.

#4: Set up your nomenclature

Once all of the stakeholders have agreed on what needs to be targeted, you can define the specific tags and consolidated billing structure you want to use. Try to keep these terms focused around your business and its structure. Here are some of common examples:

  • Cost center
  • Product
  • Project
  • Application
  • Service
  • Employee
  • Environment
  • Role
  • Software version

You’ll notice that this is the fourth step instead of the first. There’s a good reason for that. When you start your strategy, it can be tempting to jump straight to naming tags and just figure it out as you go. But that’s a good way to get inconsistent tags that actually make it harder to see what’s going on.

By doing the first three steps before you define your nomenclature, you get tags that are focused, answer key business questions and have buy-in from the whole team. As a result, it’s much more likely that the tags will be regularly applied with consistent names, and that you’ll be able to use them to gain insights into your business.

#5: Get a Cloud Cost Management Platform

Managing and decoding tags for a small amount of instances can be done with a spreadsheet. It’s tricky, but it can be done. Once the number of tagged resources gets in the thousands, using a spreadsheet becomes impossible. This is where a cloud cost management platform comes in. Processing and decoding tags into actionable analysis is a big part of Cloudability, with several of our major features built around tagging.

Tag Mapping compensates for spelling variations and typos to keep tags organized.

Tag Explorer shows you the distribution of costs by tag — and helps you find untagged costs.

A cloud cost management platform is crucial to getting the most out of your tags, so the earlier you involve it in your tagging process, the better!

Learn More in Our E-book

Want to find out more about tagging? Download our e-book, AWS Tagging Strategy Best Practices: Using Tags & Consolidated Billing to Lower Your AWS Spend. In it, you’ll learn how to use tags and consolidated billing to lower your AWS spend.

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