• 9 min read

Azure Cost Management and Billing 2020 year in review

2020 wasn't the year we signed up for, but was chock full nonetheless. From optimized account and invoice management experiences to richer reporting within and outside the portal; new ways to facilitate chargeback and more flexible budget alerts to an overwhelming amount of new cost optimization opportunities. The year brought a lot and 2021 is looking exciting, with continued evolution across all fronts. Read on for a sneak peek at what's coming.

2020 has been an interesting year. Many of us started the year, excited about the opportunities that come with a new year. None of us predicted a global pandemic fundamentally changing how we live and work together or separately, as the case may be. And with this new normal reducing capacity in so many ways, managing and reducing cost has become even more critical than ever.

Let's look at some of what you saw in the last year and what's coming in the next one.


Streamlined management behind a single pane of glass

2019 laid the foundation for Azure Cost Management and Billing across Enterprise Agreement (EA), Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG), Microsoft Customer Agreement (MCA), and Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) accounts as well as preview support for managing AWS and Azure costs together, behind a single pane of glass in the Azure portal.

With the global shift in priorities in 2020, we refocused on further solidifying this foundation by expanding support for existing capabilities, like scheduled exports for MCA in January, the inclusion of reservation and Marketplace purchases in budgets in April and amortized costs in exports in August, and programmatic subscription creation for Azure Government in June. We focused a lot on making the platform more secure, reliable, and performant, including additional compliance efforts, like FedRAMP High in April. We also addressed gaps based on your feedback, like support for custom role-based access control (RBAC) roles for management groups in January and creating subscriptions in Azure Resource Manager (ARM) deployment templates in October.

You also saw invoicing improvements for PAYG in March and MCA in May. The MCA changes are especially interesting because they enabled organizations to group subscriptions into separate invoices, which has been a common ask for enterprises using EA today. Of course, this is just one of the benefits of MCA accounts over classic EA, PAYG, and CSP accounts. Many of you may already be discussing your transition to MCA, but if not, talk to your partner or Microsoft representative to learn more about MCA and an Azure plan.

Lastly, the year wouldn't be complete without covering our cross-cloud offering: Azure Cost Management connectors for AWS is now generally available, as of September, and ready for you to start managing costs across Azure and AWS today.

What's next?

Throughout 2021, you'll continue to see the platform evolve and grow, especially around reliability and performance. New capabilities will be prioritized for MCA and, in some cases, may not be available to classic accounts. As an example, usage data can currently take 8-24 hours to become available within Azure Cost Management, but we're working with every team across Azure to get cost to you within a few hours. You'll see this become available for MCA first. Support for Sponsorship will also be made available via MCA instead of classic Sponsorship subscriptions you may have today. Similarly, we encourage all organizations using classic CSP to transition to an Azure plan to gain visibility into and optimize costs. This is already available to CSP providers today. Instead of adding direct support for classic CSP subscriptions not on an Azure plan, we'll take this time to expand MCA capabilities, like adding support for management groups. At the same time, you will also continue to see improvements in classic accounts, like PAYG support in Azure Government and more coverage of EA portal and Account portal capabilities within the Azure portal.

When it comes to account and cost management behind a single pane of glass, the key theme for 2021 is modernization and transition to MCA. This transition is already underway for a lot of organizations and will continue throughout 2021. While organizations using classic EA and CSP accounts will drive the timing for this transition, it will be automatic and seamless for classic PAYG and Sponsorship accounts. Please talk to your partner or Microsoft representative to learn more.


Rich cost reporting and analytics

The year brought new and updated cost views both within and outside the Azure portal, starting with new Microsoft Power BI reports for reservations and Azure Hybrid Benefit and more details in the Cost by Resource view in February, followed by usability improvements, like more clarity behind empty cost and usage attributes in February and the ability to filter based on empty attributes and untagged resources in July. As we bring the year to a close, you also saw a preview for new views optimized for resources and reservations in November. This preview is exciting because it introduces a new, more flexible, more performant framework for cost reporting and analytics within the Azure portal. We'll talk more about that later.

You also saw advanced scheduling options for exports in August, including support for amortized costs, which we talked about earlier, and a new API to get PAYG rates for all Azure products and services in September.

What's next?

We mentioned the new framework for cost reporting and analytics. This will be the foundation for many new experiences within the Azure portal—from new views with improved tables and charting to integrated insights and scheduling email notifications of your saved views. You'll also see API improvements, like better handling for large datasets and a new pricing API that includes both PAYG and discount prices for your billing account.


Flexible cost control that puts the power in your hands

Driving organizational accountability can be a challenge. It all starts with centralizing your costs and aligning them to the organizational or financial hierarchy. This can be especially difficult when you have shared services being used by multiple teams and projects. The cost allocation preview in September is the first big step to help you break down these shared costs, enabling each team to report on and monitor their total cost, including these shared services, which they historically haven't had visibility into.

Once you have costs broken down and reported back to the teams incurring them, you'll want to identify and stop bad spending patterns to keep costs under control. You already know you can define budgets to get notified about and take action on overages. You decide what actions you want to take, whether that be as simple as an email notification or as drastic as deleting all your resources to ensure you won't be charged. 2020 improved on this by including reservation and Marketplace purchases in budgets in April, giving you a more complete picture of your costs, enabling you to customize budget start month and set thresholds over 100 percent in June, for finer control of what actions to take and when, and allowing you to customize the budget alert language in November, to reach an even broader audience.

What's next?

Earlier, we mentioned continued platform improvements around performance and reliability. You'll also see this extend into budgets with dramatically improved notification times, with an ultimate goal of alerting you within two hours of either going over or being forecasted to go over your budget. As mentioned above, this will start with MCA accounts. We're also looking at improvements around management groups and tags to give you more flexibility to manage costs the way you need to for your organization.


New ways to save and do more with less

Cloud computing comes with a lot of promises, from flexibility and speed to scalability and security. The promise of cost savings is often the driving force behind cloud migrations, yet is also one of the more elusive to achieve. Luckily, Azure delivers new cost optimization opportunities nearly every month. This is on top of the recommendations offered by Azure Advisor, which are specifically tuned to save money on the resources you already have deployed. 2020 was loaded with cost optimization opportunities – more than double what you saw in 2019 – from new and reduced pricing to expanded support of current cost-saving options to new recommendations and more. Here are some of the services you saw new cost saving opportunities for in 2020:

On top of these service-specific cost-optimization opportunities, you also saw:

What's next?

As usual, you'll see more of the same types of cost optimization opportunities throughout 2021. We'll also continue to partner with service teams to help them deliver cost recommendations and find new ways to help you save more on your existing workloads.


Making it easier to learn and use Cost Management and Billing

We're constantly on the lookout for ways to make Cost Management and Billing easier to use and easier to learn. From feedback in the portal and our feedback forum to user research, like the four surveys we shared in 2020, and many, many conversations with you all—your feedback is critical. This year, we started with a new Try preview command in January, enabling you to explore preview features directly from the portal. Throughout the year, there were 14 previews, including cost analysis usability updates in February, streamlined navigation in May, dashboard tile and getting started improvements in September, new resource and reservation views in October, and three more navigation experiments in November. You also saw key improvements that help you help yourself, like clarifying why costs (view charges) are disabled and how to resolve it in January and both a new Help menu and more clarity behind empty cost and usage attributes in February. Of course, these are just the bigger ones we talked about. We're constantly shipping small improvements nearly every week.

But it's not all about the portal experience. Throughout 2020, there were hundreds of videos and documentation updates from us, our partners, and the community. It has truly been amazing to see how much the importance of cost visibility, accountability, and optimization have grown. We covered 33 videos, one webinar, and five Microsoft Learn modules on top of 50 of the main documentation updates.

What's next?

Expect to see more of the same in 2021: Continued dedication to improving ease of use through early access to previews and experimentation. A few we're eager to get your feedback on include remembering the last scope you used, optimizations when configuring your account and subscriptions, and larger navigation improvements across Cost Management and Billing all-up. We're also looking at error message improvements to make it easier to resolve issues and will definitely continue dedicating time to learning resources, like videos and documentation.


Looking forward to another year

As with 2019, the past 12 months were loaded with enhancements. We couldn't list them all here, but if you only take one thing away, please do check out and subscribe to the Azure Cost Management and Billing monthly updates for the latest news on what's changed and what's coming.

We look forward to hearing your feedback as these new and updated capabilities become available. And if you're interested in the latest features, before they're available to everyone, check out Cost Management Labs and don’t hesitate to reach out with any feedback. Cost Management Labs gives you a direct line to the Azure Cost Management and Billing engineering team and is the best way to influence and make an immediate impact on features being actively developed and tuned for you.

Follow @AzureCostMgmt on Twitter and subscribe to the YouTube channel for updates, tips, and tricks! And, as always, share your ideas and vote up others in the Cost Management feedback forum.

We know these are trying times for everyone. Best wishes from the Azure Cost Management and Billing team. Stay safe, stay healthy, and see you in 2021!