Microsoft Azure Spending Limits Clarification

Lots of people want to use Microsoft Azure that much is clear, but a lot of people based on threads which get started on the TechNet forum get stuck when it comes to the relationship between trial accounts, standard accounts, billing and limits so I wanted to set the record straight a little using some good old plain English.

This is in response to a thread I answered on the TechNet forum last night which you can see at http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/windowsazure/en-US/a78f28e6-3929-45ef-9c52-cee62d3ab17a/set-spending-limit-after-free-trial?forum=windowsazurepurchasing#a603ca13-5911-4cf9-a142-ec1615192e95.

Trial Accounts

When you sign up for a Microsoft Azure trial account, you are prompted to provide a payment instrument during the sign up. Payment instrument is a really horrible term for a payment method. In a nutshell, it wants you to provide a credit card. When you sign up for the free trial, you get $200 of credit available to consume over a one month period.

The $200 credit is imposed in the form of a spending limit. If you consume all $200 before your month is up, all of your services will be suspended. If you’ve got credit left at the end of the one month period you will lose it, so use make sure you use it even if it’s just to get a grasp on how to create various types of virtual machine, websites, cloud services or databases.

If you consume all $200 before the month is up and you want to resume the services that you have provisioned thus far you can remove the spending limit on the trial account which will begin placing cost incurring charges against your credit card payment instrument.

MSDN and BizSpark Accounts

If you have access to Microsoft Azure via an MSDN subscription or a BizSpark subscription you will have at your disposal $150 per month of Microsoft Azure credit included in your agreement. This entitlement lasts for the duration of the agreement and at the termination of your agreement, all services will become suspended when the final credit amount expires in your final month.

If you want to resume these services, you will need to add a payment instrument, a credit card to the account and disable the spending limit. Unlike a trial account, you are not forced to add credit card information at the point of enabling the subscription so be sure you don’t forget to add this detail.

If you are using your $150 a month entitlement but find that you could do with a little bit extra then you can opt to disable the spending limit on the subscription, add payment details in the form of a credit card and once you reach the $150 free entitlement, any excess usage of the Microsoft Azure platform will be billed to your card.

Understanding Spending Limits

Spending limits I think are the largest cause for confusion in Microsoft Azure. Spending limits are what they are called, they are a limit to prevent spending money over a given amount. They do not represent a fixed spending commitment (eg. Spending $100 a month even if you only consume $25 of services), a question I’ve seen asked on TechNet Forums on more than a few occasions.

Spending limits is not a feature which is generally available for normal subscriptions. Spending limits are only available for the Trial, MSDN and BizSpark subscription as previously mentioned. If you are an enterprise customer or a conventional pay-as-you-go customer you cannot enable a spending limit on your subscription as this option is not available.

With MSDN and BizSpark subscriptions, when you disable the spending limit, you will continue to consume your monthly or triad period entitlement to funds. The trial or monthly funds will be consumed first before any charges are levied against your credit card. Once you exhaust all of your credit, you will start being billed.

If you elect to reactivate a spending limit on an MSDN or a BizSpark subscription, you cannot customise the limit value. When you reactivate the spending limit, the limit will be restored with the same limit as was previously imposed. To re-iterate, you cannot customise the spending limit as the limit value is defined by the type of subscription that you have.

You can read the official Microsoft article on MSDN about spending limits configuration and when they are or are not available at http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/azure/dn465781.aspx.

Alternative to Spending Limits

With spending limits not available for conventional subscriptions, many people will be thinking what is there to stop me from racking up a massive bill unknowingly and then having to try and explain or justify perhaps to business partners or co-workers or such like, how you managed to spend so much. By default, nothing, there is nothing to stop you from spending an infinite amount of money. Luckily, we have a solution in the Billing Alert Service.

The Azure Billing Alert Service is currently in preview although it has been around for a while now and I expect it to stay due to the lack of spending limits for conventional subscriptions. Although the Azure Billing Alert Service does not explicitly stop you from spending too much money, it does allow you to configure warnings and alerts before you spend too much money and allow you a chance to react to potential billing spikes such as shutting down services or virtual machines.

I have previously written a show post on how to enable and configure the Azure Billing Alert Service which you should take a look out to find out more how to configure this your own subscription.

I hope that this post clarified the meaning of spending limits in Microsoft Azure, when you can and cannot use them and how to access the Azure Billing Service alternative.

Microsoft Azure Billing Alert Service

Last week, I dropped a post about how to enable and utilize the New Service Tiers for Azure SQL Databases. In this post, I’d like to show to you another preview feature available in Microsoft Azure, the Billing Alert Service. Whilst I see this service being of more interest to consumers and small enterprises consuming Microsoft Azure services, this isn’t to say that a cost conscious large organisation couldn’t benefit from this and best of all, it’s totally free to enable and consume.

Where I see value in this feature is tracking the cost of your subscriptions. Whilst it’s possible to activate a spending limit on a subscription, this isn’t without it’s own issues. A spending limit once imposed and reached will stop and terminate all services in your subscription. My blog for example went offline for 24hrs last month because I’d hit a spending limit imposed. I’ve since removed this and instead use the Billing Alert Service to help me track my spending and kerb excessive usage when I get near the amount I’m happy to spend.

It’s important to note that this is a preview feature. This doesn’t mean that the service doesn’t work but it does mean that Microsoft could make changes to the service or pull it entirely at some point so just bear this in mind.

Enabling the Billing Alert Service

Enabling the Billing Alert Service is easy from the Microsoft Azure Account Portal which you can access at the URL https://account.windowsazure.com and login with the account used to control your subscription. From here, select the Preview Features link in the top navigation to access a list of features which are available for you to access in preview.

Azure Portal Preview Features

Scrolling through the list, somewhere near the bottom of the list, you will find the Billing Alert Service. Hit the Try It Now button to activate the feature.

Billing Alert Service

Once you’ve selected the button, you will be prompted for which subscription to activate the feature. If you have more than one subscription, select the appropriate one and click the Tick button to complete the operation which I found did take some time to complete.

Adding Billing Alert Preview Feature

Once activated, you will see the status of the feature reported below the Try It Now button as You Are Active. In the screenshot below, you can see I am currently activated for both the Billing Alert Service and the New Service Tires for SQL Databases which I covered in the previous post on Microsoft Azure preview features.

Billing Alert Service Active

With the feature now activated, we can use it to setup some billing alerts. Unlike most other features in preview in Microsoft Azure, the Billing Alert Service is accessed through the Account Portal and not the Management Portal. Click the Subscriptions link in the top bar to access a list of your subscriptions.

Configuring the Billing Alert Service

Here on the Subscriptions Overview page, the statistics for the subscription with billing amounts and usage consumption are shown and we now have a new link for Alerts Preview which is just below the main title.

Azure Subscription Overview

Accessing the feature for the first time, we can see that we have no alerts configured for billing and there is a link to add a new alert. The yellow information bar tells us that we can create up to five billing alerts which is probably going to be sufficient for most people. I’m going to be creating two for my subscription: one approaching my preferred monthly spending limit so that I can calm things down a little and one when I hit the preferred limit so that I can shut down anything that can wait or that I no longer need.

Billing Alert No Alerts Configured

Click the Add Alert button to get started creating a new alert.

Billing Alert Configure New Alert

On the new alert page, there aren’t actually many options or settings to configure. Firstly, you need to set a title for your alert which will appear in the email which is sent out so make this factual so that you can see quickly from the email what the alert is warning you about.

Next, we can set what type of alert to send and there are currently two types. The default is what I am using, Billing Total which tracks the amount of spend. The second type is Monetary Credits which changes the context to amount remaining. If you want to track what you are spending in money then use the first option. If you are using a subscription with free spending credits such as MSDN or the like then you may wish to use the latter to track how much of your free entitlement you have left.

Once you’ve set the alert type, set what value to use. In this example, I’m sending out an alert once I’ve spent £75 in a billing month period.

Lastly, we configure the alert recipients. In my case, this is to my personal, singular email address but there is nothing to stop you from adding a distribution list address here so you could configure a distribution list in Microsoft Exchange or Office 365 with all of the parties with a vested interest in your Microsoft Azure subscription as members to receive the alerts.

Once you’ve added the address or addresses for your alert recipients, select the Save button to save the alert definition.

I took the liberty of creating my second alert offline but here is how the console looks with the two alerts added.

Billing Alert Two Alerts Configured

With alerts created, you will receive a welcome email confirming that the alert was setup which allows you to verify the email or distribution list address you used. There is a delete button on the right of the interface allowing you drop and delete alerts as you wish at a later stage.

I hope that this has been helpful for you who want to try and keep tabs on your Microsoft Azure spend.

SQL 2012 and System Center 2012 R2 Guide

Over on the TechNet Gallery a great new guide has been published titled SQL 2012 and System Center 2012 R2. The guide delves into the configuration of SQL Server best practice, how to deploy SQL Server and how to protect SQL Server, all specifically focused around using SQL Server with System Center 2012 R2 products such as Virtual Machine Manager (SCVMM), Operations Manager (SCOM), Orchestrator (SCO). The guide also looks at SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn HADR, Hyper-V Replica and SQL Azure.

You can download the guide from http://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/SQL-2012-and-System-Center-553b5161.

The guide has been published and largely written by Paul Keely, Microsoft Private Cloud and Datacenter MVP (@paul_keely). The guide is really good, however in the interests of honesty, the contributors on this book, aside from Robert all work for Infront Consulting, my employers. Paul Keely is also my Principal Consultant for Infront Consulting Europe.

The guide has been contributed to additionally by other people including myself, Craig Taylor (@LupoLoopy), Matthew Long (@MatthewLongUK), Pete Zerger (@pzerger) and Robert Hedblom (@RobertandDPM).