Do You Even Tag, Bro?

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Sorry for the clickbaity title. One of the things I hated most about working in corporate IT, was the persistent, never ending discussions around server naming standards. I once flew to Switzerland to spend 16 hours in a room full of dudes (it’s always a room full of dudes) discussing each of the 16 characters of out server naming standard should be. If I was billing for that kind of thing now, I’d charge $3000/hr (as in I would only do this for $3000/hr), as a server naming standard is probably one of the least important things an IT organization can spend its time on and there are much better solutions in modern infrastructure. If you aren’t familiar with tagging or labeling, you should be. Modern infrastructure, whether it be on-premises virtual machine hypervisor, public cloud platforms, or a container management system like Kubernetes, all support tagging of resources.

Tags by themselves aren’t particularly useful–they are simple key value pairs (e.g. Environment:Production, ServerType:SQL) other than they allow you to easily identify information about resources. Where they become really powerful is their integration with the control plane, also known as the API layer that powers modern software defined infrastructure. This means you can operate on resources based on their tag values. The code shown in the picture below illustrates this:

In this code sample, we are looking for all resource groups matching a tag with the name “Use” and the value of “Demo” and then within those resource groups, stops any running VMs. This is a really simple example, that I use in my Azure subscription. With this you can start to see the power of tagging. You can also, on some platforms (Azure, for sure, I didn’t check others) use policy to enforce the use of tags. For example, at DCAC, I implemented a policy that all new Azure resource groups are required to be tagged with client name, and date created, so we could more easily know if we could delete resources.

In addition to allowing for code-driven automation, when you are in a cloud world, tags make their way down to your actual bill, letting you understand which departments or applications are costing you the most money. This allows to take a multi-dimensional approach to breaking down your cloud billing–in a large organization without a good tagging strategy, diseccting your bill is going to be very challenging.

Tags are incredibly useful in identifying your infrastructure, and you can add a lot of them–in Azure you can have up to 15 tags. This gives you a rich collection of information about your resources that you can access programmatically. Tag early, tag often.

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