Terra costs and billing (GCP) details

Allie Hajian
  • Updated

This article outlines what operations in Terra have a Google Cloud cost and how you will pay for GCP resources with a Terra Billing project linked to a Google Cloud billing account. It also explains how Terra and Google Cloud billing are related (i.e., Terra Billing projects act as a pass-through to pay for the Google Cloud costs of your work in Terra) and (broadly) how Google calculates and bills Terra users for charges.

What has a cost (Google Cloud fee) in Terra 

The Terra platform itself is a cloud-native system that does not charge for administration or support services. You pay only for the resources you use, such as Google Cloud costs associated with operations in Terra

Cloud costs passed through via a Terra Billing project

Data storage Workspace Storage (Google bucket) Created when you create a workspace

Cloud Environment persistent disk

Detachable storage associated with the VM that runs Galaxy, Jupyter notebooks, or RStudio analysis. See Google Cloud storage pricing.

Analysis Running workflows

See Google Cloud compute pricing.

Running analysis apps (Jupyter notebooks, Galaxy, and RStudio)

See Google Cloud compute and Google Cloud disk rates.

Data transfer Accessing data in Requester Pays buckets

See Google Cloud data transfer pricing.

Terra passes along Google Cloud charges with no markup (the links above will take you directly to the Google Cloud pricing pages). See Understanding and controlling Cloud costs on Terra for more details and examples. 

How you are billed for work in Terra 

Below is more information about Terra/Google Cloud billing structure. 

Costs are calculated at the workspace level

All work in Terra is done in project workspaces, computational sandboxes where you can organize and access data and tools.  It's similar to paying for electricity in your house: the owner (or whoever's name is on the electric bill) is responsible for all the electricity used, not who uses it. As with your electric bill, it's not even possible to directly identify who is responsible for the charges. 

Terra Billing projects connect workspaces and Cloud billing

Every workspace has an associated Terra Billing project you assign when you create the workspace. The Terra Billing project acts as a passthrough between Terra (the workspace) and Google Cloud (Cloud Billing account) to pay the workspace costs. 

A Google Cloud Billing account pays all Google Cloud costs

Every Terra Billing project has an umbrella Google Cloud Billing account that pays for all workspace costs. 

Diagram of the Terra/Google billing heiarchy with the Google Cloud Billing account at the top funding one or more Terra workspaces (eacxh with its own Google project, used by Gogle for tracking resources), with a Terra Billing project in the middle acting as a pass-though.
Terra's billing hierarchy.
Blue boxes are Google Cloud components, and gray boxes are Terra components

To create a workspace in Terra, you need access to a Terra Billing project (see How to set up billing in Terra for step-by-step instructions). Once you have a Terra Billing project, you can create or clone (copy) a workspace. All operations in the workspace will be funded by the Cloud Billing account via the Terra Billing project.

You do not need to be a user on a Terra Billing project to work in Terra All work is paid through the Terra Billing project assigned to the workspace. You can work in someone else's workspace if it's been shared with you (and you have the right permissions). For example, can-compute permission allows you to run workflows and interactive analyses (Galaxy, Jupyter, and RStudio). 

Workspace Billing project example

Here's an example of what you will see in Terra. The workspace depicted below stores data for the Analysis, Visualization, and Informatics Lab-Space (AnVIL). The Google Cloud storage fees are paid by the Google Cloud Billing account associated with the Terra Billing project anvil-datastorage (circled).

Screenshot of the top of an AnVIL workspace, with the Terra Billin gproject (anvil-datastorage) highlighted in the URL

What does access to billing allow?

Collaborators with billing access (to either a Terra Billing project or a Google Cloud billing account) can create and then use resources the level down on the billing hierarchy. Note, however, It is workspace permissions, not billing permissions, that determine who can accrue costs.

Terra Billing project users can create their own workspaces

They are the workspace owner, by default. All workspace costs are paid via the Terra Billing project. 

Cloud Billing account users can create their own Billing projects.

They are the Billing project owner by default and can create workspaces with that Billing project. All costs for these workspaces are paid for by the umbrella Google Cloud Billing account. 

How can billing owners control costs?

Owners of Cloud Billing accounts and Terra Billing projects control who can create Billing projects and workspaces (respectively) by assigning the appropriate permissions (see the chart below). 

Note, however, that if collaborators with Google Billing account access have created their own Billing projects or workspaces, billing owners have less control. To learn more, see How to disable billing in Terra

Warning: Collaborators with no billing permissions can still accrue costs A colleague does not need to be included in a Terra Billing project or a Google Cloud Billing account to work in Terra. They only need to have the appropriate workspace permissions.

Workspace permissions that allow spend

  • Can-compute (can run analysis)
  • Writer (can copy data to workspace storage)
  • Reader (can transfer data from workspace storage unless it is a Requester Pays bucket). Data transfer costs are borne by the workspace's Terra Billing project.

To learn more, see Managing shared resources (billing, data, and workspaces).

Be mindful of how you share workspaces A workspace owner, writer, and even reader can accrue costs, even if they have no access to billing! If you share a workspace with someone as Writer or Owner they will be able to store data or run an analysis, even if they are not a user of the workspace Billing project.

Even workspace readers will be able to accrue costs (data transfer out charge) by downloading data unless the workspace bucket is flagged as Requester Pays. Additionally, because costs are calculated at the workspace level, it is not possible to directly identify who is responsible for costs. For this reason, it is extremely important to be careful when sharing a workspace!

To learn more, see Understanding and controlling cloud costs on Terra.


Can access cost breakdown
(Google Cloud console)

Can create Terra Billing projects (Terra UI)

Can create workspaces

Can store, transfer and analyze data

Google Cloud Billing account admin/viewer/user

Depends on workspace role

Terra Billing project owner or user



Depends on workspace role

Note: Collaborators can accrue costs even after they're removed from billing Anyone who creates a workspace is the owner by default, and can spend in the workspace they create. Thus, a collaborator on a shared Billing project can create a workspace where they can accrue data storage, analysis, and data transfer costs. These costs will be paid through the Terra Billing project, as long as it is active, even if the collaborator is later removed from the billing project

To learn how to prevent a collaborator from accruing Google Cloud costs, see How to disable billing in Terra

Terra Billing projects versus Google Projects

Note: Although both relate to billing, Terra Billing projects and Google projects are distinct and different entities (and the Google project is mostly behind the scenes). See more details below.

What is a Terra Billing project?

Terra Billing projects are internal to Terra. They connect workspaces (where costs accrue) and Cloud Billing accounts that ultimately pay for costs. When you create a workspace in Terra (gray boxes in the diagram below, bottom level), you assign a Terra Billing project (gray box second from the top) that acts as a passthrough for Google Cloud costs. 

Closeup of diagram of the Terra/Google billing heiarchy with the Google Cloud Billing account at the top funding one or more Terra workspaces (eacxh with its own Google project, used by Gogle for tracking resources), with a Terra Billing project in the middle acting as a pass-though.

What is a Google Project?

A Google project is a Google construct that organizes all your Google Cloud resources. For example, all of your Cloud Storage buckets and objects, along with user permissions for accessing them, reside in a project.

Terra automatically generates a Google project (blue boxes second from the bottom) that is unique to that workspace (analogous to the workspace bucket storage) that organizes and tracks all Google Cloud resources used in the workspace. The workspace Google project is mostly behind the scenes (unless you access Google Cloud console - e.g., to set up budget alerts or track spend in a Google Cloud bill). This process works in only one direction. It is not possible to create a Google Cloud project and move or assign it to a Terra workspace.

 Workspace projects in Google Cloud console

Billing account owners and viewers will see all the associated Terra-created Google projects in Google Cloud console (choose Billing > Account management). The Google project that Terra creates will have the format terra-#### (see below).

Screenshot of Google Cloud Billing account management screen on GCP with a list of eight Google projects linked to the Google Billing account

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