Cloud Usage for Smart Savers

An Experience Report

We have always suspected it: The usage of cloud resources is convenient but not automatically cost-effective. This is true for Amazon Web Services or Google just as much as for your own private cloud. However, we were quite surprised of how much money can in fact be saved by taking a closer look at the costs. And all of that without any performance loss. The only thing you need is some help from an incorruptible analysis tool…

We are a software company located in Munich with around 40 developers. We are not only developing cloud software, but also using it productively. Many of our in-house resources are virtualized and made available in self-service mode. Therefore, we were quite sure from the beginning that the efficient usage of our IT infrastructure would be guaranteed. Unfortunately, the actual development of our costs did not meet those expectations. Thus, we were forced to take a closer look at it. It turned out – to everyone ' s surprise – that we could save around 20% of the costs without too much effort, which is a remarkable amount of 25.000 Euro over the whole year!

Four basic tricks helped us solve the problem – they are well known, but not easy to put into effect without an appropriate tool:

Create transparency - The invoices of different cloud providers that arrive in the accounting department do not have directly comparable formats. First of all, we thus needed a data import mechanism that provided for a common and clearly arranged comprehensive view. This was achieved through provider APIs which are used to import the invoice data at the highest possible level of detail. In this way, we were able to ensure that no costs could be hidden.

Analyze the origin of the costs - A so-called „drill-down” is anything but simple in the practice of cloud usage. For a solid analysis of their origins, the costs must be assigned to individual projects, departments, users, or user groups. In order to be practicable, this must be automated as far as possible (for example, by evaluating recurring properties, like the contract number or service URL). As some of the data records do not fit into the pre-defined analysis patterns, we needed a possibility to define our own rules, flexible yet comfortable, and applicable by the cost managers themselves. Some of the cost managers were surprised of the amount of „unassigned costs” in their responsibility, and of how fast the deactivation of one unused VM could save 50 to 100 Euro per month.

Do not underestimate private cloud costs – Since the costs of Amazon, Google, and other public cloud providers are accumulating bit by bit and in collective invoices, it is very likely that controlling them is difficult. This is certainly true. However, the volume of private cloud usage in our company is significantly higher, and our major savings were in this area. Thus, an appropriate tool should consider the costs of VMWare, OpenStack, and other private cloud resources as well. In this context, it is very important, that cost ratings of used capacities are supported by the tool. OpenStack Ceilometer, for example, only offers information on unused resource volumes, but not a „translation” into Euros and Cents. The graphics shows our private cloud costs under „Provider: ESTESS” – ESS for „Enterprise Solution Store” – because we are booking all private cloud offerings by means of a service marketplace. AWS, Google, and Fujitsu TPS5 are the public cloud offerings we monitor and use.

Involve all employees - „The team is the star” is true here as well: the optimization exercise is particularly efficient, sustainable and, above all, smooth, if each individual employee has the possibility to check the cost data and assign it properly, if applicable. Of course, the permission to do so requires some rules the tool must support. Interestingly enough, the saying “too many cooks spoil the broth” does not apply here. In addition, our tool supports this kind of self-control by pre-defined or user-defined budget limits, which can trigger automatic alarms in case of problems. To conclude the „employee” topic, just a few words about the user interface: Taking into account the mobility requirements of a modern company, a tool which is to be used on multiple devices must, of course, have a user interface with a responsive design.

Summary – Our managers were pleasantly surprised of how much money could be saved without any loss of performance. And each individual employee is happy that in the long run complaints about unnecessary costs are not possible any more due to the high transparency.

More information - If you like to know more about the tool which helped us achieve these results, contact us here.

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