Breaking bad cloud habits

The optics of the cloud can often put blinders over the real costs and bad habits can end up costing organisations a lot of money.

We all have habits we would like to (and should) break such as leaving the lights on in rooms we are no longer in and good habits we want to encourage, like recycling plastic bottles and driving our cars more efficiently. We often don't because habits are hard to change and often the impact isn't immediate or all that meaningful to us. The same has long been true in IT. But keep up these bad habits in the cloud, and it will cost you - sometimes a lot.

As developers, we often ask for more resources from the infrastructure & operations (I&O) teams than we really need so we don't have to go back later and ask for more - too painful and time consuming. We also often don't know how many resources our code might need, so we might as well take as much as we can get. But do we ever give it back when we learn it is more than we need? 

On the other hand, I&O often aren’t any better. The first rule we learned about capacity planning was that it's more expensive to underestimate resource needs and be wrong than to overestimate, and we always seem to consume more resources eventually. 

Well, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) clouds change this equation dramatically, and you can reap big rewards if you change with them. For example, sure, you can ask for as many resources as you want - there's no pain associated with getting them and no pain to ask for more, either. But once you have them and figure how much you really need, it heavily behooves you to give back what you aren't using.

Throwing away cash  

Cloudyn, a SaaS-based cloud cost management company, knows how much this is costing its enterprise clients, as it uses monitoring capabilities to map the difference between what its clients are paying for and what they are really using. It recently shared with Forrester the latest findings in its CloudynDex metrics report that aggregates cloud use and cost data from more than 100 of its clients running on Amazon Web Services' (AWS) IaaS cloud (collected randomly and anonymously with its clients' permission). The data is clear proof that we are bringing these bad habits to the cloud. These clients are spending between $12,000 to $2.5 million per year with AWS and throwing away about 40 per cent of that expense. What kind of waste are they incurring? 

  • Overallocation of resources. Cloudyn found that the degree of sustained utilization across the 400,000-plus instances being monitored was just 17 per cent. The company said the common issue was allocating Large or Extra Large instances when a Small or Medium would suffice. This one's easy to find (especially with a cost analysis tool like Cloudyn) and easy to fix. Not surprisingly, Cloudyn also found that the larger the instance, the worse the utilization, with Extra Large instances averaging just four per cent utilisation. That's worse than the average utilisation of physical servers in 2001 - before virtualisation. For shame!
  • Static workloads. Cloudyn also found that many client instances were forgotten and left running but not doing anything for days, even months, at a time. Cloud vendors will certainly be happy to take your money for this. But, really. Is it really that hard to shut down an instance and restart it when needed?
  • Not using reserved instances. The statistics also showed the average client had a persistent use of cloud instances that would have benefited from the discounts that come with AWS Reserved Instances but that clients weren't taking advantage of these discounts, which can amount to up to 70 per cent lower bills. This one takes longer to assess, but once you know you will be staying in the cloud for a year or more, there's no excuse not to take advantage of this. Customers using Cloudyn or similar cost-tracking tools that continuously track resource activity are quickly getting wise to this benefit. Cloudyn's data shows a big increase in adoption of Reserved Instances from January to May of 2012.

Blinders over real costs

Forrester has found a number of other bad habits from cloud users, some of which were noted in our latest Forrester Cloud Playbook report "Drive Savings And Profits With Cloud Economics," such as not configuring load balancing/auto-scaling properly to turn off instances fast enough as demand declined, not leveraging caching enough between application layers or at the edge, and not optimising packet flows from the cloud back to your data centre.

It's understandable why we bring our bad habits with us to the cloud. Heck, simply by using the cloud, we're saving the company money. But don't let the optics of the cloud pull blinders over the real costs. A medium instance at $0.32 per hour sounds so cheap, but when daily consumption leads to $130,000 in annual spend, which was the average for this group of customers, then 40 per cent savings is very, very significant. 

How are you using cloud platforms? With what apps, dev tools, software? Participate in Forrester's latest survey on this topic today. 

James Staten is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. He serves infrastructure and operations professionals. Click here to read more and subscribe to James Staten's blog at Forrester Research.

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