How the Best IT Leaders Manage Cloud Costs in the Wake of Covid-19

May 5, 2020

The dynamic nature of the cloud has helped companies rapidly scale services and platforms to support the wave of employees now working from home due to shelter-in-place ordinances. As organizations continue to do their part to flatten the curve, IT leaders who have been the most successful managing this change are being mindful of how an increase in cloud utilization might affect costs and risk profiles.

Rapid scaling on the public cloud can result in orphaned and underutilized resources, which in turn can increase costs without increasing value. Also, it's easy for users to accidentally provision services that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a day. Luckily, there are some things IT leaders can do to avoid pitfalls and rein in spiraling costs.

Easily Manage Costs with a Cloud Strategy Tailored to Business Needs


The steps IT leaders are taking to minimize unnecessary expenditures include:

  1. Paying only for the services they use. Public cloud platforms, such as auto-scaling groups, that spot instances and serverless functions can help reduce the ongoing cost of running services. This requires a front-end effort, but using public cloud tools to monitor and manage utilization allows IT to scale with business demands. 
  2. Monitoring services not just for when they're busy but also for when they're not. By setting up notifications for when a load balancer is not receiving a lot of traffic, IT leaders can scale down services when they’re unnecessary. In the same vein, if new instances are created to meet demand and some capacity is being left free because of other bottlenecks, organizations can consider a different instance class.
  3. Ensuring that all public cloud items are tagged, and their roles are described. The best strategies for deploying items in the console include a policy that systems be tagged. This enables administrators to quickly understand the relationship between a system and a product or service. Tools such as Cloud Custodian can be used to help enforce and implement these controls and add life cycle rules for lower-level environments such as development and testing.
  4. Using third-party cost management tools. Tools such as CloudAdmin provide time-series metrics analysis to identify over-resourced systems, unused storage objects, and cases where reserved or dedicated servers would decrease ongoing costs. Often, the incremental costs of these services are made up by the resulting savings.

Major cloud providers have detailed steps to help enrich their billing tools and help organizations understand what services drive what products and platforms. For example, the AWS Well-Architected Framework has a pillar dedicated to cost management. 

Avert Risk by Limiting and Securing User Access


Users with direct access to public cloud services are, by default, given a nearly unlimited ability to provision new resources with standard, highly privileged accounts. Because of this, users, including developers and contractors outside of infrastructure IT teams, can rapidly increase public cloud costs inadvertently and outside of standard cost governance structures. 

IT leaders are taking steps to ensure that an individual misconfiguration cannot cause lasting damage. These safeguards include:

  1. Creating a catalog of recommended configurations. To help guide users, IT leaders are implementing services like AWS Service Catalog to set default configurations for a corporate application.
  2. Fully automating deployment with infrastructure-as-code (IaC). An IaC tool like Terraform can prevent users from making fatal mistakes by helping design and peer review additions and changes to the public cloud. Using an IaC tool has the added benefit of allowing IT to replicate a defined infrastructure rapidly and consistently.
  3. Enforcing strict security requirements. IT leaders are ensuring that API keys are automatically changed, requiring users with direct console access to use two-factor authentication and enforcing strong password requirements.
  4. Setting up automated alerts for unexpected cloud spend. Public cloud providers facilitate linear analysis on expected bill costs based on provisioned services. Automated alerts make it possible to remove unnecessary services before they appear as a large charge on a bill.

Many organizations still struggle to realize the full potential of cloud solutions. Where these suggestions may be difficult for organizations to implement due to lack of resources or expertise, companies should consider engaging an experienced partner who can help strategize, design, implement, and manage a cloud platform or evaluate hybrid/IaaS alternatives.

David Leonard, Senior Director DevOps

David Leonard

Senior Director of DevOps

David leads the Flexential Professional Services DevOps team. He is responsible for developing, managing and driving optimization of the Managed Container Orchestration and Managed Public Cloud services. He is a Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) and is also AWS and ITIL certified.

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