Optimising Your Cloud Bill
A key motivator for moving to the cloud is the potential for cost savings. And while most organisations who make the switch end up saving substantial amounts of money, oftentimes that requires a bit of discipline to make your cloud spend match projections. Without a careful eye, it can be easy to rack up charges you weren’t expecting, and cloud providers don’t have much incentive to work with you to lower your spend.

In this article, we’ll take a look at a few ways to optimise your cloud spend. Even if your monthly bill isn’t exceeding your budget, you should be able to find a few spots to make some improvements.

Find The Hidden Costs
Often cloud services offer an up-front price tag that’s very transparent, and hide some extra costs. You can end up budgeting a baseline rate for the service based on the pricing page, and then getting a surprise bill at the end of the month.

Newcomers to the cloud often experience this when using cloud storage (like AWS’s S3), where they budget based on how many gigabytes they’re planning on storing in the cloud, but then rack up charges for data egress and networking fees to access their data. These fees can often be many times the original storage cost! Similarly, using cloud servers like Azure’s Virtual Machines usually has an up-front server cost per hour. But servers also need storage and networking, which may incur extra charges.

Typically, cloud providers allow you some chances to optimise these on your own. For example, with cloud storage, there’s usually no network charge for sending data in the same cloud (AWS’s S3 to EC2, for instance). But even then there are still some stumbling blocks. For example, transferring to a different availability zone (EU-1 to EU-2, for instance), may still rack up fees.

One final hidden cost? When you think you’ve stopped paying for a resource only to find you hadn’t completely closed the contract. When you terminate a server, you need to ensure you’ve deleted all the storage devices associated with it, or you’ll still incur hourly charges for those even if the server is no longer around. The best way to solve this is simply periodic audits, and proper use of tagging and labelling.

Optimise For Your Use Case
After you’ve eliminated hidden costs, the next thing to check is that you’re using your cloud provider’s services in a way that’s optimal for your organisational goals. Cloud providers love to press high-availability, multi-redundant architectures in their whitepapers and design documents, and those have an important place in the world or cloud architectures. But they may be overkill for what your organisation needs.

For example, cloud providers often push hosting your data in multiple availability zones to ensure that your site is still reachable if there’s an outage in a single zone. That is a best practice, but it can also be expensive. There are often network costs incurred with syncing data back and forth between zones, and those costs can far exceed the benefit in redundancy.

Likewise, backups are a crucial part of any modern architecture, and nobody should have a cloud (or non-cloud!) software system without them. But cloud providers offer a wide array of solutions for backups, and choosing the right one can lead to significant savings. You need to understand your use case: what granularity do you need for snapshots? Hourly? Daily? And how many snapshots do you need in your archive? Simply going from hourly to daily snapshots can reduce your storage costs by 24x!

Finally, a great benefit of the cloud is the ability to choose hardware that matches your needs. Cloud providers have offerings everywhere on the spectrum from expensive, peak-performance servers to low-cost, average performance machines. You should take advantage of that breadth of offerings to find some savings.

One way of checking how well you’re optimising your spend here is to look at the statistics from your virtual machines. How often is the CPU idling? How often is the memory usage very low? There’s no need to use the standard, all-around machines for every use case. Every provider offers “imbalanced” machines with extra memory, or additional CPUs attached, often at a substantial marginal cost savings to using the comparable standard machines.

Look At The Big Picture
Of course, much of this can be called tinkering around the edges (although that still can find thousands of pounds of savings per month!). While you’re checking to ensure you’re using your cloud correctly, you also need to be optimising how you’re using the cloud overall.

That leads into some big-picture questions. Different cloud providers offer different specialties. Could you gain some savings by jumping from, say, Google Cloud to Azure? Many organisations even take a cloud-agnostic approach and run some services in every cloud provider.

The cloud also offers the opportunity to use provider-created services rather than building them in house. Rather than optimising cloud costs, it may make sense to reduce developer costs by taking advantage of a cloud provider’s software offerings, such as machine learning integrations or automated API development tools. Whereas ten years ago it was common for organisations to run their own database and hire expensive database managers to optimise it, these days almost everyone uses cloud-managed database offerings and reaps the cost savings.

This is where the opportunity of the cloud really shines through. Not only do you have the option to choose what to bring in-house and what to leave to the cloud service providers based on your organisation’s cost-benefit analysis. You also have the opportunity to be experimental, and to try new products with the click of a mouse.

Whether you’re looking to trim down your monthly bill or change your cloud strategy altogether to optimise your costs, we’re here to offer advice. We can design a high-level strategy that leverages the best of each cloud provider, or work through line-items on your bill to show you where you could be saving.


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