Published in the Business Journal in December, 2016

Cloud services have become ubiquitous in the business world. Organizations from small to large have reduced risk and costs by outsourcing the purchase and management of computing and storage to public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google. The advantages of using the cloud to store data and manage business applications are many:

  • Ease of set-up and reliability of service
  • Flexibility to scale resources to accommodate growth and shrinkage
  • Elimination of the physical environment and specialized workforce to handle data storage
  • Excellent security and data back-up

A singular problem with this off-site solution is the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. Once the switch has been made and data is being stored elsewhere, there is a tendency to forget about it.  But as with any outsourced service, on-going scrutiny is the key to on-going success.

Monitoring your cloud

A stroll into any cloud storage facility will remind you that the “cloud” is really quite earth-bound. Huge rooms full of buzzing, blinking servers need to be climate-controlled as the heat-generating equipment moves data across vast wire systems and out to service towers and satellites. These are dynamic environments and an organization’s maintenance of its cloud agreements and usage should be equally dynamic.  In other words, you need to engage with your provider and the environment.

The best way to begin this effort is to establish a governance policy. This defines your baseline for flexibility and security. Next, you should segregate resources based on purpose so that you can readily determine usage and ownership of equipment. Most providers offer various pricing models that give customers options for optimizing their cloud usage. You need to review these models as well as your usage periodically to be sure that your organization is making the best use of its resources. Many pay-per-use services start at a reasonable cost but in time customers see their cloud bills rise higher and higher, causing them to make hasty decisions which can negatively affect their systems’ stability. Carefully monitored strategies like scaling your cloud environment up and down to handle peak and off-peak loads can help.

You’ll also want to take advantage of all the mechanisms your cloud provides to increase reliability and resiliency of your applications, including:

  • From simple auto-scaling to geo-redundant data replication
  • Automatic resource failover across data centers and geographical regions
  • Selecting the right data storage policies

Going a bit further, you may want to make design changes to your apps that are running workloads. Sometimes a rewrite or switching to a cloud-native, off-the-shelf solution makes economic sense in the long run.

Five key pieces of a cloud audit

  1. Good governance around creating, managing and decommissioning resources.
  2. Security of the environment. Consider industry-specific compliance requirements (eg: HIPAA in the healthcare field) as well as general security best practices.
  3. Right-sizing the environment. Weigh your current load against the flexibility to scale up or down in the future.
  4. Tools, policies and procedures for monitoring and allocating resources:
    1. The health of the environment
    2. The budget
    3. Org units
    4. Initiatives
    5. Reallocation of resources
  5. Application of proper pricing schemes. Consider which data storage types you need based on how crucial or replicable your information is. Then review pricing options such as pay-as-you-go, up-front payment, etc.

Watching pennies can save you dollars

Some of our clients at Coherent Solutions have realized big savings as a result of doing a cloud audit. A video advertising platform provider that processes over eleven billion requests per day cut its server usage in half by applying auto-scaling, resulting in savings of tens of thousands of dollars per month. Another client saved a cool $75,000 by: redirecting storage from old servers to newer, more efficient ones; switching to a low-priced, pre-pay option; and taking advantage of AWS RDS — a managed database service capability – to regularly resize capacity to fit current needs

The point is that with so many ways to optimize your cloud usage, it is well worth the time and effort to perform an audit of your own.