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Why and How to Start Optimizing Cloud Costs Now

Willy Sennott EVP, FinOps, Vega Cloud
Photo by Cottonbro Studio on Pexels

One approach to cloud-cost optimization (or FinOps) goes like this: Executives decide that reducing cloud-computing bills is a priority, so they spend a month putting together a committee of stakeholders to implement a cost-optimization strategy. The committee takes several more months to devise a plan and identify the necessary cloud-cost management tools. From there, it could be a year or more before the tools are deployed—and their data interpreted to identify actual cost-savings opportunities. Only then can real cost reduction begin.

Under this scenario, it takes years before you actually save a dollar on your cloud bills. In the meantime, your business could easily waste millions due to excess spending.

Not only that, but if the company has to navigate through economically challenging times—such as the downturn we're currently experiencing—while paying bloated cloud bills, executives may have to look elsewhere to save money. They might lay off staff, for example, because doing so is a way to cut spending immediately—while they believe that cutting spending in the cloud will take too long to yield meaningful savings.

A Better Approach to Cloud-Cost Optimization

Here's an alternative scenario: You decide you need to save money in the cloud starting today, so you look for opportunities to slash costs immediately. And you find that, although some cloud-cost changes may take some time to implement, others can be deployed almost instantaneously. So you take advantage of them to cut your spending quickly and dramatically.

The result is savings that start right away. Not only do those savings allow your business to avoid making other, harder choices—such as, again, layoffs—to navigate financial challenges, but it also lets you begin reinvesting the money that you were spending in the cloud on other, better activities—ones that generate revenue instead of overhead.

The Slow Approach to Cloud-Cost Savings

Obviously, everyone would prefer scenario two. But for some businesses, immediate cloud-cost savings seem unrealistic because traditional approaches to cloud-cost optimization take a long time to implement.

Stakeholders might believe, for example, that building the automations necessary to eliminate waste (by, for instance, automatically shutting down unused cloud resources) takes too long. Or they might think that they have to perform an end-to-end audit of their cloud architecture and spending patterns before they can even start to think about how they'd save money.

As a result, businesses settle for slow time-to-innovation and limited value when optimizing their cloud spending. And by the time they finally do make changes, the changes they've devised may no longer lead to the ideal cloud environment from a financial perspective—because business needs and priorities will have changed in the time between when analysis began and when changes were implemented.

Ways to Save Money in the Cloud Starting Now

Fortunately, an alternative approach is possible. There are ways to cut cloud spending immediately—without a lengthy analysis and implementation process.

You can, for instance, negotiate a discounted pricing plan with your cloud provider—or renegotiate your existing plan. Because discounted pricing leads to lower costs across the board for each and every workload running in your cloud environment, it's a simple and fast way to save significant money. It doesn't require you to deploy any special tools or review reams of data; it requires only that you be prepared to negotiate effectively with cloud providers.

Another way to achieve near-instantaneous savings in the cloud is to use the easy-to-deploy automations that already exist to help control cost spending. You don't need to write special scripts or deploy fancy third-party tools to identify idle VMs, for instance; cloud providers offer ready-to-use tools that serve this purpose. Putting those tools to use may not cut your cloud spending in half, but it's a quick and relatively easy way to identify obvious sources and waste and make changes right away. It doesn't take much time to shut down an idle VM. 

(Tip: When shutting down an idle VM, pause it for five to seven working days to see if anyone "misses" it—then archive and delete if appropriate. If it was critical and you turned it off by mistake, it can be up and running in seconds.

You can also commit to making changes that you apply immediately to new workloads. For example, if you identify one type of cloud service as being more cost-efficient for a certain workload, you could begin deploying new workloads on that service. Migrating other, previously deployed workloads to the same service is more complicated and may take time—but that shouldn't be a reason to wait before you start taking advantage of more cost-effective offerings.

To be clear, I'm not saying that you shouldn't also undertake the more complicated and time-consuming work required to cost-optimize all aspects of your cloud. Rightsizing workloads, identifying and leveraging discounted VM-instance types, and the like aren't things you can typically do overnight across your entire cloud. Maximizing your cost savings in all respects takes longer. But the fact that some aspects of cloud-cost optimization are slower to implement should not be a reason to avoid taking advantage of changes that you can make right now.

Immediate Savings Mean Immediate Innovation

Making any and all of the cost-savings changes you can as soon as you can isn't just about saving as many dollars as possible. It's also about maximizing your room to innovate.

To put this in context: If you can save 5–10% on your cloud bill starting today, that might translate to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars in savings over the next year. But if you take that several million and invest it in other parts of your business, it could become more than just money saved. It becomes new revenue earned.

If, on the other hand, a lack of immediate cost savings leads to financial strain that you solve in other ways, like layoffs, you undercut your ability to innovate. It may take years to recover your workforce from a layoff; while you wait, you could miss out on huge revenue opportunities—ones that far exceed your excess spending in the cloud.

The bottom line: There is no reason to delay cloud cost-optimization initiatives. Effective measures that generate immediate cost savings exist, and they can be implemented with less effort than you might think.

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