Don't let the risk of spiralling cloud costs threaten your ability to innovate

Jon Shanks, CEO and Founder of Appvia discusses why cloud infrastructure costs can get out of control and how businesses can save money.

This is a contributed article by Jon Shanks, CEO and Founder of Appvia.


The cloud enables the technology world as we know it to exist. However, despite its prevalence, very few businesses are getting anywhere near a good deal on their infrastructure costs. There are three primary causes for this - complicated sales and billing procedures by cloud providers, poor planning and resourcing throughout a project's lifespan (from provisioning to deployment), and finally a siloed approach that has seen billing and financing of cloud services separated from the engineering team.

For many businesses, how much they're really paying for their cloud infrastructure and services remains a mystery. You might see a bill at the end of the month, but knowing which team is using the resource, whether the resource is even needed anymore, and where you could be saving money, is incredibly difficult to understand.

Attempting to accurately work out the best provider to go with for a project is tough - you'll need to set aside several days to do a full comparison and get an accurate-ish number. A good deal up front might also then turn sour as a project's requirements evolve. There is also the thorny issue of keeping track of real-time costs, and making sure nothing gets out of control. It can feel like spinning plates to make sure you're sticking to your budget while also meeting your infrastructure needs. However, it doesn't have to be this way. With a little more planning and a better understanding of how the cloud service market operates, businesses can put in place processes and safeguards that can save them a lot of time and a lot of money.


Why getting visibility is so difficult

At the end of the day, a business lives or dies by its financials. If a company can't make the numbers add up, then there's only one outcome. From an innovation perspective, if you can't get a clear picture of what your cloud usage actually is, and what it should be, you're wasting budgets. Those budgets could be better spent on research, development and innovation to drive cutting edge advances in your sector. Making every penny of cloud spent accountable and efficient is essential. Not having that will, and does, affect your ability to innovate and survive.

For the major cloud providers, giving this level of detail has been tricky in the past. They're not embedded into your team, so there's a limit to how flexible they can be in the data they give back. Additionally, the complexity of the cloud means that fixed monthly costs and those that scale as you consume more resources, spin up new instances, and deploy more applications, is a complex formula.

Of course, their interest in your budget requirements is limited. They don't see the inside of your operations, so they can't advise on where you could be cutting costs. With the number of customers growing every day, and probably exponentially too, they wouldn't be able to help even if they tried.


How developers can regain control of spiralling cloud costs

The second part of this puzzle is the disconnect between engineering teams and operations teams. Both have an interest in keeping costs at the right level, but operations teams often forget to tap into the expertise and insight of engineering teams who will be able to take an on-paper budget and turn it into a deployment reality.

Empowering your engineering teams to take ownership of budgets is the only way to get costs under control. If you give them a tool which gives them visibility over the costs, they'll be able to devise the best use of resources, identify areas where they could ramp up or tone down a cloud service, and ultimately meet your business goals.

Our own predictions suggest that the average business will save 20%-70% in cloud infrastructure costs and around two days of time provisioning if teams are empowered from the beginning.


Unlocking long-term innovation and empowering engineers

Giving teams the ability to understand the cost of a project at the outset, bring down the total cost of a project, and embed a cost-first development approach will allow companies to budget and right-size infrastructure from the beginning.

In the long term, the cloud providers will benefit from this too - with a sustainable and well-scaled customer base, making efficient use of resources. Cloud providers need to understand the true use of their services in order to understand where the industry is moving to, and how they can best serve the next-generation of developer.

Understanding cloud costs doesn't need to be overcomplicated. The technology itself may be moving quickly, but understanding where the money is going shouldn't be a constant game of cat and mouse.

To date, the industry has been too focussed on an outside-in approach. Pushing financial data back at teams, rather than creating a costing approach that is developer-centric.

We trust engineers to build applications, solve complex technical problems, and keep our data secure. We should trust them to look at the numbers too.

Jonathan Shanks is the CEO and co-Founder of Kubernetes delivery platform Appvia. He is a DevOps expert and entrepreneur with nearly two decades of experience in leading developers and engineers in scaling and delivering new solutions. Prior to joining Appvia, Shanks was Head and Technical Lead at the Home Office.