Why the Advantages of Multi-Cloud May Not Outweigh the Challenges

Why the Advantages of Multi-Cloud May Not Outweigh the Challenges

The time is ripe to take a fresh look at the advantages of multi-cloud. In the past 12 months, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of our customers who use multiple public clouds – now more than 20% of our customers use multiple public clouds. With this trend in mind, we wanted to take a look at the positives of a multi-cloud strategy as well as the risks – because of course there’s no “easy button.”

What is Multi-Cloud?

First off, let’s define multi-cloud. Clearly, we’re talking about using one or more clouds, but clouds come in different flavors. For example, multi-cloud incorporates the idea of hybrid cloud – a mix of public and private Clouds. But multi-cloud can also mean two or more public clouds or two or more private clouds.

According to the RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud Report, 81% of Enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy:

What are the advantages of multi-cloud?

So why are businesses heading this direction with their infrastructure? Simple reasons include the following:

  • Risk Mitigation – create resilient architectures
  • Managing vendor lock-in – get price protection
  • Optimization – place your workloads to optimize for cost and performance
  • Cloud providers’ unique capabilities – take advantage of offerings in AI, IOT, Machine Learning, and more

When I asked our CTO what he sees as the advantages of a multi-cloud strategy, he highlighted risk management. ParkMyCloud’s own platform was born in the cloud, we run on AWS, we have a multi-region architecture with redundancy (let’s call this multi-cloud ‘light’), and if we went multi-cloud we would leverage another public cloud for risk mitigation.

Specifically, risk management from the perspective of one vendor having an infrastructure meltdown or attack. AWS had an issue about 15 months ago when S3 was offline in US-East-1 region for 5+ hours affecting many companies, large and small, and software from web apps to smartphones apps were affected (including ours). There have also been issues of certain AWS regions getting a DDoS attack that have affected service availability.

Having a backup to another cloud service provider (CSP) or Private Cloud in these cases could have ensured 100% uptime. In the case of Alibaba and other cloud vendors, they may have a much stronger presence in certain geographic regions due to a long term presence. When any of the vendors just start getting a toe-hold in a region, their environment has minimal redundancy and safeguards in place that provide the desired high-availability, so another provider in the same region may be safer from that availability perspective.

Do the advantages of multi-cloud outweigh the challenges?

Now let’s say you want to go multi-cloud, what does this mean to you? From our own experience integrating with AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, we’ve seen that each cloud has its own set of interfaces and own challenges. It is not a “write once, runs everywhere” situation between the vendors, and any cloud or network management utility system needs to do the work to provide deep integration with each CSP.  

Further, the nuances of configuring and managing each CSP require both broad and deep knowledge, and it is rare to find employees with the essential expertise for multiple clouds – so more staff is needed to manage multi-cloud with confidence that it is being done in a way that is both secure and highly available. With everyone trying to play catch-up with AWS, and with AWS itself evolving at a breakneck pace, it is very difficult for an individual or organization to best utilize one CSP, let alone multiple clouds.

Things like a common container environment can help mitigate these issues somewhat by isolating engineers from the nuances of virtual machine management, but the issues of network, infrastructure, cost optimization, security, and availability remain very CSP-specific.

On paper there are advantages of having a multi-cloud strategy. In practice, like many things, it ain’t easy.

Why Your Spring Cleaning Should Include Unused Cloud Resources

Why Your Spring Cleaning Should Include Unused Cloud Resources

Given that spring is very much in the air – at least it is here in Northern Virginia – our attention has turned to tidying up the yard and getting things in good shape for summer. While things are not so seasonally-focused in the world of cloud, the metaphor of taking time out to clean things up applies to unused cloud resources as well. We have even seen some call this ‘cloud pruning’ (not to be confused with the Japanese gardening method).

Cloud pruning is important for improving both cost and performance of your infrastructure. So what are some of the ways you can go about cleaning up, optimizing, and ensuring that our cloud environments are in great shape?

Delete Old Snapshots

Let’s start with focusing on items that we no longer need. One of the most common types of unused cloud resources is old Snapshots. These are your old EBS volumes on AWS, your storage disks (blobs) on Azure, and persistent disks on GCP. If you have had some form of backup strategy then it’s likely that you will understand the need to manage the number of snapshots you keep for a particular volume, and the need to delete older, unneeded snapshots. Cleaning these up immediately helps save on your storage costs and there are a number of best practices documenting how to streamline this process as well as a number of free and paid-for tools to help support this process.

Delete Old Machine Images

A Machine Image provides the information required to launch an instance, which is a virtual server in the cloud. In AWS these are called AMIs, in Azure they’re called Managed Images, and in GCP Custom Images. When these images are no longer needed, it is possible to deregister them. However, depending on your configuration you are likely to continue to incur costs, as typically the snapshot that was created when the image was first created will continue to incur storage costs. Therefore, if you are finished with an AMI, be sure to ensure that you also delete its accompanying snapshot. Managing your old AMIs does require work, but there are a number of methods to streamline these processes made available both by the cloud providers as well as third-party vendors to manage this type of unused cloud resources.

Optimize Containers

With the widespread adoption of containers in the last few years and much of the focus on their specific benefits, few have paid attention to ensuring these containers are optimized for performance and cost. One of the most effective ways to maximize the benefits of containers is to host multiple containerized application workloads within a single larger instance (typically large or x-large VM) rather than on a number of smaller, separate VMs. In particular, this is something you could utilize in your dev and test environments rather than in production, where you may just have one machine available to deploy to. As containerization continues to evolve, services such as AWS’s Fargate are enabling much more control of the resources required to run your containers beyond what is available today using traditional VMs. In particular, the ability to specify the exact CPU and memory your code requires (and thus the amount you pay) scales exactly with how many containers you are running.

So alongside pruning your trees or sweeping your deck and taking care of your outside spaces this spring, remember to take a look around your cloud environment and look for opportunities to remove unused cloud resources to optimize not only for cost, but also performance.

5 Ways to Get Discounts on Cloud Resources

5 Ways to Get Discounts on Cloud Resources

Whether you’re just getting started on public cloud, or you’ve gotten a bill that blew your budget out of the water, it’s a good idea to research ways to get discounts on cloud resources. There’s no reason to pay list price when so many cost-savings measures are available (and your peers are probably taking advantage of them!) Here are our top five ways to get discounts on cloud.

1. Buy in Advance

By purchasing your compute power in advance, you can get a discounted rate — the notable examples being AWS Reserved Instances, Azure Reserved Instances, and Google Committed Use Discounts.

So will these save you money? Actually, that’s a great question. There are several factors that weigh into the answer:

  • How much you pay upfront (for example AWS offers all-upfront, partial-upfront, or no-upfront)
  • Contract term: 1-year or 3-year term – the longer term will save more, but there’s risk involved in committing for that long
  • If the cloud provider cuts their prices during your contract term (and they probably will), you’ll save less

This blog post about AWS Reserved Instances digs into these issues further. Bottom line: paying in advance can save you money, but proceed with caution.

2. Use Your Resources More

The primary example of “spending more to save more” in the cloud computing world is Google Sustained Use Discounts. This is a cool option for automatic savings – as long as you use an instance for at least 25% of the month, GCP will charge you less than list price.

But just like the advanced purchasing options above, there are several factors to account for before assuming this will really save you “up to 60%” of the cost. It may actually be better to just turn off your resources when you’re not using them – more in this post about Google Sustained Use Discounts.

3. If You’re Big: Enterprise Agreements and Volume Discounts

Anyone who’s shopped at Costco isn’t surprised that buying in bulk can get you a discount. Last week, Twitter announced that it will be using Google Cloud Platform for cold data storage and flexible compute Hadoop clusters — at an estimated list price of $10,000,000/month. Of course, it’s unthinkable that they would actually pay that much – as such a high-profile customer, Twitter is likely to have massive discounts on GCP’s list prices. We often hear from our Azure customers that they chose Azure due to pre-existing Microsoft Enterprise Agreements that give them substantial discounts.

If you have or foresee a large volume of infrastructure costs, make sure to look into:

4. If You’re Small: Startup Credits

Each of the major cloud providers offers free credit programs to startups to lure them and get locked in on their services – but that’s not a bad thing. We’ve talked to startups focused on anything from education to location services who have gotten their money’s worth out of these credits while they focus on growth.

If you work for a startup, check out:

5. Wait

So far, history tells us that if you wait a few months, your public cloud provider will drop their prices, giving you a built-in discount.

If you stick with the existing resource types, rather than flocking to the newer, shinier models, you should be all set. The same AWS m1.large instance that cost $0.40/hour in 2008 now goes for $0.175. We’ll just say that’s not exactly on pace with inflation.

It’s Okay if You Don’t Get Discounts on Cloud

What if you’re not a startup, you’re not an enterprise, and you just need some regular compute and database infrastructure now? Should you worry if you don’t get discounts on cloud list prices? No sweat. Even by paying list price, it’s still possible to optimize your spend. Make sure you’re combing through your bill every so often to find orphaned or unused resources that need to be deleted.

Additionally, right-size your resources and turn them off when you’re not using them to pay only for what you actually need – you’ll save money, even without a discount.

Do Google Sustained Use Discounts Really Save You Money?

Do Google Sustained Use Discounts Really Save You Money?

When looking to keep Google Cloud Platform (GCP) costs in control, the first place users turn are the discount options offered by the cloud service provider itself, such as Google’s Sustained Use discounts. The question is: do Google Sustained Use discounts actually save you money, when you could just turn the instance off?

How Google Sustained Use discounts work

The idea of the Sustained Use discount is that the longer you run a VM instance in any given month, the bigger discount you will get from the list price. The following shows the incremental discount, and its cumulative impact on a hypothetical $100/month VM instance, where the percentages are against the baseline 730-hour month.

I have to say here that the GCP prices listed can be somewhat misleading unless you read the fine print where it says “Note: Listed monthly pricing includes applicable, automatic sustained use discounts, assuming the instance runs for a 730 hour month.”  What this means to us is that the list prices of the instances are actually much higher, but their progressive discount means that no one ever actually pays list price. That said – the list price is what you need to know in order to estimate the actual cost you will pay if you do not plan to leave the instance up for 730 hours/month.

For example, the monthly price shown on the GCP pricing link for an n1-standard-8 instance in the Iowa region is (as of this writing) $194.1800. The list price for this instance would be $194.1800/0.7 = $277.40. This is the figure that must be used as the entry point for the table above to calculate the actual cost, given a certain level of utilization.

What if you parked the VM instance instead?

Here at ParkMyCloud, we’re all about scheduling resources to turn off when you’re not using them, i.e., “parking” them. With this mindset, I wondered about the impact of the sustained use discounts on the schedule-based savings. The following chart plots the cost of that n1-standard-8 VM instance, showing Google sustained use discounts combined with a parking schedule.

In this graph, the blue and orange lines show the percent savings from the sustained use discount and scheduling, respectively, based on the number of usage hours.  The grey line shows the blended savings, and the yellow line shows the blended net cost. I am sure the sustained usage discount is described someplace with the typical hype of “the more you spend, the more you save!”  But, the reality of the matter is the more you spend…the more you spend!

Looking at what this means for ParkMyCloud users, here is the monthly uptime for a few common parking schedules, and the associated cost:

Assigned scheduleUptime per 730-hour monthActual monthly cost for notional n1-standard-8  instanceSavings compared to sustained-use cost of $194.18
7am – 7pm weekdays
(60 hours/week)
260.7 hours$93.1352%
8am – 6pm weekdays
(50 hours/week)
217.3 hours$79.9259%
8am – 5pm weekdays
(45 hours/week)
195.5 hours$73.3162%
9am – 5pm weekdays
(40 hours/week)
173.8 hours$66.0566%

Short version: while the 30% sustained use discount does seem like a great deal, any scheduled off time saves you money.  Even with the most wide-open “work day” schedule of running 12 hours per weekday, the cost/month is $93.13, a 52% savings compared to the full sustained-use cost of $194.18.  This includes the 20% sustained use discount for the usage over 182.5 hours. A welcome discount to be sure, but not a really huge impact to the bottom line.

Another way our users keep these utilization hours low is by keeping their VM instances “always parked” and temporarily overriding the schedule for a set number of hours (such as for an 8-hour workday) when their non-production resources are needed. When the duration of the override expires, the instance is automatically shut down. This gives the best possible savings, and usually never even hits the first GCP discount tier.

Do Google Sustained Use discounts save you money?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.  If you are looking at the cost one hour at a time, and you can see the discounts kick in, then it will probably feel like you are saving money.  But if you are looking at the price for a whole month (the way it shows up on your bill), then there is no net savings off the publicly listed (and already discounted) price.

To get the optimal savings on your resources, keep them running only when you’re actually using them, and park them when you’re not. If you meet the usage threshold for any of the Sustained Use Discounts then they will further lower your cost per hour. These two savings options combined will optimize your costs and provide the maximum savings.

How to: ChatOps Cloud Cost Control

How to: ChatOps Cloud Cost Control

The latest time-saving automation to add to your DevOps tool belt: ChatOps cloud cost control. That’s right – you may already be using ChatOps to make your life easier, but did you know that amongst the advantages, you can also use it to control your cloud resources?

Whatever communication platform you’re already using for chatting with your team members, you can use for chatting with your applications and services. And with the increasing rise of ChatOps, that brings us to one of the questions we’ve been getting asked more frequently by our DevOps users: how can I manage schedules and instances from Slack, Microsoft Teams, Atlassian Stride, and other chat programs?  

One of the cool things you can do using ChatOps is control your cloud resources through ParkMyCloud. Learn how it’s done in this quick YouTube demo:

ParkMyCloud has the ability to send messages to chat rooms via notifications and receive commands from chat bots via the API. This video details the Slackbot specifically, but similar bots can be used with Microsoft Teams or Atlassian Stride. There are multiple settings you can configure within Slack to manage your account, including notifications to let you know when a schedule is shutting an instance down. You can also set up the ability to override a schedule and turn the system on from Slack. Watch the video for a brief overview of how to:

  • Set up a notification that uses the Slack type
  • Adjust settings to be notified of user actions, parking actions, policy actions, and more
  • Set up the ParkMyCloud Slackbot to respond to notifications

Once you set up Slack with ParkMyCloud, you’ll be able to do anything you normally would in the UI or API, including snooze and toggle instances to override their schedules, receive notifications and be able to control your account directly from your Slack chat room. The Slackbot is available on our GitHub. Give it a try, and enjoy full ChatOps control of your cloud costs!

Cloud Computing Green Initiatives on the Rise

Cloud Computing Green Initiatives on the Rise

Over the past couple of months, we have seen a lot of articles about the Big Three cloud providers and their efforts to be environmentally friendly and make cloud computing green. What are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) doing to make their IaaS services as green as possible? Does moving to the cloud help enterprises with their green initiatives and use of renewable energy?

It seems the cloud providers are focused on using renewable energy like solar and wind to power their massive data centers and are very actively touting that fact.

For example, Microsoft recently announced a new renewable energy initiative, the Sunseap project. This project, Microsoft’s first Asian clean energy deal, will install solar panels on hundreds of rooftops in Singapore, which they claim will generate 60MW to power Microsoft’s Singapore datacenter — making Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and numerous other cloud services. This deal is the third international clean energy announcement, following two wind deals announced in Ireland and The Netherlands in 2017. That’s pretty cool in my book, so kudos to them.

Google made a similar announcement recently, albeit a little more general, where they tout that Google is now buying enough renewable energy to match the power used in its data centers and offices. Google said that last year its total purchase of energy from sources including wind and solar exceeded the amount of electricity used by its operations around the world. According to a recent blog written by Google, they are the first public cloud, and company of their size, to have achieved that feat, so says Urs Hölzle, Google’s senior vice president of technical infrastructure. Now we can’t verify this but let’s take them at face value given the data in the chart below:

One observation we have in looking at this chart – where are IBM and Oracle? Once again, the Big Three always seem to be several steps ahead.

Speaking of, we’ve looked at Microsoft and Google, what about AWS? According to AWS’s self-reports, it seems that they are behind both Google and Microsoft in terms of relying 100% on renewable energy. AWS states a long-term commitment to achieve 100% renewable energy usage for their global infrastructure footprint, and had set a goal to be powered by 50% renewable energy by the end of 2017 (we could not find a recent 2018 update).

Moving to the cloud has many benefits – time to market, agility, innovation, lower upfront cost, and the commitment to renewable energy.! There’s one other way for cloud computing to be more sustainable – and that’s by all of us using fewer resources. In our small little way, ParkMyCloud helps – we help you turn cloud stuff off when it’s not being used, kind of like following your kids around the house and shutting off the lights, your at-home green initiative – you know you can automate that using Nest, right? Saving money in the process? That’s a win-win.