Managing Microsoft Azure VMs with ParkMyCloud

Managing Microsoft Azure VMs with ParkMyCloud

Microsoft has made it easy for companies to get started using Microsoft Azure VMs for development and beyond. However, as an organization’s usage grows past a few servers, it becomes necessary to manage both costs and users and can become complex quickly. ParkMyCloud simplifies cloud management of Microsoft Azure VMs by giving you options to create teams of users, groups of instances, and schedule resources easily.

Consider the case of a large Australian financial institution that uses Microsoft Azure as its sole cloud provider. In this case, they currently they have 125 VMs, costing them over $100k on their monthly cloud bill with Microsoft. Their compute spend is about 95% of their total Azure bill.

Using one Azure account for the entire organization, they chose to split it into multiple divisions, such as DEV, UAT, Prod, and DR. These divisions are then split further into multiple applications that run within each division. In order for them to use ParkMyCloud to best optimize their cloud costs, they created teams of users (one per division). They gave each team permissions in order to allow shutdown and startup of individual applications/VMs. A few select admin users have the ability to control all VMs, regardless of where the applications are placed.

The organization also required specific startup/shutdown ordering for their servers. How would ParkMyCloud handle this need? This looks like a perfect use case for logical groups in ParkMyCloud.

For detailed instructions on how to manage logical groups with ParkMyCloud, see our user guide.

Putting this into context, let’s say that you have a DB and a web server grouped together. You want the DB to start first and stop last, therefore you would need to set the DB to have a start delay of 0 and a stop delay of 5. For the web server, you would set a start delay of 5 and stop delay of 0.

Of course, you could also manage logical groups of Microsoft Azure VMs with tags, scripts, and Azure automation. However, we know firsthand that the alternative solution involves complexities and requires constant upkeep – and who wants that?

ParkMyCloud offers the advantage of not only to cutting your cloud costs, but also making cloud management simpler, easier, and more effective. To experience all great the benefits of our platform, start a free trial today!  

Cloud Optimization Tools = Cloud Cost Control (Part II)

Cloud Optimization Tools = Cloud Cost Control (Part II)

A couple of weeks ago in Part 1 of this blog topic we discussed the need for cloud optimization tools to help enterprises with the problem of cloud cost control. Amazon Web Services (AWS) even goes as far as suggesting the following simple steps to control their costs (which can also be applied  to Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, but of course with slightly different terminology):

    1. Right-size your services to meet capacity needs at the lowest cost;
    2. Save money when you reserve;
    3. Use the spot market;
    4. Monitor and track service usage;
    5. Use Cost Explorer to optimize savings; and
    6. Turn off idle instances (we added this one).

A variety of third-party tools and services have popped up in the market over the past few years to help with cloud cost optimization – why? Because upwards of $23B was spent on public cloud infrastructure in 2016, and spending continues to grow at a rate of 40% per year. Furthermore, depending on who you talk to, roughly 25% of public cloud spend is wasted or not optimized — that’s a huge market! If left unchecked, this waste problem is supposed to triple to over $20B by 2020 – enter the vultures (full disclosure, we are also a vulture, but the nice kind). Most of these tools are lumped under the Cloud Management category, which includes subcategories like Cost Visibility and Governance, Cost Optimization, and Cost Control vendors – we are a cost control vendor to be sure.

Why do you, an enterprise, care? Because there are very unique and subtle differences between the tools that fit into these categories, so your use case should dictate where you go for what – and that’s what I am trying to help you with. So, why am I a credible source to write about this (and not just because ParkMyCloud is the best thing since sliced bread)?

Well, yesterday we had a demo with a FinTech company in California that was interested in Cost Control, or thought they were. It turns out that what they were actually interested in was Cost Visibility and Reporting; the folks we talked to were in Engineering Finance, so their concerns were primarily with billing metrics, business unit chargeback for cloud usage, RI management, and dials and widgets to view all stuff AWS and GCP billing related. Instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole, we passed them on to a company in this space who’s better suited to solve their immediate needs. In response, the Finance folks are going to put us in touch with the FinTech Cloud Ops folks who care about automating their cloud cost control as part of their DevOps processes.

This type of situation happens more often than not. We have a lot of enterprise customers using ParkMyCloud along with CloudHealth, CloudChekr, Cloudability, and Cloudyn because in general, they provide Cost Visibility and Governance, and we provide actionable, automated Cost Control.

As this is our blog, and my view from the street – we have 200+ customers now using ParkMyCloud, and we demo to 5-10 enterprises per week. Based on a couple of generic customer uses cases where we have strong familiarity, here’s what you need to know to stay ahead of the game:

  • Cost Visibility and Governance: CloudHealth, CloudChekr, Cloudability and Cloudyn (now owned by Microsoft)
  • Reserved Instance (RI) management – all of the above
  • Spot Instance management – SpotInst
  • Monitor and Track Usage: CloudHealth, CloudChekr, Cloudability and Cloudyn
  • Turn off (park) Idle Resources – ParkMyCloud, Skeddly, Gorilla Stack, BotMetric
  • Automate Cost Control as part of your DevOps Process: ParkMyCloud
  • Govern User Access to Cloud Console for Start/Stop: ParkMyCloud
  • Integrate with Single Sign-On (SSO) for Federated User Access: ParkMyCloud

To summarize, cloud cost control is important, and there are many cloud optimization tools available to assist with visibility, governance, management, and control of your single or multi-cloud environments. However, there are very few tools which allow you to set up automated actions leveraging your existing enterprise tools like Ping, Okta, Atlassian, Jenkins, and Slack.  Make sure you are not only focusing on cost visibility and recommendations, but also on action-oriented platforms to really get the best bang for your buck.

Cloud Cost Management Tool Comparison

Cloud Cost Management Tool Comparison

Not only has it become apparent that public cloud is here to stay, it’s also growing faster as time goes on (by 2020, it is estimated that more than 40% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud). IT infrastructure has changed permanently, and enterprise organizations are coming to terms with some of the side effects of this shift.  One of those side effects is the need for tools and processes (and even teams in larger organizations) dedicated to cloud cost management and cost control.  Executives from all teams within an organization want to see costs, projections, usage, savings, and quantifiable efforts to save the company money while maximizing IT throughput as enterprises shift to resources to the cloud.  

There’s a variety of tools to solve some of these problems, so let’s take a look at a few of the major ones.  All of the tools mentioned below support Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

CloudHealth

CloudHealth provides detailed analytics and reporting on your overall cloud spend, with the ability to slice-and-dice that data in a variety of ways.  Recommendations about your instances are made based on a score driven by instance utilization and cloud provider best practices. This data is collected from agents that are installed on the instances, along with cloud-level information.  Analysis and business intelligence tools for cloud spend and infrastructure utilization are featured prominently in the dashboard, with governance provided through policies driven by teams for alerts and thresholds.  Some actions can be scripted, such as deleting elastic IPs/snapshots and managing EC2 instances, but reporting and dashboards are the main focus.

Overall, the platform seems to be a popular choice for large enterprises wanting cost and governance visibility across their cloud infrastructure.  Pricing is based on a percentage of your monthly cloud spend.

CloudCheckr

Cloudcheckr provides visibility into governance, security, compliance, and cost problems based on doing analytics and checks against logic built into their platform. It relies on non-native tools and integrations to take action on the recommendations, such as Spotinst, Ansible, or Chef.  CloudCheckr’s reports cover a wide range of topics, including inventory, utilization, security, costs, and overall best-practices. The UI is simple and is likely equally well regarded by technical and non-technical users.

The platform seems to be a popular choice with small and medium sized enterprises looking for greater overall visibility and recommendations to help optimize their use of cloud.  Given their SMB focus customers are often provided this service through MSPs. Pricing is based on your cloud spend, but a free tier is also available.

Cloudyn

Cloudyn (recently acquired by Microsoft) is focused on providing advice and recommendations along with chargeback and showback capabilities for enterprise organizations. Cloud resources and costs can be managed through their hierarchical team structure.  Visibility, alerting, and recommendations are made in real time to assist in right-sizing instances and identifying outlying resources.  Like CloudCheckr, it relies on external tools or people to act upon recommendations and lacks automation

Their platform options include supporting MSPs in the management of their end customer’s cloud environments as well as an interesting cloud benchmarking service called Cloudyndex.  Pricing for Cloudyn is also based on your monthly cloud spend.  Much of the focus seems to be on current Microsoft Azure customers and users.

ParkMyCloud

Unlike the other tools mentioned, ParkMyCloud focuses on actions and automated scheduling of resources to provide optimization and immediate ROI.  Reports and dashboards are available to show the cost savings provided by these schedules and recommendations on which instances to park.  The schedules can be manually attached to instances, or automatically assigned based on tags or naming schemes through its Policy Engine.  It pairs well with the other previously mentioned recommendation-based tools in this space to provide total cost control through both actions and reporting.

ParkMyCloud is widely used by DevOps and IT Ops in organizations from small startups to global multinationals, all who are keen to automate cost control by leveraging ParkMyCloud’s native API and pre-built integration with tools like Slack, Atlassian, and Jenkins.  Pricing is based on a cost per-instance, with a free tier available.

Conclusion

Cloud cost management isn’t just a “should think about” item, it’s a “must have in place” item, regardless of the size of a company’s cloud bill.  Specialized tools can help you view, manage, and project your cloud costs no matter which provider you choose.  The right toolkit can supercharge your IT infrastructure, so consider a combination of some of the tools above to really get the most out of your AWS, Azure, or Google environment.

Top 3 Ways to Save Money on Azure

Top 3 Ways to Save Money on Azure

Perhaps your CFO or CTO came to you and gave a directive to save money on Azure. Perhaps you received the bill on your own, and realize that this needs to be reduced. Or maybe you’re just migrating to the cloud and want to make sure you’re set up for cost control in advance (if so, props to you for being proactive!)

Whatever the reason you want to reduce your bill, there are a lot of little tips and tricks out there. But to get started, here are the top 3 ways to save money on Azure.

1. Set a spending limit on your Azure account

Our first recommendation to save money on Azure is to set a spending limit on your Azure account. We especially recommend this if you are using your Azure account for non-production. This is because once your limit is reached, your VMs will be stopped and deallocated. You will get an email alert and an alert in the Azure portal, and you do have the ability to turn these back on, but this is of course not ideal for any production systems.

Additionally, keep in mind that there are still services you will be charged for, even if your spending limit has been reached, including Visual studio licenses, Azure Active Directory premium, and support plans.

Here are full instructions on how to use the Azure spending limit on the Azure website.

2. Right size your VMs

One easy way to spend too much on your Azure compute resources is to use VMs that are not properly sized for the workload you are running on them. Use Azure’s Advisor to ensure that you’re not overpaying for processor cores, memory, disk storage, disk I/O, or network bandwidth. More on right-sizing from TechTarget.

While you’re at it, check to see if there’s a less-expensive region you could choose for the VM for additional cost savings.

3. Turn non-production VMs off when they’re not being used

Our third recommendation to save money on Azure is to turn non-production VMs off when they’re not being used – otherwise, you’re paying for time you don’t need. It’s a quick fix, and one that can save 65% of the cost of the VM – if, for example, it was running 24×7 but is only needed 12 hours per day, Monday through Friday.

One basic approach is to ask developers and testers to turn their VMs off when they are done using them — if you do this, ensure that your users are using the Azure portal to put these VMs in the “stopped deallocated” state. If you stop from within a VM, it will be put in a “stopped” state and you will continue to be charged.

However, relying on human memory is not best, so you’ll want to schedule your non-production VMs to shut down on a schedule. You could attempt to script this, but this is counter productive and wastes valuable development resources to write and maintain.

Instead, it’s best to use software like ParkMyCloud’s to automate on/off schedules – including automating schedule and team assignment for access control – and keep your Azure non-production costs in check.

 

 

These three methods should get you started on your goal to reduce costs. Have any other preferred methods to save money on Azure? Leave a comment below to let us know.

Cutting through the AWS and Azure Cloud Pricing Confusion (Caveat Emptor)

Cutting through the AWS and Azure Cloud Pricing Confusion (Caveat Emptor)

Before I try to break down the AWS and Azure cloud pricing jargon, let me give you some context. I am a crusty, old CTO who has been working in advanced technology since the 1980’s. (That’s more than 18 Moore’s Law cycles for processor and chipset fans, and I have lost count of how many technology hype cycles that has been.)

I have grown accustomed to the “deal of a lifetime” on the “technology of the decade” coming around about once every week. So, you can believe me, when I tell you have a very low BS threshold for dishonest sales folks and bogus technology claims. Yes, I am jaded.

My latest venture is a platform, ParkMyCloud, that brings together  multiple public cloud providers. And I can tell you first hand that it is not for the faint-of-heart. It’s like being dropped off in the middle of the jungle in Papua, New Guinea. Each cloud provider has its own culture, its own philosophy, its own language and customers, its own maturity level and, worst of all — its own pricing strategy — which makes it tough for buyers to manage costs. I am convinced that the lowest circles of hell are reserved for people who develop cloud service pricing models. AWS and Azure cloud pricing gurus, beware. And reader, to you: caveat emptor.

AWS and Azure Terminology Differences

Case in point: You have probably read the comparisons of various services across the top cloud providers, as people try to wrap their minds around all the varying jargon used to describe pretty much the same thing. For example, let’s just look at one service: Cloud Computing.

In AWS, servers are called Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) “Instances”. In Azure they are called “Virtual Machines” or “VMs”. Flocks of these spun up from a snapshot according scaling rules are called “auto scaling groups” in AWS. The same things are called “scale sets” in Azure.

Of course cloud providers had to start somewhere, then they learned from their mistakes and improved. When AWS started with EC2, they had not yet released virtual private clouds (VPCs), so their instances ran outside of VPCs. Now all the latest stuff runs inside of VPCs. The older ones are called, “classic” and have a number of limitations.
The same thing is true of Azure. When they first released, their VMs were not set up to use what is now their Resource Manager or be managed in Resource Groups (the moral equivalent of CloudFormation Stacks in AWS). Now, all of their latest VMs are compatible with Resource Manager. The older ones are called, you guessed it … “classic”.

(What genius came up with the idea to call the older versions of these, the ones you’re probably stranded with and no longer want, “classic”?)

Both AWS and Azure have a dizzying array of instances/VMs to choose from, and doing an apples-to-apples comparison between them can be quite daunting. They have different categories: General purpose, compute optimized, storage optimized, disk optimized, etc.

Then within each one of those, there are types or sizes. For example, in AWS the tiny, cheap ones are currently the “t2” family. In Azure, they are the “A” series. On top of that there are different generations of processors. In AWS, they use an integer after the family type, like t2, m3, m4 and there are sizes, t2.small, m3.medium, m4.large, r16.ginormus (OK, I made that one up).  

In Azure, they use a number after the family letter to connote size, like A0, A1, A2, D1, etc. and “v1”, “v2” after that to tell what generation it is, like D1v1, D2v2.

The bottom line: this is very confusing for folks moving their workloads to public cloud from on-premise data centers (yet another Wonderland of jargon and confusion in its own right). How does one decide which cloud provider to use? How does one even begin to compare prices with all of this mess? Cheer up … it gets worse!

AWS and Azure Cloud Pricing – Examining Differences in Charging

To add to that confusion, they charge you differently for the compute time you use. What do I mean?  AWS prices their compute time by the hour. And by hour, they mean any fraction of an hour: If you start an instance and run it for 61 minutes then shut it down, you get charged for 2 hours of compute time.

Microsoft Azure cloud pricing is listed by the hour for each VM, but they charge you by the minute. So, if you run for 61 minutes, you get charged for 61 minutes. On the surface, this sounds very appealing (and makes me want to wag my finger at AWS and say, “shame on you, AWS”).

However, you really have to pay attention to the use case and the comparable instance prices. Let me give you a concrete example. I mentioned my latest venture, ParkMyCloud, earlier. We park (schedule on/off times) for cloud computing resources in non-production environments (without scripting by the way). So, here is a graph of 6 months worth of data from an m4.large instance somewhere in Asia Pac. The m4 processor family is based on the Xeon Broadwell or Haswell processor and it is one of the most commonly used instance types.

This instance is on a ParkMyCloud parking schedule, where it is RUNNING from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and PARKED evenings and weekends. This instance, assuming Linux pricing, costs $0.125 per hour in AWS. From November 6, 2016 until May 9, 2017, this instance ran for 111,690 minutes. This is actually about 1,862 hours, but AWS charged for 1,922 hours and it cost $240.25 in compute time.

example of instance uptime in minutes per dayWhy the difference? ParkMyCloud has a very fast and accurate orchestration engine, but when you start and stop instances, the cloud provider and network response can vary from hour-to-hour and day-to-day, depending on their load, so occasionally things will run that extra minute. And, even though this instance is on a parking schedule, when you look at the graph, you can see that the user took manual control a few times. Stuff happens!

What would the cost have been if AWS charged the same way as Azure?  It would have only cost $232.69. Well, that’s not too bad over the course of six months, unless you have 1,000 of these. Then it becomes material.

However, I wouldn’t rush to judgment on AWS. If you look at the comparable Azure VM, the standard pricing DS2 V2, also running Linux, costs $0.152/hour. So, this same instance running in Azure would have cost $290.39. Yikes!

Therefore, in my particular use case, unless the Azure cloud pricing drops to make their CPU pricing more competitive, their per minute pricing really doesn’t save money.

Conclusion

The ironic thing about all of this, is that once you get past all the confusing jargon and the ridiculous approaches to pricing and charging for usage, the actual cloud services themselves are much easier to use than legacy on-premise services. The public cloud services do provide much better flexibility and faster time-to-value. The cloud providers simply need to get out of their own way. Pricing is but one example where AWS and Azure need to make things a lot simpler, so that newcomers can make informed decisions.

From a pricing standpoint, AWS on-demand pricing is still more competitive than Azure cloud pricing for comparable compute engine’s, despite Azure’s more enlightened approach to charging for CPU/Hr time. That said, AWS really needs to get in-line with both Azure and Google, who charge by the minute. Nobody likes being charged extra for something they don’t use.

In the meantime, ParkMyCloud will continue to help you turn off non-production cloud resources, when you don’t need them and help save you a lot of money on your monthly cloud bills. If we make anything sound more complex than it needs to, call us out. No hiding behind jargon here.

Azure vs. AWS 2018: Is Azure really surpassing AWS?

Azure vs. AWS 2018: Is Azure really surpassing AWS?

Azure vs. AWS 2017: what’s the deal? There’s been a lot of speculation lately that Microsoft Azure may be outpacing Amazon Web Services (AWS). We think that’s interesting and therefore worth taking a look at these claims. After all, AWS has been dominating the public cloud market for so long, maybe the media is just bored of that story, and ready for an underdog to jump ahead. So let’s take a look.

Is Azure catching up to AWS?

You may have seen some of the recent reports on both Microsoft and Amazon’s recent quarterly earnings. There have certainly been some provocative headlines:

With Amazon and Microsoft reporting their quarterly earnings at the same time, this is a good time to analyze the numbers and see where they stand in relation to one another. Upon closer inspection, here’s what the recent quarterly earnings reports showed:

  • AWS revenue grew 43% in the quarter, with quarterly earnings of $3.66 billion, annualized to $14.6 billion. Sales and earnings exceeded expectations given by analyst estimates. In the immediate wake of Amazon’s report, the stock went up.
  • Microsoft reported that its Intelligent Cloud division grew 11% to $6.8 billion, and that the Commercial Cloud division has a annualized run rate of $15.2 billion. These reported earnings only met analyst expectations, and therefore the stock fell by nearly 2 percent within hours.
  • We think it’s important to note when it comes to Microsoft’s reported earnings the Commercial Cloud business includes Office 365, not just Azure. We have never fully understood why the Office 365 business has been bundled in with Commercial Cloud, given that it’s a very different business than the IAAS services of Amazon and Google to which it is often compared.
  • Microsoft stated that Azure’s growth rate was 93%, without providing an actual revenue number. Once again, we find this lack of lack of earnings clarity somewhat problematic.

So is Azure bigger than AWS?

Well, currently no. There is little evidence of Azure surpassing AWS, aside from a small research study which pales in comparison to a clear majority of data stating otherwise.

But is Azure growing quickly?

Yes. In this regard, it’s important to consider what factors are at play in Azure’s growth, and whether they hold any weight as far as surpassing Azure outpacing AWS in the future.

Where is Azure actually gaining ground?

Now let’s take a look at what is driving Azure’s growth, and where Azure is gaining ground.

First of all, as companies grow beyond dipping their toes in the water of public cloud, they become more interested in secondary options for diversity and different business cases. Just from our own conversations, we’re finding that more and more AWS users are using Azure as a secondary option. While users might be interested to see what Azure can offer them in comparison, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that it will ultimately surpass AWS.

Take, for example, the results of a research survey released by data analytics provider Sumo Logic and conducted by UBM Research. According to the survey of 230 IT professionals from 500+ employees, Azure actually beat AWS as the preferred primary cloud provider, taking the lead by a 10 percent margin, with 66 percent of participants preferring Azure as opposed to the 55 percent who relied in AWS.

This research is significant because it’s the first time that survey data on customer preferences has reported Azure taking a lead over AWS. However, the data also revealed that a significant number of enterprises are using more than one cloud provider. While Azure and AWS both take the lead, there is certainly an overlap in participants who use both, in addition to other up-and-coming providers.

Second, enterprises have been committed to a variety of Microsoft products for years. According to UBM Research survey data, over 50 percent of participants who preferred Azure as their primary cloud provider were coming from large enterprises with 10,000+ employees. This makes sense considering that Microsoft has a foothold in terms of relationships and enterprise agreements with these larger organizations and are able to cross-sell Azure.

Third, Azure has a strong base in Europe, where more users report using Azure rather than AWS as their primary provider. In a 451 Research Survey with 700 participants considered to be “IT decision makers,” AWS topped the list among all participants as the preferred provider among 39 percent of participants. While Azure saw an increase in users, it still landed in second place overall at 35 percent. However, among the European participants only, Azure took the top spot, with 43.7 percent naming Azure as their provider, and 32 percent sticking with AWS.

Why does the Azure vs. AWS debate matter?

Why does the Azure vs. AWS 2017 debate matter to, when choosing a new or secondary cloud provider? Well… in terms of market performance, it probably doesn’t. As always, the specific needs of your business are going to be what’s important.

One thing is for certain: the public cloud is growing and it’s here to stay. Let’s not forget that both Google and IBM both have growing public cloud offerings too (and Google is looking to expand their enterprise market this year.) All of this competition drives innovation, and therefore IaaS and PaaS offerings – and perhaps, better pricing.

For the customer, the basic questions remain the same when evaluating public cloud providers:

  • How understandable are the public cloud offerings to new customers?
  • How much do the products cost?
  • Are there adequate customer support and growth options?
  • Are there useful surrounding management tools?
  • Will our DevOps processes translate to these offerings?
  • Can the PaaS offerings speed time-to-value and simplify things sufficiently, to drive stickiness?
  • What security measures does the cloud provider have in place?

Based upon the evidence we think it’s pretty clear that AWS is still the leader among public cloud providers.

We’ll continue to track the AWS vs. Azure comparison, and as the companies’ offerings and pricing options grow and change – we’ll be interested to see how this evaluation changes in 2018.