Like other cloud providers, the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) charges for compute virtual machine instances by the amount of time they are running — which may lead you to search for a Google Cloud instance scheduling solution. If your GCP instances are only busy during or after normal business hours, or only at certain times of the week or month, you can save money by shutting these instances down when they are not being used. So can you set up this scheduling through the Google Cloud console? And if not – what’s the best way to do it?

Why bother scheduling a Google VM to turn off?

As mentioned, depending on your purchasing option, Google Cloud pricing is based on the amount of time an instance is running, charged at a per-second rate. We find that at least 40%, of an organization’s cloud resources (and often much more) are for non-production purposes such as development, testing, staging, and QA. These resources are only needed when employees are actively using them for those purposes — so every second that they are left running when not being used is wasted spend. Since non-production VM instances often have predictable workloads, such as a 7 AM to 7 PM work week, 5 days a week, which means the other 64% of spend is completely wasted. Inconceivable!

The good news is, that means these resources can be scheduled to turn off during nights and weekends to save money. So, let’s take a look at a couple of cloud scheduling options.

Scheduling Option 1: GCP set-scheduling Command

If you were to do a Google search on “google cloud instance scheduling,” hoping to find out how to shut your compute instances down when they are not in use, you would see numerous promising links. The first couple of references appear to discuss how to set instance availability policies and mention a gcloud command line interface for “compute instances set-scheduling”. However, a little digging shows that these interfaces and commands simply describe how to fine-tune what happens when the underlying hardware for your Google virtual machine goes down for maintenance. The options in this case are to migrate the VM to another host (which appears to be a live migration), or to terminate the VM, and if the instance should be restarted if it is terminated. The documentation for the command goes so far as to say that the command is intended to let you set “scheduling options.”  While it is great to have control over these behaviors, I feel I have to paraphrase Inigo Montoya – You keep using that word “scheduling” – I do not think it means what you think it means…

Scheduling Option 2: GCP Compute Task Scheduling

The next thing that looks schedule-like is the GCP Cron Service. This is a highly reliable networked version of the Unix cron service, letting you leverage the GCP App Engine services to do all sorts of interesting things. One article describes how to use the Cron Service and Google App Engine to schedule tasks to execute on your Compute Instances. With some App Engine code, you could use this system to start and stop instances as part of regularly recurring task sequences. This could be an excellent technique for controlling instances for scheduled builds, or calculations that happen at the same time of a day/week/month/etc.

While very useful for certain tasks, this technique really lacks flexibility. Google Cloud Cron Service schedules are configured by creating a cron.yaml file inside the app engine application. The GCP Cron Service triggers events in the application, and getting the application to do things like start/stop instances are left as an exercise for the developer. If you need to modify the schedule, you need to go back in and modify the cron.yaml. Also, it can be non-intuitive to build a schedule around your working hours, in that you would need one event for when you want to start an instance, and another when you want to stop it. If you want to set multiple instances to be on different schedules, they would each need to have their own events. This brings us to the final issue, which is that any given application is limited to 20 events for free, up to a maximum of 250 events for a paid application. Those sound like some eel-infested waters.

Scheduling Option 3: ParkMyCloud Google Cloud Instance Scheduling

Google Cloud Platform and ParkMyCloud – mawwage – that dweam within a dweam….

Given the lack of other viable instance scheduling options, we at ParkMyCloud created a SaaS app to automate instance scheduling, helping organizations cut cloud costs by 65% or more on their monthly cloud bill with AWS, Azure, and, of course, Google Cloud.

We aim to provide a number of benefits that you won’t find with, say, the GCP Cron Service. ParkMyCloud’s cloud management software:

  • Automates the process of switching non-production instances on and off with a simple, easy-to-use platform – more reliable than the manual process of switching GCP Compute instances off via the GCP console.
  • Provides a single-pane-of-glass view, allowing you to consolidate multiple clouds, multiple accounts within each cloud, and multiple regions within each account, all in one easy-to-use interface.
  • Does not require a developer background, coding, or custom scripting. It is also more flexible and cost-effective than having developers write scheduling scripts.
  • Can be used with a mobile phone or tablet.
  • Avoids the hard-coded schedules of the Cron Service. Users can temporarily override schedules if they need to use an instance on short notice.
  • Supports Teams and User Roles (with optional SSO), ensuring users will only have access to the resources you grant.
  • Helps you identify idle instances by monitoring instance performance metrics, displaying utilization heatmaps, and automatically generating utilization-based “SmartParking” schedule recommendations, which you can accept or modify as you wish...
  • Provides “rightsizing” recommendations to identify resources that are routinely underutilized and can be converted to a different Google Cloud server size to save 50-75% of the cost of the resource.
  • Has a 14-day free trial, so you can try the platform out in your own environment. There’s also a free-forever tier, useful for startups and those on the Google Cloud free tier, as well as paid tiers with more advanced options for enterprises with a larger Google Cloud footprint.

How Much Can You Save with Scheduling?

While it depends on your exact schedule, many non-production Google Cloud VMs – those used for development, testing, staging, and QA – can be turned off for 12 hours/day on weekdays, and 24 hours/day on weekends. For example, the resource might be running from 7 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday, and “parked” the rest of the week. This comes out to about 64% savings per resource.

Currently, the average savings per scheduled VM in the ParkMyCloud platform is about $200/month.

How Enterprises Are Benefitting from ParkMyCloud’s Scheduling Software

If you’re not quite ready to start your own trial, take a look at this use case from Workfront, a work management software provider. Workfront uses both AWS and Google Cloud Compute Engine, and needed to coordinate cloud management software across both public clouds. They required automation in order to optimize and control cloud resource costs, especially given users’ tendency to leave resources running when they weren’t being used.

Workfront found that ParkMyCloud would meet their automatic scheduling needs. Now, 200 users throughout the company use ParkMyCloud to:

  • Get recommendations of resources that are not being used 24×7, and use policies to automatically apply on/off schedules to them
  • Get notifications and control the state of their resources through Slack
  • Easily report savings to management
  • Save over $200,000 per year

Ways to Save on Google Cloud VMs, Beyond Scheduling

Google has done a great job of creating offerings for customers to save money through regular cloud usage. The two you’ll see mentioned the most are sustained use discounts and committed use discounts. Sustained use discounts give Google Cloud users automatic discounts the longer an instance is run. This post outlines the break-even points between letting an instance run for the discount vs. parking it. Committed use discounts, on the other hand, require an upfront commitment for 1 or 3 years’ usage. We have found that they’re best applicable for predictable workloads such as production environments. There are also the pre-emptible VMs, which are offered at a discount from on demand VMs in exchange for being short-lived – up to 24 hours.

How to Create a Google Cloud Schedule with ParkMyCloud 

Getting started with ParkMyCloud is easy. Simply register for a free trial with your email address and connect to your Google Cloud Platform to allow ParkMyCloud to discover and manage your resources. A 14-day free trial free gives your organization the opportunity to evaluate the benefits of ParkMyCloud while you only pay for the cloud computing power you use. At the end of the trial, there is no obligation on you to continue with our service, and all the money your organization has saved is, of course, yours to keep.

Have fun storming the castle!

About Bill Supernor

Bill Supernor is the CTO at ParkMyCloud. Bill is a software and network engineering professional with over 20 years of engineering and management experience in enterprise-grade software products, security, and networking. Prior to joining ParkMyCloud in 2017, Bill served as the CTO at KoolSpan, where he led the development of a globally deployed secure voice communication system for smartphones. Prior to KoolSpan, Bill served in security software engineering management positions at TrustDigital, Cognio, Symantec, and McAfee/Network Associates. He also was an officer in the United States Navy. Bill has the AWS Certified Advanced Networking - Specialty, is an AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and holds the CISSP and CSSLP security certifications from ISC2.

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