12 September 2014

Two nights ago there was a #DevOps meetup where I had a talk about AWS cost management. If you missed the event (slides) please come to the next Helsinki AWS User’s Group meeting on October 9th where I’m going to do better-and-improved version of the DevOps talk. (I wasn’t entirely happy with my own presentation, and I’ll try to improve it for the next one. Especially I’ll try to avoid knitting blankets for destitute devops people.)

Anyway, I wanted to muse on a few observations I made at the meet. First of all, there were quite a lot of people, over 70 or so. There’s clearly a lot of interest into devops in the Helsinki area. So during my part, to get a feeling of relevancy and for future focus I asked the audience a few questions:

  1. How many use AWS?
  2. How many knew their (personal, project’s, company’s — whatever is relevant) previous bill’s bottom line?
  3. How many knew their current bill within some reasonable accuracy?
  4. How many could forecast current month’s final AWS usage costs?

For these I got about 1) 50%, 2) 20%, 3) 10% and 4) 25% of audience. I assume that last on was higher than third one because quite many assumed (knew?) that their AWS bill for the current month would be zero dollars. I’ll rephrase that last one next time differently to get an idea of how many of those who actually use AWS out of the free tier are doing cost forecasting.

I find it surprising that so many devops people actively using AWS apparently were ignorant of their current status as well as AWS account and billing basics (only a few had seen the monthly PDF invoice, or knew about consolidated billing). Given that devops philosophy tries to automate a lot of things, to give a lot of freedom and responsibility to devops people and that any kind of rapid-turnaround automated deployment to AWS does have potential for large cost SNAFUs it really is a little disconcerting to see so few people being even reactive (minimum risk management) about their operating costs.

Note: Those who I knew to be from companies with over $10k/month AWS accounts were quite knowledgeable of these facts. I’m not sure whether this is cause or effect, though — are they using AWS because they felt comfortable with it financially, or did that knowledge come out of necessity when increasing AWS invoicing attracted attention of their financial controller? Gotta ask that.

I know that these please-raise-your-hands polls are not statistically or scientifically robust, so this might just have been a bad sample. Even if the goal would to have proactive cost management, it is likely that at least in the beginning only a few people in the team (those whose neck is the most visible to management) are concerned about costs. Maybe those people were underrepresented that night.

Perhaps while the benefit of flexibility, elasticity and scale of cloud services has percolated up organizational chains, the financial impact of those hasn’t. So to get the message straight, for anyone from management coming here I want to make out two clear statements for everybody’s future benefit:

  • There are possibilities for financial surprises when using infrastructure cloud services (like AWS). Keep your eyes open.

  • There exist mechanisms that can be effectively used to monitor, forecast and mitigate these risks, allowing organizations to use the cloud while managing its inherent financial and operational risks. Don’t be frightened.

About a year ago I wrote about how the cloud changes distribution of risks compared with the “old way” of acquiring IT services. This is exactly the same thing. Risks previously implicitly “outsourced” are now explicit, and by recognizing them as such they do become manageable.

Oh, last but not least. I did not catch a single person admitting they are using AWS spot instances. Frankly I wasn’t excepting many — but really, zero?

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