09-19-17 | Blog Post

Understanding and stopping cloud sprawl

Blog Posts

cloud sprawlAs the public cloud continues to explode in popularity, the problem of cloud sprawl, or cloud waste, also rises. Sprawl is nothing new, so why has it become a top concern for organizations? We’ll go through a brief history, explain why it matters today, and discuss the correlation between cloud sprawl and shadow IT. Then we’ll give examples of sprawl you might find in your environment, and tell you how you can eliminate it to make your systems more cost effective.

History of sprawl

Sprawl has been around for more than a few years. As new technology becomes popular and offers business growth, people use more of it to cope with growth, and do so inefficiently. Eventually, they realize the costs they incurred as a result are a problem. First, there was storage sprawl in the physical server world, and when virtualization came on the scene, virtualization sprawl followed. Now that the cloud has arrived, cloud sprawl is right in its wake.

Unlike these earlier versions, however, cloud sprawl poses a bigger threat. The lure of the public cloud’s pay-as-you-go model means that cloud has evolved into a micro transaction world (see this explanation for more), where tiny purchases (very) quickly add up to thousands of dollars.

Sprawling storage

Historically, the biggest example of sprawl was storage. It was hard to sprawl physical servers because someone could walk into the data center and see how many servers there were and what they were doing. In the VM world though, compute resources didn’t need to exist, and virtually unlimited CPU and RAM could be assigned to any virtual machine. If a workload was abandoned or forgotten, who cared? The resources assigned to it were free anyway. Instead, the problem became one of storage (those “free” resources had to be stored somewhere), and storage providers quickly solved it themselves by commoditizing storage and providing it (almost) for free.

However, the public cloud model does NOT give you anything for free. Those forgotten or abandoned workloads that didn’t matter on a VM now suddenly cost money in the public cloud. And if you have quite a few of those, you’ll find that you’re paying—most likely a lot—for resources you aren’t using. It’s this concern that has made cost control in the cloud the top concern for executives this year, according to RightScale.

The tie between cloud sprawl and shadow IT

How does Shadow IT relate to cloud sprawl? One directly leads to the other. When employees order and spin up cloud servers without IT’s knowledge (aka shadow IT), those servers need resources assigned to them. And when that builds up with multiple projects, you quickly get cloud sprawl.

Shadow IT and cloud sprawl both can cause potentially serious risks to the security and integrity of data, and result from a lack of communication between the central IT department and the business unit. It also raises additional concerns about the unnecessary uptick in financial spending. The pay-as-you-go model means you don’t see the charges until the end of the month, and then you’re in for a rather nasty surprise.

How to recognize sprawl

If you’re worried you might have cloud sprawl in your business, there are a few things you need to do to find out. First, you need to assess your environment to understand what resources are being used where. This may include implementing server tagging (now and in the future) to allocate resources by department and see who is using what. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll find newer workloads no one is using but are still running, “just in case.” According to RightScale’s 2017 state of the cloud report, organizations underestimate their cloud waste by more than 30 percent—no wonder controlling cloud costs has become such a concern!

Stopping sprawl

Once you recognize that you have sprawl, how do you eliminate it? The public cloud providers do offer some tools to help you control your budget, but they also want you to spend more money—the more you spend, the more they profit. However, both Microsoft and Amazon offer server tagging resources, and allow you to set budgeting thresholds to help you stay on target.

However, you can go beyond simple budgeting alerts and use Online Tech’s SprawlGuard™ protection to not only help you manage and set budgets, but seek out and eliminate waste.

How so? SprawlGuard™ solves the problem that the public cloud presents in two ways. First, it stops organizations from making those micro transactions the public cloud model uses. Then, it helps clean up your existing environment. SprawlGuard™ will look for abandoned, forgotten or non-persistent workloads and alert you to them so you can decide whether to shut them down or reallocate them elsewhere, thus saving you money.

Sprawl has always been a thorn in the side of enterprises, and cloud sprawl is no different. It’s become a serious concern because it’s no longer a problem of storage, (which is nearly free now) but a compute problem–and those resources aren’t free in the public cloud. While public cloud providers offer some basic tools to help organizations better manage their environments, they also stand to make more profit from inefficiency. Online Tech’s SprawlGuard™ protection is the only tool on the market today that proactively stops new sprawl from appearing in your environment and analyzes your existing systems for wasted workloads so you can erase the mistakes of the past.

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