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Shocked by your cloud provider bills? Here’s what to do about it

Not long ago, the cloud was touted as a way for nearly any business to save money on infrastructure. Businesses moved to the cloud en masse and then, en masse, received cloud bills that were much higher than they were expecting – often without realizing any of the other benefits the cloud was supposed to bring them.

If you're in that situation right now, here are ways to get your cloud costs under control without compromising security or performance.

1. Review Your Cloud Governance Policy

If you’re saying “What cloud governance policy?” right now, you’re not alone.

One of the most common reasons businesses see their cloud costs spiral out of control is that they moved to the cloud without a plan or strategy. It’s easy to buy and consume cloud, so if you don’t have a strategy governing your company’s cloud use, it’s really easy to buy and consume more than you meant to.

If you don’t have a policy for cloud use, put one together now. This will help you manage the number of cloud platforms selected as well as the costs by making sure that using the cloud is an active decision rather than something your organization does by default. Your policy should outline…

  • How your company uses the cloud, who uses it, what you use it for, etc.
  • How your company won’t use the cloud – define the negatives and the positives.
  • Your approval process for using new cloud instances.
  • Your cloud budget.

Adhering to this basic policy should prevent non-essential cloud usage that can blow a budget.

2. Check for Mistakes

Using automation and scripting for cloud infrastructure is common – and usually efficient. But it can also mean that one typo causes major damage. For example, instead of spinning up 10 instances, you’re spinning up 10,000. Yes, this happens more than you’d think.

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Data cables feed into a server inside a comms room at an office in London, U.K., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2015. A group of Russian hackers infiltrated the servers of Dow Jones & Co., owner of the Wall Street Journal and several other news publications, and stole information to trade on before it became public, according to four people familiar with the matter. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

We all make mistakes. To keep them from costing far more than you expected in cloud costs, put a few monitoring policies in place:

  • Be thoughtful in your code. Proofread. Have someone else check your work.
  • Set up automated usage alerts. If your cloud bill goes up 90 percent from one day to the next – and you ran code in that timeframe – it’s time to take a second look at your code.
  • Know the rules. It’s highly unlikely that a cloud provider will let you contest charges, even if they resulted from a mistake. That’s why it’s so important to monitor usage on an ongoing basis. But know, too, that if you do see a much larger cloud bill than you anticipated, you may be able to get on a payment plan to cover what you owe.

3. Check Your Security

Another common reason that cloud bills can get out of hand is that a company’s resources become compromised. In this instance, a hacker might decide to use you as a source of free (to them) bandwidth and host stuff on your infrastructure. Until you get your bill, you may have had no idea that everyone in the world was downloading the latest Avengers from your server.

The solution here is to approach the cloud with a security mindset. Be thoughtful in how you deploy resources and have a regular security plan in place: external scans, external audits and pen testing, patching, etc.

Everything that applies to your in-house resources applies even more in the cloud because cloud resource utilization is a bottomless pit – if your in-house servers are hacked, your site will go down. If your AWS account is hacked, more and more servers will be provisioned and you’ll never notice a degradation. And then your bill will be astronomical. Yes, this happens frequently. too.

4. Set Limits with Your Cloud Provider

Speaking of bottomless resource utilization, keep in mind that the cloud is designed to scale.

That means if you experience significantly more traffic and utilization than you expected, your cloud bill could be significantly higher. And I mean significantly: one client we worked with saw a bill that was 25 times what they expected, after launching a service that turned out to be more popular than they’d anticipated.

Because of the cloud’s ability to scale more or less infinitely, the problem for users is a bit like what you’d get in the summer during a heatwave: you blast the A/C for a week because you need the relief, but you’re in for a shock when the bill comes – and what can you do? You already used all that sweet, cool air.

With the cloud, you can head this particular problem off by setting limits ahead of time with your cloud provider. Again, this comes down to having a plan for your cloud usage: know that scaling can be infinite and have a plan for what happens if and when you come up against the limits of what you’re comfortable paying for. That helps you avoid any major surprises in bills.

Failing to Plan Is Planning to Fail

The cloud has many benefits to offer businesses, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Without a clear strategy in place, it’s unlikely that your business will enjoy the benefits it hoped for by moving to the cloud – and it’s possible that it won’t save you money either.

The solution, of course, is straightforward: have a strategy. Understand exactly what you hope to get from a cloud deployment and a straightforward path for getting it. If you're not sure how the cloud can improve your business, don’t use it until you are.

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