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Tear down silos and gain full visibility into your cloud costs with these FinOps best practices.
FinOps is one of the latest buzzwords in cloud computing. It’s a merger of two important departments — finance and operations — and describes “cloud financial operations,” (also called cloud financial management or cloud cost management). According to the FinOps Foundation:
FinOps is “the practice of bringing financial accountability to the variable spend model of cloud, enabling distributed teams to make business trade-offs between speed, cost, and quality.”
Unlike traditional on-premise systems where the cost of developing software products can be tracked to physical infrastructure, the costs of operating in the cloud are a lot more variable and difficult to grasp.
Most cloud service providers offer a pay-as-you-go model and services scale almost infinitely as workloads increase. In addition, multi-tenant systems and containerized infrastructure such as Kubernetes add complexities that obscure cloud costs and make allocation a challenge.
The end result is twofold:
Finance teams cannot understand how money is spent in the cloud.
Engineers and product teams have no idea how their activities impact cloud costs.
This is why FinOps matters — and why it exists. Done right, it can help your business tackle these barriers and begin to understand your cloud costs better. Here are some FinOps best practices to get you started — and help you make the most of every dollar you spend in the cloud.
This is by far the most important step when adopting a FinOps approach.
Some companies refer to this team as a Cloud Center of Excellence, while others call it the FinOps Team. For many, the team may not have a special title, and could include a cross-functional team, dedicated part-time.
This group should is a governing body that provides best practices and develops KPIs and metrics that help teams understand the unit economics of the business.
This team usually has a dotted line to executive leadership; it should include representatives from finance, product, and technology or engineering, depending on their involvement with cloud activities.
For example, you may have a finance manager who owns the budget, a cloud owner on the engineering tech side, and a product owner who manages all the products. This team will define the practices that serve as guardrails for the entire organization.
A major challenge when operating in the cloud is that teams whose activities contribute to cloud cost have no insight into cloud cost drivers. So, an integral FinOps practice is ensuring cloud cost visibility for everyone involved in the cloud. Affected teams don’t only need visibility, but they should clearly understand how their activities impact cloud costs.
Keep in mind that different groups will have different nuances or understanding of cloud costs, so it’s important to provide cost information in a language they understand.
For example, finance may be interested in how cloud costs compare to the forecast. Engineers and developers, however, want to see how much it costs to put together an architecture or product feature and how changes to that architecture impact cloud costs.
For them, finding answers to questions like “If we scaled or increased compute or memory, how will those impact cloud costs?” are critical. For the product team, their interest is in how new customer contracts or an increase in the scope of a particular product impacts cloud costs.
Once visibility is established, the next step is to ensure communication among the groups. This brings us to the next point.
The first step to improving visibility usually starts with cost allocation, which can be challenging, especially if you have untagged infrastructure or inconsistent tags. If you’re dealing with untagged, untaggable, inconsistent, containerized, shared costs — or anything else preventing you from achieving accurate visibility — CloudZero takes a code-driven approach to organizing cloud spend that can help you achieve immediate visibility.
Establish a single go-to place for looking at your cloud costs. When teams start with AWS, the default tool is usually AWS Cost Explorer. While this is a good place to start, it does have limitations. AWS Cost Explorer is two-dimensional and lacks multi-filtering capabilities. It’s also not the easiest tool to use and requires some effort to understand the data it generates.
Larger businesses may have three to four different tools for managing cloud costs, with each team using a different tool. This creates a problem because each team looks at cost through a different window, and there’s no uniformity or agreement in the numbers. This is where a solution like CloudZero comes in.
CloudZero provides a centralized cost intelligence platform that gives each team the type of information it needs to make decisions. With CloudZero, engineering, finance, and product teams can all view costs from their own perspectives. This breaks down the silos around cloud costs and creates transparency and an enabling environment for more productive conversations.
Once you have all three items above in place, take advantage of the low-hanging fruits for cost optimization, such as reserved instances (RIs) and savings plans. Depending on the type of services you use, you could also consider private pricing deals.
Next, look for ways to reduce waste. For example, remove any legacy resources that are not being used. A $100 per month storage bucket that hasn't been used in 4 years costs $1,200 per year — that’s almost $5,000 for the four-year period. While this might look like an insignificant figure for a multi-million dollar business, multiple instances of such applications add up to a significant expense.
The last option for cost savings is to consider rearchitecting your application. Most companies do a lift and shift when moving to the cloud. But once you’ve established a central governing body that provides best practices and you have cost visibility, an important step is to re-architect your application so you can adopt native AWS services and unlock even more savings.
The cloud is supposed to fuel innovation, so cutting costs for the sake of always saving money likely isn’t a good use of time for your engineering team. Likewise, Increasing cloud spend isn’t a bad thing when your business is growing and adding new features. Instead, it’s important to understand whether you’re using the cloud efficiently in the context of your business.
Unit cost puts cost into context of your growing and changing business. For example, instead of focusing on the fact that your overall costs went up 10%, you can measure your average cost per customer, user session, transaction, etc. It’s usually a good idea to start with a single metric that represents your business. From there, you can get more granular and advanced, and start to track unit costs for different products, market segments, and more.
If you’re looking for a single metric to measure your business against, try the cloud efficiency metric.
Adopting these FinOps best practices can transform your cloud environment, helping you cut the costs of cloud operations and increase profitability. As a cost intelligence platform designed specifically to help with cloud cost management, CloudZero is an important platform to have as you embark on your FinOps journey.
CloudZero is the only solution that enables you to allocate 100% of your spend in hours — so you can align everyone around cost dimensions that matter to your business.