The new Cloud Economist job title wrangles runaway cloud costs
Have you ever forgotten about a subscription? Maybe it was that Amazon Fresh upgrade you never used, charging you monthly payments. Or, your phone carrier slyly tacked on a feature and it went unnoticed for years. All these charges may seem insignificant, but they mount up over time.
The same is true for cloud IT tools. Many Ops engineers know all too well the surprising bills that accompany cloud infrastructure. While cloud prices may start low, they often rise unexpectedly with hidden server costs, data replication charges, escalating API fees and other fun add-on expenses.
Conversely, remaining at a low service tier could cause latency and a loss of revenue. Drowning in a sea of hybrid trends and feeling pressure to deploy at lightning speed, it can be difficult to keep track of which cloud models actually advance business objectives.
Some believe an entirely new role is needed to rectify the gap between cloud and business repercussions—a Cloud Financial Officer, or the Other CFO (OCFO). An OCFO could act as a Cloud Economist, a tech-savvy ambassador who both understands the financial implications of a cloud strategy and optimizes service tiers to their necessary levels.
I recently chatted with Leon Adato, Head Geek at SolarWinds, on how businesses could better drive cloud cost optimizations. Like a determined accountant sent in to save a struggling city (h/t to Ben Wyatt in Parks and Recreation), the OCFO may be the star companies need to slash the budget and balance the cloud checkbook.
Why Do We Need a Cloud Economist?
According to the “Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report,” 74% of companies report their annual cloud spending exceeds $1.2 million each year. At 20% of companies, it’s more than $12 million. As cloud spending skyrockets, balancing these expenses becomes business-critical.
Yet, forecasting cloud costs is tricky. Unexpected complexities often arise with the cloud, skewing initial cost projections. Maintaining cloud oversight becomes especially complex as COVID–19 accelerates more cloud adoption across the board. Budgets are shrinking, and some companies are undertaking extreme measures to remain lean.
Simultaneously, the ones that advocate for new technology don’t always consider cost implications. “Three clicks and you’re done means a DevOps engineer in the driver’s seat may not be aware of the cost considerations,” said Adato. In recent years, SaaS companies have stressed easy onboarding and developer experience as a top priority. The staying power of developers to adopt new tools is arguably at an all-time high. But while it’s important to improve developer workflows, developers don’t necessarily have business acumen. “Finance is a lexicon of itself,” noted Adato.
Thus, some view a Cloud Economist role as necessary for translation across divisions. “IT divisions shouldn’t be encountering sticker shock when they view their cloud infrastructure bills,” he said. “We need IT folks to be able to pay attention to cloud costs in a meaningful way.”
What Does a Cloud Economist Do?
A Cloud Economist is an expert that specializes in cloud-spending and cloud cost optimizations. Such a role could help teams realize the efficiency benefits of cloud-native architecture while keeping costs lean.
This job title truly requires “hands for code and a head for money,” described Adato. He laid out three simple goals of a Cloud Economist:
- Increase revenue.
- Decrease cost.
- Remove risk.
A Cloud Economist understands the technical underpinnings behind cloud tools and how they support each other within a cloud-native ecosystem. They also appreciate maintenance realities, asking tough questions such as: Will it take 200 code pushes per day to support this microservices integration pipeline? How will server costs change as bandwidth scales? Which plan is most optimized for our needs?
Specific Cloud Economist Duties
A Cloud Economist must manage runaway costs associated with cloud adoption. They see the bigger picture and understand the repercussions behind cloud technologies. In terms of specific duties, the role may wear many hats.
For example, a Cloud Economist may encourage a CSP migration, such as from AWS to GCP. Or, they may foresee the implications of future feature introduction, such as limitations across geographic zones, and advise IT teams accordingly.
An avid Cloud Economist should also interface with monitoring and testing teams. “API testing before launch can mean the difference between a $25 cloud database bill and a $30k bill,” wrote Rapid API’s Chris McCallister in a separate blog post.
Other Cloud Economist duties could include:
- Logging and forecasting rising cloud costs.
- Becoming Terms of Service (ToS) experts.
- Avoiding costly data replications.
- Upgrading servers.
- Discontinuing unused instances and features.
- Ensuring elasticity of applications.
- Database scalability.
- Increasing CPU power or data loads.
- Optimizing subscription plans.
- Considering implications behind feature updates.
- Limiting the intake of new cloud tooling.
- Acting as an ambassador between a company and CSPs.
Traditional IT, or information services, as it was originally called, “has been able to avoid the need to integrate with business,” said Adato. That will likely change drastically as cloud costs escalate and thousands of very small charges amount to “death from a thousand cuts.” It appears that any business size, from startup to enterprise, could benefit from more cloud expense forethought.
Inherently, DevOps is a cultural movement, not a technical movement, Adato noted. Assigning a Cloud Economist encourages specialization and de-siloing between disciplines, freeing up DevOps engineers to work on projects that matter to them. The role of a Cloud Economist “offloads responsibility that has always been there that may have been ignored,” he said.
Avoid Ice Town With a Cloud Accountant
Software architects are often sold on the idea that cloud infrastructure is a cheaper alternative to on-premises. “That statement is false,” Adato said. As an organization cloud evolves out of freemium tiers, where it began cost-wise is often far from where it ends up.
To navigate the opaque cloud, “we need someone that has fluency and familiarity with tech, understands the platform, understands how code is updated and maintained, and can right-size the cloud platform,” said Adato. Cloud-native certainly has its benefits, but if runaway cloud costs aren’t wrangled, they could equate to revenue loss.
As author Bob Lewis wrote: “There’s no such thing as an IT project.” We don’t do technology for the sake of doing technology. Rather, we do it in service to the business. A Cloud Economist could help ensure technology answers the business call, not vice versa.
As of now, the OCFO is mostly a theoretical title; it could materialize as an internal team member or contract hire. Regardless, such a role could advocate for the business and keep operational overhead as lean as possible.
In general, it may require a dash of hard realism to learn how to avoid plunging the books into a debt-ridden Ice Town.