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Best ways to cost-effectively manage AWS resources

Public cloud costs among AWS, Azure and Google are essentially a wash, so companies should manage AWS resources to get the most bang for their buck.

With public cloud price wars essentially over, the focus has now shifted to managing AWS resources. The problem here is that it's easier to spin up cloud resources than it is to keep track of them.

"Part of the challenge is that end users treat the cloud as if it's a data center, where it's perfectly fine to have hardware not running," said Eric Valenzuela, director of business development at Full360, a data warehouse provider.

"There has to be a shift in the way people think. A CTO will buy $100,000 worth of equipment, digest and forget it and pay no attention to ongoing costs," he added.

So what's the best way to get what you pay for in AWS? Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to economically run AWS resources.

Plan, plan, plan 

Many AWS developers figure they'll architect later, noted Goran Kimovski, principal cloud architect at TriNimbus, a cloud management company. "The problem is, later never comes. And with so many services in AWS, it's easy to become overwhelmed and piecemeal your efforts. That's a recipe for disaster," he continued.

It's also helpful to keep track of everything, including Reserved Instances, which need their own strategies or they can get out of hand, warned Ilja Summala, CTO of cloud automation provider Nordcloud. Most Reserved Instances money is spent on large databases (Relational Database Service or large virtual machines), so companies need to closely watch their spending in this area.

"In addition, many companies have sporadic projects they want to run in the cloud at some point. Once developers know about such projects, they can take advantage of AWS T2 instances," Summala advised. T2 instances are available in three sizes and allow a user to quickly spin up AWS resources and then turn them off just as easily, making them a cost-effective choice for occasional or one-off projects.

Go big or go home

It's also critical to size the environment correctly. "When trying to size up your machine environment, we suggest you go bigger," Valenzuela said. "And then you can roll back and fine-tune."

However, to make that work, customers must pay attention. To get a good idea of where to cut of shift services, Valenzuela suggests developers look at usage and capacity reports to monitor the behavior of certain AWS resources.. 

It's also vital to map business patterns to cloud resources. If a company is running financials in the cloud, then June and July will likely be heavy-use months, with other months seeing lighter use. "Get to the point where you know when to shut down what you're not using," Valenzuela said.

Monitor CloudWatch and sign up for alerts

CloudWatch is an AWS tool that helps consumers track usage. And while CloudWatch doesn't offer detailed analytics for values such as the number of users logged in at different times of the day, it's a start. But if no one at the company looks at CloudWatch more than a couple of times a month, it's useless, according one AWS channel partner that works exclusively with the government sector and requested anonymity.

"You need to think of AWS as a utility and have somebody looking every minute at the thresholds and alerts," the partner added. "CloudWatch is a start but you can't expect AWS to do it for you. At the end of the month, you should know what your bill is going to be."

AWS also allows customers to receive billing alerts, though many customers don't know this is available. Billing alerts help companies better manage AWS costs.

Properly manage APIs

Another AWS offering, CloudTrail, records API calls. When trying to track use patterns and scale appropriately, companies should use this service.

And with regard to security, companies also must manage their API keys as if they were the corporate credit card. It can also be helpful to minimize developer access to API keys.

Perform cost analyses

A relatively new AWS product called Cost Explorer lets users see what they've been spending on the platform in an easy-to-read format. But to get the most out of this tool, don't put just one person in charge of it. The more people who know what the company is spending on cloud, the more likely they are to take ownership.

Tag AWS resources and do maintenance

"To maximize value for their money, customers must be diligent in tagging resources based on use," said Peter Roosakos, principal and co-founder of Foghorn Consulting. Tagging also makes AWS' Cost Explorer easier to use. Once IT teams tag resources and it becomes clear what is underutilized, it's then time to create a disposal plan. Tools such as the open source Janitor Monkey from Netflix can look for unused resources to clean up and remove them. 


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