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Choose the right chargeback solution for greater cloud cost savings

Choose the right chargeback solution for greater cloud cost savings

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

While cloud computing offers many opportunities for IT cost savings, its diverse and dynamic nature can make it difficult to reap the expected financial benefits. For example, how do you see all of your costs in a heterogeneous cloud environment? And how do you charge for the resources being used?

Though there are several chargeback options available, no two are the same. The more money you invest in the cloud, the greater cost rewards you can realize with the right chargeback solution. Consider the following guidelines and choose wisely.

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► Your IT costs shouldn't be "cloudy." The cloud has fundamentally changed how IT costs are accounted for and enterprises must adopt a chargeback solution or risk losing money in the cloud. And while every enterprise may not be ready to implement all the features of chargeback right away, you should at a minimum have holistic visibility to all of your IT costs. If you're moving to the cloud to reduce your IT costs and you don't know what your costs are, how do you know if you are actually meeting your goals? In order to truly control your costs, you need to select a chargeback solution that gives you end-to-end cost visibility for all of your costs, across all of your platforms -- public, private, hybrid and traditional.

► Become a collector of fine things. By fine, we mean granular. Granular data gives you the ultimate visibility to where your IT costs are adding up or getting out of line. Lump sum usage data won't cut it when you're trying to identify problem areas or implement billing. Choose a solution that collects, aggregates and stores granular-level data so you have the power to perform sophisticated BI analytics, data recovery, billing and auditing.

► Think outside the box. Your cost management solution should allow you to collect data from multiple vendors so it can accommodate the environment you currently have and evolve with you as you expand further into the cloud. The beauty of the cloud is that you are not locked into any one environment -- you can virtualize your existing hardware, burst out to a public cloud, implement a private cloud, or change providers at the drop of a hat. You're not locked in, so why choose a chargeback solution that is?

► Get the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Your IT costs are made up of more than just gigabytes and CPU cycles so if you're only capturing costs from your IaaS provider, you're not getting the complete picture. Choose a solution that's able to capture all of your IT costs, which may include computing resources from public, private or hybrid clouds, labor and facility costs, software license fees and more. Your solution should be customizable to allow input from various data sources such as databases, log files, spreadsheets, Web services and reports so that you can integrate all of your IT costs regardless of what they are or where they reside. You'll gain a better, more complete understanding of your IT costs that will make you more successful in budgeting, business planning and billing.

► Put your data through the wringer. A typical enterprise will rack up a lot of resource usage data fast, so select a chargeback solution that does role-based filtering in order to provide the appropriate level of data you need. A good chargeback solution will provide tools that allow you to view information at any depth and breadth necessary via drill-down BI analytics, quick-answer reports and dashboards. What the CFO of an enterprise wants to see will be dramatically different from what a project manager wants to see, so your chargeback solution should be able to provide high-level summary cost data all the way down to the resources being consumed by a particular project, user or virtual machine.

► Don't settle for "good enough." There is a lot of pressure being put on IaaS vendors to provide metered data and chargeback capabilities, but the reality is, their core competencies lie in computing infrastructure and cloud management services, not in chargeback. Whatever cost capabilities they provide most likely will not satisfy all your needs across your entire enterprise. There are many things to consider when evaluating your chargeback solution so don't just settle for what's included or you're bound to lose money in the end.

► Be a control freak. One of the biggest concerns in moving to the cloud is loss of control. The flexibility and agility of the cloud is both a blessing and a curse in that resources can be initiated on demand and increased as needed. Similar to typical utility services like electricity or water, you use what you need, when you need it and hope that you don't get a big surprise at the end of the month when the bill comes. In the case of enterprise computing, that month-end bill could be really, really big. To eliminate this risk, you need to choose a chargeback solution that includes proactive controls like budgets, alerts and consumption forecasts. With controls in place, you can identify potential problems before they turn into expensive cost overruns.

Every enterprise customer needs to incorporate chargeback into their cloud strategy in order to reach the full potential of cloud cost savings. Don't settle for "good enough" or force-fit a homegrown system. Select a solution that is built from the ground up for the heterogeneous cloud, full of all the features that will allow you to control costs no matter what your computing environment looks like now, or might look like five years from now.

A good chargeback solution will bring about a multitude of savings -- mostly money, but also time, and if you're the person that proposed your company's cloud solution, maybe even your job.

LaCroix, director of solutions architecture at Cloud Cruiser, can be reached at andrewl@cloudcruiser.com.

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