Cloud Cruiser aims to ease cloud chargeback issue

Cloud Cruiser service helps companies accurately charge business units for the use of cloud services

As more companies shift more work to the cloud, they are struggling with a new financial problem, namely how to accurately charge business units for use of the cloud services.

Cloud Cruiser hopes to help solve that problem. It is inviting companies to test its offering, which tracks the use of services that may be hosted internally, in an external hosted environment or in a public cloud.

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Companies that use the product "know how much a workload costs and they know at a granular level who is using that workload and then they can make decisions to optimize costs," said Dave Zabrowski, founder and CEO of Cloud Cruiser.

Customers will be able to choose to use the Cloud Cruiser product as a hosted service, or buy it and run it internally.

The Cloud Cruiser software tracks usage by collecting machine usage data from resources that can include storage and networking as well as cloud services. It matches that data with individual users based on LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) information.

The software can also match usage based on IP address, which could be helpful if a user wants to view the total cost profile of one data center, for instance.

So-called chargebacks are becoming an important issue as IT departments figure out how to distribute the cost of cloud services among different user groups. While some services are easy to attribute to some user groups, others are more challenging.

Microsoft CIO Tony Scott recently talked about the way his company handles chargebacks. Because it's typically difficult or expensive to attribute the use of resources such as network bandwidth and storage to individual users, Microsoft simply charges groups by dividing the cost of those resources by the number of workers, he said.

That's traditionally the way that IT services are charged to business units, said Sandra Palumbo, an analyst at Yankee Group. Companies have begun tracking individual employee use of cloud services, but usually only if the service they are using offers that ability, she said. "The problem is, it has become something that is done on a service-by-service basis, not holistically," she said.

Detailed usage tracking is important not just to charge the appropriate business unit, she said. It also helps IT managers look for ways to cut costs, either by choosing different service providers or negotiating with existing providers.

With Cloud Cruiser, an IT administrator can view a variety of reports. For instance, an administrator can see a chart of the top ten users of resources by business division. The administrator can then drill down in each business division to see which resources individual employees are using.

Cloud Cruiser has built hooks to many existing cloud services, but a new customer has to do some work to get things set up. They'll have to make sure all their resources are fed into the system and they'll need to set up a hierarchical tree of the organization so that they can view consumption based on groups.

The offering isn't yet commercially available. Cloud Cruiser is introducing itself as a company and is inviting companies try out the hosted version of the service. A company can feed real usage data into the system to get a feel for how it works.

Zabrowski expects the product to be ready for general availability in a matter of months.

Cloud Cruiser did not disclose pricing information but said customers can buy the software and run it internally or use the hosted version on a subscription basis.

Cloud Cruiser isn't alone in tackling the challenge of chargebacks and Palumbo said many vendors are working on ways to address the problem. The most likely candidates are vendors that already offer IT management tools. They are evolving their products to be able to also manage cloud services, she said.

Apptio is one example. It offers a broad portfolio of products for managing IT spending. It now ties into existing offerings that track cloud usage, such as VMware's vCenter chargeback service and storage management systems, and combines that with cost data so that IT administrators can charge users.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's email address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com.

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