How 5 companies got their developers to care about cloud costs

Software developers don’t typically have to worry about the costs of running their services, but as cloud costs continue to rise, more and more will have to learn to embrace cloud cost optimization. That means adopting finops.

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Overcoming this barrier comes down to education for Daly and his team. “Anyone without finops principles won’t be able to manage their environment. But a good tagging and enforcement strategy like the one we have here at Nationwide will get the engineers on board with optimization, as they can see the direct financial impact.”

Taking things one step further, Nationwide also has a chargeback model, where each application team is responsible for its exact usage via a monthly bill. “That creates accountability,” Daly said. “If they can see charges, they can see if they are oversized or shut things down overnight or use cloud-managed services where we can.”

Daly does warn against gamifying these incentives too much, however. “In my experience, if you turn it into a game, it gets played like a game,” he said.

Just Eat Takeaway.com feeds data-hungry developers cost insights

European food delivery company Just Eat Takeaway.com, which is the result of a merger between British and Dutch companies in 2020, predominantly runs on AWS, with applications broken down into microservices. For those teams based in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Australia, and Canada, a central finops team is tasked with giving engineers better visibility into cloud costs, with the aim of eventually reducing them.

“Our [finops] team is engineering-focused, and we build tools to either help improve visibility of cloud costs or to reduce them,” David Andrews, head of engineering for platforms at Just Eat Takeaway.com, told InfoWorld.

This manifests in a hub-and-spoke approach, with a central team tasked with making efficient buying decisions for the whole organization, and with engineers armed with tools like Microsoft Azure Cost Explorer, the open source Cloud Custodian, and Apptio’s proprietary Cloudability to track their cloud spending.

Gaining buy-in was a challenge in the early days, when the process of tracking cloud spend was largely manual. Andrews said that automating these tasks can help remove that friction for engineers, including setting alerts for teams that start to go over budget.

“One of our previous challenges was that we used to conduct a portion of our activity manually, such as reporting and reviewing costs. As we continued to grow and scale, this became less sustainable,” Andrews said. Simplifying reporting and investing in training workshops helped gain developer buy-in, as did openly talking about the topic of cloud costs in technical all-hands meetings.

Like many businesses focused on growth, Just Eat Takeaway.com doesn’t want to reduce cloud costs to the detriment of growth. “While we do of course track our cloud costs effectively and regularly, we do that alongside tracking our business growth so that we don’t view cloud costs in a vacuum,” Andrews said.

Spreading the gospel of finops

Now, as cloud computing becomes more popular with enterprises that weren’t born in the cloud, the need for a common set of easily implemented finops principles and tools will become integral to many companyies’ bottom lines.

This can start with a single person or a small team tasked with establishing an enterprise-wide account, label, and tagging hierarchy. Once everyone is working from the same data, the hard work of education and culture change can begin.

It’s important not to get downhearted early on, as there is no golden path to better cloud cost management. So it is important to start early, learn, and iterate as you go to make those important marginal gains. Strong top-down support will be critical.

The fact is, as cloud makes up a bigger and bigger chunk of an organization’s technology bills, it’s only a matter of time before these finops practices become mainstream and every engineer will need to know their way around a cloud bill.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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