What is Cloud Sprawl?

After the recent WannaCry cyber event that rocked the National Health Service and thousands of companies worldwide, the thought of any additional threats to the way we use technology in our organisations is both frustrating and deeply concerning.

So, mention the term ‘cloud sprawl’ as another fear looming over the enterprise sector and you might think it’s all become too difficult to stay on top of.

In fact, however, cloud sprawl is not as intimidating as the name sounds – it simply refers to businesses inefficiently controlling their cloud use to the point that it costs them in terms of both resources and finances.

However, despite the differences, the WannaCry breach has taught us something that can be applied to cloud sprawl too – for in the case of WannaCry successful management of technology mitigated the threat, as those who had updated their Microsoft security patches were unaffected by the breach.

Similarly, cloud sprawl, while sounding like another IT disaster is something that we can actually control and mitigate with simple, appropriate management.

So just what is cloud sprawl?

According to a Technopedia definition, cloud sprawl is “uncontrolled proliferation” of a business’s cloud presence. What this basically means is that an organisation has various cloud instances that it is not managing effectively – one or more instances, for example, may be forgotten and therefore use up resources unnecessarily, leading to further costs as most organisations pay for cloud services.

In short, it’s much like server sprawl or even VM sprawl. For example, a developer might test one portion of a system being developed in AWS and then forget to delete it while moving on to an entirely new instance – leaving the previous one running.

Without suitable management, this can quickly get out of hand especially given the plethora of applications that exist in a typical enterprise today coupled with the rapid rate at which we’re generating data.

With energy and hosting expenses rising, the costs can quickly spiral – so even though cloud sprawl is something that can be managed simply, it’s also something to take very seriously.

How do you manage cloud sprawl?

Taking control of cloud sprawl should be seen as essential for any business and should be implemented in a manner that makes it a consistent part of ongoing IT practices.

While each organisation may have differences in their approach based on the cloud instances they are using, here is a short checklist that can be used to help you develop an appropriate strategy.

Define the issue clearly

Make sure that the concept of cloud sprawl is communicated clearly throughout the organisation. By understanding the issue, your IT staff will become more aware of their individual practices and help reduce issues ahead of time. However, you’ll also need to set out appropriate expectations and a routine that they should follow.

Think architecturally

Implementing a plan that asks an IT department to manually manage tedious tasks is far from cost effective. Instead, consider a more architectural approach through workload automation which will allow your resources to run based on a strict schedule that you have determined based on your internal needs and historic use. This can help maximise by efficiently dealing with time-consuming daily tasks through notifications and alerts.

Periodical audits

Regular ‘health checks’ should be carried out on your cloud services. Make sure you plan periodical internal audits that take into account all aspects of the cloud service – including applications, platform virtualisation and all of its infrastructure components.

This will also give you the opportunity to assess how well the cloud is working for your business at that particular point in time – as your business develops, has the cloud developed with it? Or are there areas of its functionality that are not adequate for your developing needs?

Transparency is key

Without making services transparent to end users there could be a serious impact on their perception. As such you should look to set up good industry practices around request fulfilment and service cataloguing as well as capacity management. Integrate those into your cloud management processes for business users and the service should run more efficiently and effectively.

Implement a dashboard

A dashboard can be a great way to monitor the performance of a service – and cloud services are no exception. An effective dashboard that shows all aspects of cloud services in a single view will allow you to quickly identify any areas that need improving and steer the business away from added costs by helping you to make decisions in a faster manner.

There are paid-for services emerging that are designed to help businesses address cloud sprawl – and indeed taking expert advice is often advisable. However, by following the steps outlined and preparing a comprehensive plan to control the proliferation of your computer resources, you have the potential to optimise the performance of your cloud services and ensure they always work effectively for your business.

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