Using cloud for test and development environments? Avoid this costly mistake

Using cloud services for application testing or software development is becoming a common practice because of cloud’s scalability, agility, ease of deployment and cost savings.

But some users are not yielding the cost saving benefit, and in some cases, even seeing cloud costs soar because of a simple error — they are not turning storage instances down when not in use.

Time and again purveyors of cloud computing have highlighted scalability as the hallmark of cloud computing and time and again users have listed the ability to scale the resources up and down as one of the biggest cost saving factors of the cloud.

But when discussing cloud costs and myths with a public cloud consultancy firm recently, I was shocked to learn that many enterprises that use the cloud for testing and development forget to scale down their testing environment at the end of the day and end up paying for idle IT resources – defeating the purpose of using cloud computing.

Building a test and dev lab in the cloud has its benefits – it saves the team time from building the entire environment from the ground up. Also, should the new software not work, they can launch another iteration quickly.  But the main benefit is the lower cost.

But delirious app testers and software developers may be leaving the instances running and pay for cloud storage for the hours of the night when no activity takes place on the infrastructure.

On the public cloud, turning down unused instances and capacity does not delete the testing environment. This means developers can simply scale the system up the next day to start from where they left.

But the practice of leaving programs running on the cloud is so common that cloud suppliers, management companies, and consultancies have all developed tools to help customers mitigate this waste.

For instance, AWS provides CloudWatch alarms which help customers set parameters on their instances so they automatically shut down if they are idle or underutilised.

Another tool it offers is AWS Trusted Advisor – available for free to customers on Business Level Support, or above. It looks at their account activity and actively shows them how they can save money by shutting down instances, buying Reserved Instances or moving to Spot Pricing.

“In 2013 alone, it generated more than a million recommendations for customers, helping customers realise over $207m in cost reductions,” AWS spokesman told me.

Cloud costs can be slashed by following good practices in capacity planning and resource-provisioning. But that’s at a strategic level while quick savings can be achieved by simple, common sense measures such as running instances only when necessary.

Perhaps, it is time to think of cloud resources as utilities – if you don’t leave the lights on when you leave work why should you leave idle instance running on the pay-as-you-operate cloud?

That’s $207m IT efficiency savings for customers of just one cloud provider. Imagine.


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