INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How government agencies can take control of their cloud spending

Spending is cut. Budgets are allocated down to the last dollar. IT teams are tasked with doing more with less. Then the cloud invoice comes, and IT managers are faced with a bill they didn’t expect.

For government agencies, the shock can be especially painful. Unintentionally overspending on cloud services can cause more than just a financial headache. It can waste taxpayer dollars and force important projects to take a backseat.

Cloud overprovisioning is a worldwide issue in the enterprise: Global research and advisory firm Gartner found that global enterprises wasted as much as 35% of their total cloud spend, with overprovisioning cited as the leading cause.

This waste also occurs in the public sector. A May 2019 Government Accountability Office report showed while agencies are increasing cloud spending, they’re not always able to track their investments. The 16 agencies GAO reviewed had increased cloud investments by more than $1 billion between 2015 and 2018. However, the report found they struggled to track and report cloud spending and savings.

Agencies must be ready for increased traffic at any given moment, but this doesn’t mean overprovisioning (and overspending) to the levels of that “biggest day.” In some business cases, agencies can prepare themselves for increased traffic, as the IRS does during tax season. In many cases, though, these traffic spikes come with little warning: a major storm hits and citizens turn to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a vehicle recall is issued and the Department of Transportation sees a surge in website visitors or an illness breaks out and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's digital channels get slammed.

So how can agencies fix this problem?

It starts with understanding how citizens use agency applications and what investment is necessary in the cloud. Agencies are forced into a difficult situation: They want to capitalize on cutting-edge technologies and improve citizen experience, but they often underestimate true usage costs.

Real-time telemetry obtained from cloud infrastructure and applications can be leveraged to better analyze the citizen experience and help agencies understand exactly how much it costs to support those user-friendly environments.

Consistent tracking of cloud spending is just the start. To prevent cloud overspending while also ensuring positive citizen experiences, agencies must do more than just monitor their cloud usage and collect data about their system. Observability can give IT teams actionable ways to use this information, increasing efficiency and delivering quick and easy access to mission-specific apps and data. This kind of visibility helps agencies take action quickly so they don’t run up costs unnecessarily.

For example, if an agency is running 20 cloud instances, but each one is only operating at 10%, it can quickly consolidate those instances, optimizing performance and saving money at the same time. That same on-the-fly decision cannot be made without being able to see the whole system and how efficiently -- or inefficiently -- it’s running.

The same goes for cloud migration. When moving apps from on-prem servers to the cloud, it’s vital agencies have visibility into every step of the process. A bird’s eye view of the transition helps detect potential errors with the application architecture, scale or performance early on so cloud migration is efficient.

Measuring the baseline performance of applications and infrastructure before the migration even takes place is also important as it is easier to compare performance metrics between on-premise and the new cloud environment. Seeing a difference in performance after migrating can help alert teams to applications that need more attention and let them focus on the critical areas, rather than checking and comparing all of their applications. Measuring baselines also allows teams to conduct appropriate, more accurate sizing in the cloud.

Understanding exactly how an agency's system is operating in real time -- and adjusting accordingly -- can be the key to cutting cloud costs, while also maintaining a positive citizen experience and addressing the reporting challenges revealed by GAO. The initial investment in a platform that gives agency IT teams the advantage of visibility will not only cut operational costs and lower the bill for cloud services, but it will also free up IT staff members to focus on innovative, mission-specific work to ensure citizens have a better digital experience with their government.

About the Author

Bob Withers is senior director of public sector at New Relic.

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