Sunday, May 15, 2016

Shold Cloud Computing Costs be Regulated ?

I am not one for bureaucracy, in fact the contrary. I cringe at unnecessary bureaucracy and regulation. The face is that we are becoming a more highly regulated society, that being stated, I do feel there are some areas where we need regulation to protect the consumer. One such area is the regulation of costs by commodity suppliers, telecommunications, energy, fuel etc.

As CTO of a emerging start-up I am responsible for ensuring that our systems run on the latest and most secure technology.  Cloud services provide that scalable infrastructure and so naturally I use them extensively. However, let me tell you a story of one warm Friday night last July.

I was just about to go on paternity leave and settling down in my lovely new bath for a Friday night soak, when the phone rang. A chap was phoning from Amazon Web Services (AWS). He politely enquired if I was aware that our company had just incurred over $20 000 dollars of charges transferring some data from Glacier to S3 storage. My heart skipped a few beats, at that stage in our companies life the $20K would almost certainly bankrupt us and leave me without a job on the eve of the birth of my son ! Needless to say, I expressed my horrer at this news and began the long-winded process of composing various emails to Amazon to recoup the money.

Earlier in the day, I had read the AWS pricing guides relating to Glacier. I found them to be rather complex but I ploughed through. I have some ability in mathematics and two engineering degrees, I thought might assist me in understanding how to calculate the cost of transferring some data. I took out a pen and paper and after a long-winded calculation came up with a figure of around $300. I double checked this and when I was certain instructed my team to make the transfer. Obviously I got the calculation slightly wrong, by a factor of about 100 !

This is not an isolated case, I have heard of many very qualified engineers tripping up at computing cloud computing costs. This is because the pricing always involves a number of very elusive quantities, data transfer per unit of time. CPU minutes used etc etc. These quantities are very hard to calculate a-priori and have never previously formed part of and computational analysis.

I think it is time that our regulators take a look at these "Cloud services" and set some guideline on fair and understandable pricing. Afterall Cloud computing services are just another commodity supply that is crutial to the way we live and do business. We cannot be (a) held to ransom and (b) confused to the point where we are unable to accurately calculate the future costs.

The story ends well, AWS refunded the money. I have been slowly transferring my data ever since.