Monthly Archives: February 2014

Cloud infrastructure Economics: Cogs and operating costs

Perhaps the most important benefit of adopting cloud services (either from a public provider or internally from your organization) is that their cost can be quantified and attributed to organizational entities. If a cloud service cannot be metered and measured, then it should not be called a cloud service right?

So, whenever you need to purchase a cloud service or when you are called to develop one, you are presented with a service catalog and assorted pricelists, from where you can budget, plan and compare services. Understanding how the pricing has been formulated is not part of your business since you are on the consumer side. However, you should care: You need to get what you pay for. There must be a very good reason for a very expensive or a very cheap cloud service.

In the past, we have developed a few cloud services utilizing own resources and third party services. Each and every time, determining whether launching the service commercially would be a sound practice depended on two factors:

  • Would customers pay for the service? If yes, at what price?
  • If a similar service already was on the market, where would our competitors stand?
  • What is the operating cost of the service?

Answering the first two questions is straightforward: Visit a good number of trusted and loyal customers, talk to them, investigate competition. That’s a marketing and sales mini project. But answering the last question can be a hard thing to do.

Let us share some insight on the operating costs and cost-of-goods for a cloud service and in particular, infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Whether you already run IaaS for your organization or your customers, you are in one of the following states:

  1. Planning to launch IaaS
  2. Already running your datacenter

State (1) is where you have not yet invested anything. You need to work on implementation and operational scenarios (build or buy? Hire or rent?) and do a good part of marketing plans. State (2) is where you have already invested, you have people, processes and technology in place and are delivering services to your internal or external customers. In state (1) you need to develop a cost model, in state (2) you need to calculate your costs and discover your real operating cost.

In both cases, the first thing you need to do before you move on with cost calculation is to guesstimate (state 1) or calculate (state 2) the footprint of your investment and delivered services. From our experience, the following parameters are what you should absolutely take into account in order to properly find out how much your IaaS really costs.

Financial parameters (real money)

  • EPC: Electrical power and hosting cost. How much do (or would) you pay for electricity and hosting. This can be found from your electricity bill, your datacenter provider monthly invoice or from your financial controller (just make sure you ask them the right questions, unless you want to get billed with the entire company overhead costs). EPC is proportional to your infrastructure footprint (ie number of cabinets and hardware).
  • DCOPS: Payroll for the operations team. You need to calculate the total human resource costs here for the team that will operate IaaS services. You may include here also marketing & sales overhead costs.
  • CALCLIC: Software licensing and support costs for IaaS entire computing infrastructure layer. These are software costs associated with the infrastructure (eg, hypervisor licenses), not license costs for delivered services, eg Microsoft SPLA costs.
  • STORLIC: Software licensing and support costs for your entire storage infrastructure. Include here in their entirety also data backup software costs.
  • SERVER: Cost of a single computing server. It’s good to standardize on a particular server model (eg 2-way or 4-way, rackmount or blade). Here you should include the cost of a computing server, complete with processors but without RAM. RAM to CPU ratio is a resource that is adjusted according to your expected workloads and plays a substantial role in cost calculation. If you plan to use blade servers, you should factor here the blade chassis as well.
  • MEMORY: Average cost of 1 GB or RAM.
  • STORINFRA: Cost of your storage infrastructure, as is, or the storage infrastructure you plan to purchase. Storage costs are not that easy to calculate as a factor of 1 disk GB units, since you have to take into account SAN, backup infrastructure, array controllers, disk enclosures and single disks. Of course we assume you utilize a centralized storage infrastructure, pooled to your entire computing farm.
  • NETINFRA: Cost of data network. As above, include here datacenter LAN, load balancers, routers, even cabling.
  • NETSUPP: Cost of network support (monthly). Include here software licensing, antivirus subscriptions and datacenter network costs.

Operational parameters (Facts and figures)

  • RUAmount of available rack units in your datacenter. This is the RU number you can use to install equipment (protected with UPS, with dual power feeds etc).
  • RU_STOR: Rack units occupied by storage systems
  • RU_CALC: Rack units occupied by computing infrastructure (hypervisors)
  • RU_NET: Rack units occupied by network infrastructure
  • SRV: Virtual machines (already running or how many you plan to have within the next quarter)
  • INTRST: Interest rate (cost of money): Monthly interest rate of credit lines/business loans
  • TOTALMEM: Total amount of virtual memory your SRV occupy
  • TOTALSTOR: Total amount of virtual storage your SRV occupy
  • SRVRAM: Amount of physical memory for each physical server. This is the amount of RAM you install in each computing server. It is one of the most important factors, since it depends on your average workload. A rule of thumb is that for generic workloads, a hardware CPU thread can sustain up to 6 virtual computing cores (vcpu). For each vcpu, you need 4 GB of virtual RAM. So, for a 2-socket, 6-core server you need 2 (sockets) x 6 (cores) x 6 (vcpu) x 4 (GB RAM) = 288 GB RAM. For a 4-way, 8-core server beast with memory intensive workloads (say 8 GB per vcpu) you need 4 x 8 x 6 x 8 = 1536 GB RAM (1.5 TB).
  • MEMOVERPROV: Memory overprovisioning for virtual workloads. A factor that needs tuning from experience. If you plan conservatively, use a 1:1 overprovisioning factor (1 GB of physical RAM to 1 GB of virtual RAM). If you are more confident and plan to save costs, you can calculate an overprovisioning factor of up to 1.3. Do this if you trust your hypervisor technology and have homogenous workloads on your servers (for example, all-Windows ecosystem) so that your hypervisor can take advantage of copy-on-write algorithms and save physical memory.
  • AMORT: Amortization of your infrastructure. This is a logistics & accounting term, but here we mainly use this to calculate the lifespan of our infrastructure. It is expressed in months. A good value is 36 to 60 months (3 to 5 years), depending on your hardware warranty and support terms from your vendor.

If you can figure out the above factors, you can proceed with calculating your operating IaaS costs. Keep reading here!

Over The Top: Too high to reach?

Recently, Facebook got WhatsApp (a mobile multichannel messaging startup) for $19B. It’s still too early to comprehend the rationale of this move: Buying market share? A bubble effect? An ingenious strategy move that aims squarely at service providers? A stupid buyout that will sink FB stock? Time will tell.

However, we can draw some conclusions on what this means for telco service providers. Over the top services (as they usually call the services they cannot comprehend, and cannibalize their market share) have value. And it’s a train they have to catch. Let me tell a story here:

Some time ago, while working for a small systems integrator, we had been setting up a public IaaS cloud provider for the lcal market. The first approach, based on the free Cloudstack edition was a breeze to work with, very very cheap and quite reliable. The number of customers we attracted was… two. A couple of months later, we revisited our strategy – this time, the platform was based on VMware vCloud directory (the very first deployment in the regional market), targeting mostly enterprise customers (and our own customers as well). Things moved a bit better, slowly gaining sales traction. However, this was not enough. A plain IaaS offering would only sell as fast as customers would face the dilemma “buy or rent” and opted for renting infrastructure.

The way forward was to bundle applications with our cloud. We turned to software vendors, hoping to deliver preconfigured cloud servers bundled with software targeting small and medium businesses, with a SaaS licensing scheme. A good move, don’t you think? Guaranteed SLA 99,99%, with preinstalled popular CRM & ERP apps, licensed as a service, no upfront costs, no commitment. Customers would flock to our cloud. Eventually however, they did not. The problem was the total miss of customer addressable market.

Would you like fries with that?

Would you like fries with that?

Let me explain a few things: Building a cloud does not mean that it will sell by itself. We were a small integrator with a cloud service. Our customers were mostly medium enterprises buying services and infrastructure from us. We managed to upsell IaaS to these customers and attract a few new ones. However, no matter how attractive a SaaS offering would be, we had to address a market we did not have any access to. And that’s why we failed.

What does this have to do with telcos and OTT services? A lot. Telcos sell data & voice; they have been doing that forever. On top of their data services lives the entire IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, *aaS ecosystem. The revenue telcos see from the immense value of OTT services is the data rate, nothing more. They don’t capitalize on this market, even though:

  • They own the platform and medium
  • OTT services customers are the same customers they serve,

thigns we lacked when we launched our IaaS and SaaS cloud services. It seems that OTT services are at a cloud reach, don’t they? Every telco can setup an IaaS platform, add some sauce on top (applications, that is) and address their own customer base. We are not referring to telcos-gone-cloud (Verizon/Terremark), we are talking about service portfolios that address a very large part of any telco customer base.

My guess is that all it takes are good synergies here and exploitation of local markets: Upsell services to existing customer by letting other vendors cross-sell their products and services. There are lots of moving parts here, the most important challenge being to build an efficient ecosystem, reach & upsell to own subscribers and produce value to the end consumer. One needs to step into customer shoes, tick the right boxes from a desired service list, find the right partners and deliver these services from established sales channels.