cloud sprawl

What is cloud sprawl?

Cloud sprawl is the uncontrolled proliferation of an organization's cloud instances, services or providers. Cloud sprawl typically occurs when an organization lacks visibility into or control over its cloud computing resources.

Causes of cloud sprawl

Similar to server sprawl or virtual machine sprawl, cloud sprawl usually begins when an organization fails to adequately monitor and manage individual cloud instances. For example, a software developer might launch a new workload in Amazon Web Services (AWS) or deploy a private cloud to test a new software version or database, but then neglect to power down or delete the workload when it's no longer needed. Because businesses pay for public cloud computing resources every month, the proliferation of unneeded cloud instances is costly for most enterprises.

Cloud sprawl can also refer to the proliferation of software as a service (SaaS) instances, such as Salesforce, Microsoft 365 or any other online service for which an organization creates and pays for new user accounts, but doesn't actually use them.

In some cases, different departments within the same organization might use similar services from different SaaS providers to accomplish the same tasks. This can result in inconsistent or noninteroperable data, which can cause communication issues between business departments. It also can cost a company more because it eliminates the potential for bulk SaaS discounts, which providers often offer to organizations with a large number of user accounts.

Cloud sprawl can also refer to the uncontrolled proliferation of cloud providers, which different departments use within an organization. For example, software developers might use AWS for compute and storage instances, while a research and development group might use Google Cloud resources for big data projects. Cloud providers are not fully interoperable yet, so a business that uses different cloud providers could face incompatible application programming interfaces and data consistency challenges.

Cloud sprawl risks

Cloud sprawl can lead to several risks that can greatly affect an organization. These include the following:

  • Cost. Cloud sprawl can lead to unnecessary costs as companies pay for workloads that are idle or forgotten.
  • Security. Forgotten or unmonitored workloads can weaken systems, which provides easier access for hackers.
  • Inefficiency. Inefficient cloud management can greatly affect organizations in terms of resources, environmental impact, team understanding and redundancy.

How to prevent cloud sprawl

The best way to mitigate cloud sprawl is to manage cloud use. Organizations should establish clear user policies and ensure ongoing communication among business departments. In addition, organizations should monitor and enforce their cloud computing policies with cloud management tools.

This was last updated in December 2023

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