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How to manage cloud transfer and egress charges

It's expensive -- sometimes shockingly expensive -- to move data out of the cloud. Consider these factors to avoid costly data transfer bills.

Cloud providers offer powerful tools to help customers properly size their environments, in a balance of performance and price. However, cloud computing costs can quickly spiral if you're not careful, so IT teams need to keep an eye on what drives costs.

A key factor in managing cloud computing costs is easy to overlook: the cloud egress charge. With cloud data transfers, a customer doesn't pay for data when it goes in; the transfer charges occur when data goes out. And these egress costs can add up fast.

Most data transfers between internal cloud-based services within the same cloud region are free -- after all, the cloud vendor wants you to use other services it offers. Once you go outside the region and move data over the internet, whether it's region-to-region transfers or from a region to a cloud edge, that's when you generate data transfer fees.

Cloud vendors are fairly transparent about these data egress fees, but these costs still tend to be high. In this article, we'll review an example of how data egress fees can skyrocket and strategies organizations can use to keep these costs down.

How egress costs can add up

Let's look at how cloud activity can change in scope and function, which triggers costs to spiral out of control.

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In recent years many schools have moved their learning management systems (LMSes) to cloud-based offerings. These systems provide an educational portal for K-12 and college students through which they can learn, take tests and view educational content.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, most students were sent home. In-person learning was replaced by video lessons shared via these LMS platforms. Teachers could record lessons, which students could watch at any time. While this is convenient for students, it significantly affects a school's cloud bill. Recorded content in the LMS creates a storage cost, and as students watch the content the school must pay for all of that data going out. Depending on the bit rates of these videos, costs to stream these files can add up quickly -- sometimes shockingly.

This trend will continue to grow, as organizations of all types use video conferencing and recording to share information or to update people who can't attend an event in person.

To address the cost challenges, using YouTube or other third-party sites is an option, but that creates work. A better approach is to reduce the size of what you put into the cloud, especially if you have a way to do that across the board.

Transfer charges occur when data goes out. And these egress costs can add up fast.

Cloud convenience can be costly

These types of situations are not unique. Data we generate is just getting bigger. This extra cloud usage isn't the cloud provider's fault; it's simply a change to how organizations use the resource. The challenge is to understand your applications through these changes and how they relate to cost.

While infrastructure teams often sit at the fringe of application development and sometimes even DevOps, they deserve a seat at the table -- and not just for installation. They should scrutinize and advise on any design changes or upgrades so that the organization understands how these decisions will affect data transfers and potential egress charges.

To contain egress costs, an organization might consider actions and make trade-offs such as limits on the availability of historical data or the quality of video data. People want the best quality video and full access of years and years of data, but these might not cost-effective for items deemed low priority.

This isn't just about reducing your active footprint; it's reducing what comes back out of the cloud -- even if it causes a slight inconvenience. Egress charges can be an expensive oversight, so difficult choices may be necessary to minimize costs.

This will be a balancing act, and you are bound to make a few mistakes. Always rely on reporting for the insight you need to guide decisions, but this will require open discussions with everyone at the table. The freewheeling nature of on-site resources has to give way when everything is metered. Cloud computing isn't cheap, and your service provider is always keeping track.

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