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Up In The Cloud: What Is Cloud Sprawl?
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Up In The Cloud: What Is Cloud Sprawl? - Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: What Is Cloud Sprawl?

Executive Leadership Articles

Up In The Cloud: What Is Cloud Sprawl?

As more and more of our business IT moves to the cloud, organizations are discovering hidden costs and consequences most of us never predicted: cloud sprawl.

There are a few types of cloud sprawl, but they are basically the unmanaged use of cloud services resulting in the wasteful expenditure of resources, and the dangerous vulnerability of data.

One way to think of cloud sprawl is to recall another phenomenon: server sprawl. Your media team took 1000 photos related to a specific project, storing them in an all-access folder for companywide use. The marketing department needs some of those photos, so it copied the entire directory into a directory of its own, on the same server, so it could modify, sort, and categorize the photos for future proposals. The holiday party committee copied the directory as well, moving the photos into a limited access directory so its video subcommittee could use them in a photo montage at the big celebration in December. Now there are three nearly identical folders containing 1000 huge photos, most of which will sit there and never be looked at. Multiply this by 50 projects per year and you’re using far more space on the server than you need.

This is a simplification of the concept, but it’s very much the way cloud sprawl works, only instead of storage issues and JPGs, we’re talking about processing power and multiple instances.

The example everyone seems to be using for how cloud sprawl sneaks up on us is the engineer who runs a cloud-processed test program, then doesn’t terminate the process. He or she completes development and deploys the program for company use, but that test process is still running, using computing resources for no reason or benefit. By itself, the cost may be negligible, but when the process is forgotten and runs all year, and when others do the same with their work, it’s a lot of wasted computing and wasted money.

You can get similar wastes of resoruces with software as a service, running unattended, unused instances of an application.

Another type of cloud sprawl involves mutliple cloud services. Your IT department may have implemented company-wide services with one cloud provider, but if certain departments have purchasing autonomy, they may be paying for other cloud services, duplicating functionality you’re already paying for. In a way, this kind of flexibility is nice to have: if your X team likes a certain project management platform and hates working with the one in place company-wide, it might be worth it to allow the redundancy. Your creativity staff will be especially particular about the software it uses, and it doesn’t like to be told by tech-heads what’s best for bringing out their best work.

On the other hand, inter-department communication can get tricky when one group is using one project management platform while another group uses another. From a purely practical, user-end perspective, this kind of sprawl can cause issues.

You may even see this kind of problem when team members on their own take their work to their personal cloud spaces. For live collaboration, perhaps some members of your team prefer to work with Google Sheets rather than the Excel 365 your company pays for. This can either be harmless or risky, depending on the information that’s being copied to the second cloud. Most of the time, the practice is probably harmless, but every time your data is copied to a new space, you introduce some amount of risk. When the project is complete, will that data sill be there, years from now when it’s forgotten?

Cloud sprawl can cost you money, but it introduces all kinds of other issues as well. One report says that the average person has nine different login passwords just for work-related tasks, often the result of cloud sprawl. Ask help desk technicians, and they will tell you they spend a ridiculous amount of time helping beloved team members remember or recover passwords they need today but haven’t used in months. More passwords equals more vulnerability as well.

This is a fascinating topic, the kind of thing many of us might never think about until it’s already a problem. In our next Up in the Cloud article, we’ll look at ways to mitigate or prevent cloud sprawl.


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Up In The Cloud: What Is Cloud Sprawl? - Executive Leadership Articles

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