Cloud FinOps: The Secret To Unlocking The Economic Potential Of Public Cloud

Built for a CapEx world, most organizations’ finance systems aren’t set up to take advantage of cloud’s dynamic, OpEx-driven consumption patterns.

It may not be a household name yet, but chances are you’ve crossed paths with OpenX today. OpenX, a leader in programmatic advertising, operates one of the world’s largest ad exchanges, serving over 250 billion ad requests per day, connecting more than 30,000 brands and reaching nearly one billion consumers. To make it happen, in 2019, OpenX migrated entirely out of its data centers and became the first major ad-exchange platform to move completely to the cloud.

The OpenX CTO, Paul Ryan, knew that this cloud transformation initiative had the potential to increase costs faster than its revenues. To be successful, he needed his engineering, finance, and business teams to forge a new “cost-aware” culture, complete with effective cost visibility and controls. In other words, he needed Cloud FinOps — an operational framework and cultural shift that brings technology, finance, and business together to drive financial accountability and realize business benefits through cloud transformation.

Ryan laid out a cloud migration roadmap that included cost governance and controls around project ownership, established cost responsibility with engineering teams to accurately forecast cloud consumption, and challenged developers to lower per-unit costs — while at the same time improving performance, scalability, speed and global reach.

It worked! In just 9 months, OpenX reduced their per-unit cost by over 60%. The framework allowed OpenX to launch new regions in a matter of days, reduce their time to market for new features by over 50%, and complete their migration in record time — seven months! “We are now able to stop worrying about legacy infrastructure and focus more on our growth categories,” said Ryan. “Our tech stack is getting smarter and more sophisticated by the day, and we have the flexibility to scale our infrastructure in real-time as the business scales and evolves.”


Related article: Keep learning more about how successful businesses maximize their business value with Cloud FinOps and principles of continuous cost optimization.


Unblocking Cloud’s Potential

Cloud holds the key to a successful digital transformation. In fact, McKinsey forecasts that by 2030, the Fortune 500 alone may realize over $1 trillion of EBITDA value drivers associated with public cloud enablement. But unlike OpenX, many companies struggle to achieve near-term value objectives from their cloud investments. Surveys reflect that more than 30% of cloud spend in 2021 was wasted or inefficient, while upwards of 80% of CIOs have yet to achieve the business benefits of migrating to the cloud.

Traditional IT finance processes are ill-suited for cloud infrastructure: Traditional planning and budgeting processes are challenged to address dynamic consumption patterns and complex migrations. Centralized IT budgets using traditional allocations fail to provide the necessary visibility into sources of cost overruns. CapEx-focused cost controls have little ability to manage largely OpEx-driven spend. Trend-based forecasting often inaccurately predicts cloud costs. And developer teams lack access to cost-aware architecture patterns to deploy the applications more efficiently.

Enter Cloud FinOps

At Google we’ve worked with many companies, like OpenX, to help organizations realize the transformational benefits of the cloud by cultivating a culture of transparency and embedding agile processes to manage costs. We’ve distilled these learnings into a Cloud FinOps operational framework that gives organizations the financial governance and accountability they need to grow their business sustainably.


Download: Unlocking the value of cloud FinOps with a new operating model


At a high level, a Cloud FinOps approach depends on five key areas:

1. Accountability and Enablement

Accountability and enablement aim at instilling a cost-conscious culture across the organization. Oftentimes, this means standing up a cross-functional and dedicated team with members from technology, finance and engineering to establish cloud financial best practices and governance. In various organizations, we’ve seen this through an extension of a Cloud Center of Excellence, a Cloud Business Office or simply a Cloud FinOps team. Enablement focuses on empowering IT, finance and business leaders through training to help them better understand the economics of cloud services and the strategies to efficiently deploy and manage them. Cloud financial training guides teams on how to design cost-effective cloud environments, for example, embracing ”cloud-native” design principles such as auto-scaling/elasticity and Infrastructure as a Code.

2. Measurement and Business Value Realization

Effective measurements not only create awareness and enable agile processes, but also support a culture that celebrates success and rewards teams for achieving business objectives. As such, measurement in the service of business value realization is about developing a comprehensive set of long-term benefits and cost KPIs to quantify the total net value of the return on digital transformation. Organizations often start with cost-related KPIs and eventually evolve those KPIs into business value metrics that are mapped to targeted business outcomes.

3. Cloud Cost Optimization

Cloud cost optimization is an iterative and continuous process that provides a consistent methodology to manage cloud consumption cost-effectively. There are three key areas of optimization:

  • Resource optimization – Model cost-effective cloud usage based on utilization and consumption patterns.
  • Pricing optimization – Manage cloud spend through a continuous analysis of various pricing models. In a Google Cloud context, that might mean Committed Use Discounts, BigQuery flat rate reservations, etc.
  • Architecture optimization – Build applications with a cost-aware architecture by leveraging newer generation compute instances (like Tau VMs, which offer an industry-leading 42% better price-performance versus comparable offerings), or using managed services and serverless technology to offload operational overhead.

For example, video hosting, sharing and services platform provider Vimeo built transcoding pipelines by using Google Cloud Spot VMs to optimize their infrastructure spend. To do so, they created fault-tolerant workloads that could withstand preemptions, and in exchange, got up to a 91% discount compared to using regular on-demand instances.


Join the vibrant open source community of FinOps Practitioner for real-world stories, expertise and inspiration on Cloud Financial Management best practices.


4. Planning and Forecasting

In the cloud, accurately forecasting your finances requires rethinking of traditional approaches to depreciation and trend-based forecasting of maintenance and licensing costs. One way to improve the accuracy of your dynamic cloud needs is to use workload-specific forecasting models that leverage a combination of trend-based models for steady-state workloads, driver-based models for scaling applications, as well as monthly variance analysis. In other words, you can define cloud budgets and forecasts by monitoring cloud consumption trends, allocating cloud cost pools with a proper tagging strategy that’s mapped to a chart of accounts in a general ledger, and conducting a cost-benefit analysis based on cloud infrastructure, implementation, and support costs.

5. Tools and Accelerators

Without the proper tools and processes in place, understanding and managing cloud costs can be complex — and this especially true as organizations scale their business in the cloud. By deploying proper cloud cost management tools and accelerators such as Looker Cloud Cost Management and automation scripts to set guardrails and enforce cost control policies, organizations can effectively manage and track cloud spend with access to near-real-time billing and cost data to make better informed business decisions.

The key objectives of Google Cloud Cost Management tools are to make it as simple as possible for organizations to get visibility into their current and forecasted costs with built-in reporting and customizable dashboards; help drive greater accountability for cloud spending across the organization by providing flexible ways to organize cloud resources and allocate costs; provide strong financial governance controls to reduce the risk of overspending; and offer intelligent recommendations for optimizing cloud costs and usage.

Start Saving with Cloud

Businesses are continuously seeking to better operate and manage their cloud environments and the need is ever increasing to transparently manage cloud spend, optimize costs, and obtain their desired business agility. By enhancing your Cloud FinOps capabilities and adopting principles of continuous cost optimization, you too can accelerate the business value of cloud computing.


Special thanks to Bruce Warner, Daniel Petibone, Nihar Jhawar and FinOps Foundation community for their contributions and sharing their domain expertise to this important Cloud FinOps topic.