TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Ashfaq Munshi, CEO of Pepperdata, about reining in the cost of big data in the cloud. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Karen Roby: Simplifying scalability and enterprise cloud computing. Big data, of course, equals big budgets. Often, companies and people will think that the cloud is the answer but don’t realize just how closely they need to be watching things, as the money will just fly out the window when it comes to the cloud.

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Ashfaq Munshi: That’s correct. It’s like the first time you have a car. You have a kid, first time you get in the car, you say, well, and just step on the gas, and you keep going and you forget about the speed limits, and the next thing you know, you’ve got your permit and you’ve got your first ticket very quickly together. It’s kind of the same thing here. What happens is you start using the budget and you think, “OK, this is pretty reasonable.” And you have a bunch of developers that you give access to your cloud accounts. And some guy decides that they’re going to write this report that’s going to go through tons of data and generate the report that you need at the end of the month.

And because it’s the cloud and it’s pretty cheap, it looks like it’s a few cents per node. “What the heck, I’m going to spin up a bunch of nodes and I’m going to go do this.” And you realize that one report just exceeded your budget by probably a factor of five. And then your CFO comes knocking and saying, “Hey, what are you doing? This needs to get under control.” Now, when you’re running the same report in your own IT environment, IT will basically see that the thing that the guy’s trying to do is using up too much resource and will just throttle him down, and just keep him contained. That’s not the case. There’s no incentive for the cloud provider to say, “Hey, you’re spending too much.” They’re perfectly happy and willing to let you go. And that’s exactly what happens. If there aren’t safety guards in place, or what do we call them in bowling? The little safety things that you would put up for the kids?

Karen Roby: The guards?

Ashfaq Munshi: Guardrails. If they aren’t there, many, many people the first time through run into these budget problems, and then they have to sit back and realize, “Oh my God, I really do have to govern this myself. And oh, by the way, IT used to do this for me. Now I have to do it.” So, that responsibility that you had outsourced to somebody else, they took care of it. Now you have to govern your own budget.

And that is for some people a very new thing, because they’ve never governed an IT budget before. So, imagine somebody in marketing or sales or customer support using the cloud. Now, all of a sudden, there’s a new skill to have to learn, which is how do I manage my IT budget that I own, that I have to own and run myself?

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Karen Roby: Ash, is that where the problem where you see it’s happening, is that it’s non-IT people making decisions for their company’s cloud involvement?

Ashfaq Munshi: Part of the thing now is, “Hey, I want to run analytics. I’m in marketing. I want to run analytics. I have a budget. I can get an account on AWS.” And it becomes pretty easy for me to go and spin up the stuff. And I’m going; I don’t need to get permission from anybody to do it.

It turns out that yes, people who start off certainly are the people who run into trouble, but even more sophisticated people run into trouble. Because what winds up happening is you always have something that is errant, something that has got a bug in it or something else is going wrong, and you don’t realize it. And it just runs before you find out. So, even some of the most disciplined people can actually run into the same kinds of problems.

That’s where Pepperdata comes in. It’s the ability for you to be able to monitor all of those things, understand where things are becoming errant, and then being able to find those bugs so you don’t wind up creating this financial mess for yourself.

Karen Roby: Ash, when companies overspend, what happens? How do they un-cloud themselves? I mean, do they just say, “OK, stop for a couple of months, we have to end a project?” What do they do?

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Ashfaq Munshi: The answer is all of the above things that you just mentioned. There are people who basically say, “Oh, can’t do this. We’re going to cut this off.” There are other people who say, “You know what? You guys are good citizens. You five can go do this. You other seven, sorry, I’m not going to allow you to go do that.” And/or what they’ll do is they’ll say, “OK, here is the budget. We’re going to set the budget for anything that gets run.” And if it exceeds that budget, the job just gets killed and it’s not completed. So, all of those disciplines are there.

Karen Roby: Ash, did you guys see this coming as more and more companies were scaling in this way?

Ashfaq Munshi: We didn’t actually see that coming. Before I joined Pepperdata, I was one of the first users of the cloud. So, think back almost 10 years now. It seems like ancient history. And in that startup, we realized very quickly that you could run yourself into trouble.

We started using what are called spot instances, because they’re very cheap, so we could expand. But it turns out, most people don’t know what spot instances are. When I joined Pepperdata, what we realized is that our customers, who are some of the largest customers in the world, so think Fortune 100, Fortune 500 companies, and Fortune 10 companies. They started experiencing the same problem as they started migrating to the cloud.

So, you would think that these big companies would have discipline and all these other kinds of things, but nope, it’s the same thing. Kids in a candy shop; just went shopping. They all started having the same problem, and they’re all becoming much more disciplined about how they approach the cloud, for what things they approach the cloud. It’s very important for them to have that discipline. Otherwise, these budgets can run away very, very quickly.

TechRepublic’s Karen Roby spoke with Ashfaq Munshi, CEO of Pepperdata, about reining in the cost of big data in the cloud.
Image: Mackenzie Burke