Definition

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.

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 can be costly for an enterprise.

Cloud sprawl can also refer to the proliferation of Software as a Service (SaaS) instances, such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft Office 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 may use similar services from different SaaS providers to accomplish the same tasks. This can result in inconsistent or non-interoperable data, which can cause communication issues between business departments. It also eliminates the potential for bulk SaaS discounts, which providers often offer to organizations with a large number of user accounts, costing a company more.

Cloud sprawl can also refer to the uncontrolled proliferation of cloud providers, which are used by different departments within an organization. For example, software developers may 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 yet fully interoperable, so a business that uses different cloud providers may face incompatible APIs and data consistency challenges.

The best way to mitigate cloud sprawl is to manage cloud use; organizations should start by establishing clear user policies, and ensuring on-going communication between business departments. In addition, organizations should monitor and enforce their cloud computing policies by using cloud management tools.

This was last updated in December 2015

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