Should You Use the Cloud-Native Instance Scheduler Tools?

When adopting or optimizing your public cloud use, it’s important to eliminate wasted spend from idle resources — which is why you need to include an instance scheduler in your plan. An instance scheduler ensures that non-production resources — those used for development, staging, testing, and QA — are stopped when they’re not being used, so you aren’t charged for compute time you’re not actually using.

AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud each offer an instance scheduler option. Will these fit your needs — or will you need something more robust? Let’s take a look at the offerings and see the benefits and drawbacks of each.

AWS Instance Scheduler

AWS has a solution called the AWS Instance Scheduler. AWS provides a CloudFormation template that deploys all the infrastructure needed to schedule EC2 and RDS instances. This infrastructure includes DynamoDB tables, Lambda functions, and CloudWatch alarms and metrics, and relies on tagging of instances to shut down and turn on the resources.

The AWS Instance scheduler is fairly robust in that it allows you to have multiple schedules, override those schedules, connect to other AWS accounts, temporarily resize instances, and manage both EC2 instances and RDS databases. However, that management is done exclusively through editing DynamoDB table entries, which is not the most user-friendly experience. All of those settings in DynamoDB are applied via instance tags, which is good if your organization is tag-savvy, but can be a problem if not all users have access to change tags.

If you will have multiple users adding and updating schedules, the Instance Scheduler does not provide good auditing or multi-user capabilities. You’ll want to strongly consider an alternative.

Microsoft Azure Automation

Microsoft has a feature called Azure Automation, which includes multiple solutions for VM management. One of those solutions is “Start/Stop VMs during off-hours”, which deploys runbooks, schedules, and log analytics in your Azure subscription for managing instances. Configuration is done in the runbook parameters and variables, and email notifications can be sent for each schedule.

This solution steps you through the setup for timing of start and stop, along with email configuration and the target VMs. However, multiple schedules require multiple deployments of the solution, and connecting to additional Azure subscriptions requires even more deployments. They do include the ability to order or sequence your start/stop, which can be very helpful for multi-component applications, but there’s no option for temporary overrides and no UI for self-service management. One really nice feature is the ability to recognize when instances are idle, and automatically stop them after a set time period, which the other tools don’t provide.

Google Cloud Scheduler

Google also has packaged some of their Cloud components together into a Google Cloud Scheduler. This includes usage of Google Cloud Functions for running the scripts, Google Cloud Pub/Sub messages for driving the actions, and Google Cloud Scheduler Jobs to actually kick-off the start and stop for the VMs. Unlike AWS and Azure, this requires individual setup (instead of being packaged into a deployment), but the documentation takes you step-by-step through the process.

Google Cloud Scheduler relies on instance names instead of tags by default, though the functions are all made available for you to modify as you need. The settings are all built into those functions, which makes updating or modifying much more complicated than the other services. There’s also no real UI available, and the out-of-the-box experience is fairly limited in scope.

Cloud Native or Third Party?

Each of the instance scheduler tools provided by the cloud providers has a few limitations. One possible dealbreaker is that none of these tools are multi-cloud capable, so if your organization uses multiple public clouds then you may need to go for a third-party tool. They also don’t provide a self-service UI, built-in RBAC capabilities, Single Sign-On, or reporting capabilities. When it comes to cost, all of these tools are “free”, but you end up paying for the deployed infrastructure and services that are used, so the cost can be very hard to pin down.

We built ParkMyCloud to solve the instance scheduler problem (now with rightsizing too). Here’s how the functionality stacks up against the cloud-native options:

Overall, the cloud-native instance scheduler tools can help you get started on your cost-saving journey, but may not fulfill your longer-term requirements due to their limitations.

Try ParkMyCloud with a free trial — we think you’ll find that it meets your needs in the long run.

Originally published at www.parkmycloud.com on January 10, 2019.