How Cvent saved over $3M in less than two years by creating a cost-aware culture
Dan Gaj, Director of Cvent Cloud Infrastructure and Governance, contributed to this blog
Cvent is a leading meetings, events, and hospitality technology provider. Its comprehensive suite of solutions helps more than 21,000 customers worldwide automate and simplify their end-to-end event management process. To achieve this, Cvent has 100% of its infrastructure running on AWS to run and develop innovative applications that help its customers drive revenue, engagement, and compliance, while reducing operational costs.
In 2021, Cvent accelerated their AWS migration with a target to eliminate their on-premise data centers by the end of the year. Completing the migration allowed them to fully realize the agility, resiliency, security, and sustainability benefits of the cloud. As the migration target became reality, their focus turned to maximizing the desired cost savings from cloud technology. They experienced early challenges related to cost optimization, visibility, accountability, and an overall lack of cost awareness across the organization.
For a subset of workloads, they engaged a third-party service to manage cloud costs, but did not widely deploy the third-party tools due to adoption challenges, including software license costs resulting in more data silos, and limited visibility into budget variances and root causes. In the end, using a third party to manage costs for a subset of workloads led to inaccurate financial forecasts, failure to deliver the high degree of financial predictability expected from investors and shareholders, and a delay in creating a cost-aware culture.
Taking ownership over Cloud Financial Management
Cvent took back Cloud Financial Management responsibility by working closely with the AWS Account Team and AWS Enterprise Support to adopt AWS Cloud Financial Management tools, establish governance best practices, and deploy its own Cloud Intelligence Dashboards (CIDs).
The combination of these solutions empowered Cvent to:
1. Increase cost transparency and forecast accuracy
2. Identify workload optimization opportunities
3. Build overall cloud cost management knowledge, experience, and acumen
4. Establish a culture of cost awareness and accountability
5. Deliver $3M in cloud savings in less than two years.
Building cost visibility with customized dashboards
Late in 2021, Cvent built their own budgeting application using AWS cloud native tools, and set January 1, 2022, as the budget launch date. The approach involved the simultaneous implementation of two solution tracks:
1. Technical track: Building a system to increase “actual spend” visibility, track forecasts, and create a foundation for anomaly detection, ML forecasts, and greater spend visibility across the organization.
2. Business track: Building the business processes for managing spend and establishing a cost-aware culture at all organizational levels.
The Technical track proved to be the easier of the two, and helped drive the shift toward a more cost-aware culture. Cvent based its solution on the AWS CUDOS Dashboard, which uses AWS Cost and Usage Report (CUR) data, AWS Glue, Amazon Athena, and Amazon QuickSight. They extracted applicable logic from the AWS Well-Architected lab and AWS Well-Architected Framework Cost Optimization Pillar to implement CUDOS and create custom dashboards focused on Cvent’s high value data.
A simple forecasting application with a PostgreSQL backend was built to maintain forecasts and show forecast variances in their dashboards. For visibility from multiple angles, most of Cvent’s standard dashboards support data slicing by: tag values, AWS accounts, and services.
Finally, they gave end users self-service access to their datasets, allowing them to create their own visualizations and perform ad hoc analysis. Cvent’s budget contains over 100 distinct line items assigned to 30 budget owners. Cvent followed the following steps:
1. Started with AWS Cost and Usage Reports (CUR) and created a custom forecasting app
2. Set up the CID dashboard
3. Created customized Cvent dashboards
Establishing organizational cost awareness
For the Business track, Cvent created a five-person Steering Committee to represent multiple parts and perspectives of the organization, ensuring Product, Finance, and IT had input into the evolution of the budget platform. In addition to the committee, Cvent has a centralized governance body which manages the technical platform, analyzes trends, adjusts guardrails, coordinates the decentralized budget managers, and provides Finance with packaged data for their applications. The budget managers meet weekly to review current spend, manage forecast adjustments, and share observations on upcoming spend. They also have large cross-functional monthly meetings, which includes architects and technical leads, to raise spend awareness and receive input. Each of these measures was meant to democratize spend visibility and management within the organization.
This consistent dialogue related to cost forecasting, visibility, and accountability helped create Cvent’s desired cost-aware culture. As the team increasingly gained cost awareness of each application, they became more focused on efficiency and finding ways to reduce spend. Visibility of successful cost reductions increased the desire to identify more savings opportunities, resulting in proactive instance optimizations, removing wasted resources, and treating each dollar as their own.
Translating cost awareness into business outcomes
“Because Cloud Intelligence Dashboards are a cost-effective solution, we’ve been able to drop third party software licenses and roll them out to a large part of our organization. That widespread visibility has transformed us into a cost-aware organization at all levels and resulted in real savings to fund other projects.” -Dan Gaj, Director, Cloud Infrastructure and Governance
After implementing the CIDs, Cvent customized the content to fit its business needs. The dashboards deliver easy-to-understand visualizations and drill-down capability, so Cvent can identify its largest spend areas and each penny that contributes to them. Cvent realized hard savings of $500K annually in software licenses, and approximately $100K per month, because of more efficient management of Savings Plans and EC2 Reserved Instances. In total, Cvent saved $1.7M per year through cost optimization.
The increased and comprehensive visibility has been the key to Cvent’s success at becoming a cost-aware company. As cost visibility increased, the motivation to manage spend, implement optimizations, and proactively prevent waste, spread across the organization. These efforts were contagious, creating positive competition and pride of ownership across individuals and teams involved. As the teams discovered new wasteful patterns (e.g., orphaned EBS volumes) they implemented solutions to address all occurrences of the pattern. Once remediated, they resumed the competition, looking for more cost savings opportunities. Dollars saved could then be re-invested for new initiatives, features, or systems to benefit customers.
By using CUDOS and the CID Framework, Cvent provides its centralized governance teams with greater visibility across all organizational spend in a simple, cost-effective manner. More importantly, that same visibility is available to budget managers and engineers, which decentralizes the ownership of the budget details. Cvent’s mindset and processes are shifting from reactive spend investigation to proactive cost optimization during planning and deployment, which fosters a high degree of financial predictability expected from investors and shareholders.
Cvent will continue to explore ways to increase its cloud financial management maturity and build upon its cost-aware culture by:
1. Incorporating AWS Trusted Advisor, AWS Compute Optimizer, and other AWS tools into a formal workflow to identify, prioritize, and address findings
2. Modernizing infrastructure (i.e., AWS Graviton) and track overall impact and cost benefit
3. Gamifying the effective management of budgets through the use of scorecards and application of savings to future projects