Why you need to know about instance family moves – and how they could save you millions


By Ben Nicholson, Cloud Optimisation Manager at KCOM

Those with decisions to make in the IT space are well aware of the rapid pace of change. Every vendor seems to be announcing a new solution every month, and each one is billed as essential for the success of your business. It’s easy to get so focused on what’s next that you lose sight of where you are now. Companies that fail to review and optimize their current cloud infrastructure could well be missing out on ways to improve performance and lower costs without having to invest in new systems.

Instance family moves – whereby an organisation moves its workloads to next-generation server instances – provide organisations with this opportunity. By taking a few simple steps, more efficient and cheaper cloud servers are there for the taking. Those who dare, can win.

What do we mean by ‘instance family move’?

To set the scene, imagine you have a mobile phone contract you’re paying £25 a month for.

You’ve had the phone for a year or so, it still does its job but it has definitely grown slower. To speed things up you could uninstall some apps and turn off Bluetooth, but why go through the time and effort to simply limit the capabilities of your hardware?

Imagine instead that your phone provider offered to take in your old phone, shut it down and then promised when you started it up, it would be slightly faster and in better condition. What’s more, it would only cost you £22 a month from now on and would have all the very same apps and accounts set up as before.

Increasingly, this is what more and more cloud providers are offering to their customers. When they update their server hardware, they will offer new cloud instances at a cheaper price. A typical deal might look something like this: a company could be running a M3.xlarge server in Ireland, with Linux, 4vCPUs and 15gb RAM for $214 dollars each month. Through an instance family move, they could gain access to an enhanced m5.xlarge server with 4vCPUs and 16gb of RAM for only $156 a month.

The motivation for cloud providers is that it’s more expensive to keep maintaining the old hardware. The incentive for customers to migrate is two-fold, the cost savings can be quite substantial and in some cases the newer infrastructure performs better too!

Is there a downside?

If instance family moves represent such a valuable opportunity, then why aren’t more companies taking advantage? Indeed, relatively few customers seem to care about these regular hardware releases. At present, the only way to undertake one is as a regular review built into your own Cloud Centre of Excellence, or to directly contact your IT or managed services provider about it. Forgetting to do this is an easy oversight, but it’s even easier to fix.

There are, however, pitfalls to consider. Starting an instance family move can be as simple as shutting down your server and starting up on the new family type. Yet, there are constraints as to which instance types you can move to. Understanding your workload and its specific needs is important as it allows you to make more informed decisions when choosing the best instance type for your application.

It is also important that your architecture is designed so you can shut down a server without it impacting your customer experience. Load balancing and immutable infrastructure should be commonplace in your IT estate in the cloud. In this respect, Netflix’s Chaos Monkey – which randomly shuts down servers to ensure the workload can cope – is a good act to aspire to.

Throughout all this, analysis and diligence are critical. Furthermore, it doesn’t hurt to call in some outside expertise. Some considerations are easily missed when you lack experience of performing instance family moves. For example, some newer CPUs are based on CPU credits that are built up over time. Having a trusted partner help you through the implementation process can be invaluable.

Change is often good for companies – that’s why digital transformation has become the watchword for business in the 21stcentury – but it can also be expensive and difficult. Instance family moves offer a less disruptive way to get more out of your cloud for less, with real positive outcomes for the company. If you leave your cloud to languish, it will end up costing you more – when the option is there, an instance family move should be the clear decision