Case Study

Clever

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Clever is a highly successful educational technology company. More than 55% of U.S. K-12 schools use Clever to deploy leading software applications and provide a secure, personalized learning experience for teachers and students, giving them a single login for all their online learning programs and resources.

Playing “Whac-A-Mole” with the AWS bill

Like many growing companies that use AWS to run their services, Clever kept seeing unexpected spikes in their bill whenever they would launch new features to accommodate their growth. Identifying how to reign in the increased costs became a continuous challenge. 

“AWS gives engineers the tools to do their jobs, but it’s not great at setting expectations about how much it’ll all add up to. For years, we had this problem of basically playing Whac-a-Mole with the bill whenever Clever would go through some growth. I was spending a lot of time going around and finding the easy wins to get our bill back to normal.” 

Rafael Garcia, CTO and Co-Founder, Clever

The company reached out to The Duckbill Group’s Cloud Economist Corey Quinn to identify low effort, high impact changes they could make to optimize costs. They sought to get a fresh perspective on the problem from an expert and to free up the CTO’s time to focus on core priorities. 

Clever’s primary concern about the project was whether the savings identified would be significant enough to deliver an ROI. There was also some apprehension about whether the recommendations for changes would truly be low-effort. 

“It’s easy to suggest really wild changes that would lower costs, but we have limited hours and resources. We were a bit worried that it would turn out that we’d already cut down all the low-hanging fruit and the only suggestions Corey would have for us would be very big, multi-month projects.”

Rafael Garcia, CTO and Co-Founder, Clever

Identifying the big, easy wins to bring down costs  

Corey reviewed the bill and discussed Clever’s goals and architecture with key staff members. Leveraging his deep network at AWS, he dug further into the issues that the Clever technical team was experiencing and introduced them to new approaches to solve them. 

Even though Clever had already done excellent work to identify and address a lot of low-hanging fruit over the years, Corey found further opportunities for easy, yet impactful actions that Clever could take to achieve even more substantial savings.   

Among the key recommendations were ways to wrangle the company’s S3 costs. Corey helped the technical team understand which of their many S3 buckets were driving up costs and how they could implement meaningful lifecycle policies that would delete unnecessary data and prevent unbounded growth. 

“Implementing the S3 lifecycle policies alone saved us a few hundred thousand dollars of savings per year. It involved very little effort – just clicking through and adding some things in a web UI.” 

Rafael Garcia, CTO and Co-Founder, Clever

Other recommendations included reserved instance purchases and a managed NAT gateway replacement (the latter being a mid-level effort action). Beyond providing a list of recommended changes to make, Corey also helped the Clever team better understand some of the hidden billing quirks for the AWS services they use so that the savings would remain in the long-term. 

Almost a million dollars in identified savings 

As a result of the cost optimization project, nearly a million dollars in cost savings were uncovered. Because most of the recommended changes were easily implemented, the Clever team has already put many of them in place and has seen an immediate and sizeable impact on their bill. 

“We actually wish we had engaged Corey sooner. We saved the company a lot of money for very little effort, without needing to spend weeks of time researching into the issues. As soon as you can do 20 minutes of work to save your company hundreds of thousands of dollars, you feel a sense of regret that you didn’t do it earlier.” 

Rafael Garcia, CTO and Co-Founder, Clever

Even more savings and peace of mind with weekly bill monitoring 

Having seen such great results with the cost optimization project, Clever wanted an ongoing way to keep the bill from getting out of control as they continue to grow in the future, without having to spend valuable time monitoring it. The company naturally wants their engineers to dedicate their time delivering value for their customers instead of babysitting the AWS bill for unexpected changes. 

Clever engaged The Duckbill Group to keep a continuous pulse on the company’s AWS costs in a way that takes both the technical and financial perspectives into account. Each week, Duckbill monitors the bill for changes from the previous week and correlates those changes to what’s happening in their environment and with their business. Clever receives a weekly update on significant changes and insight into how to address and get ahead of problems. This allows them to tackle new costs early on instead of way after the fact.  

“Assuming you have 20 to 30 minutes a week to poke at the AWS costs, what’s the most effective use of that time? The biggest benefit of having Duckbill do the weekly monitoring is getting this instant, weekly access to the actions that we can take within that time to have the biggest impact on driving costs down.”

Rafael Garcia, CTO and Co-Founder, Clever

Making these recommendations requires a deep level of expertise in their architecture and environment. Duckbill regularly does deep dives into aspects of Clever’s infrastructure that are rife with opportunities to either save cost or influence going-forward infrastructure and becomes intimately involved with the company’s overall plans. 

Even in the early weeks of the engagement, Clever has already seen positive results from this ongoing engagement.   

Before, we wouldn’t realize that change until the end of the month at best or many months later and would have incurred way more cost. Now, we catch onto things almost immediately. We’re also able to do things that will pay dividends later. There’s a lot of peace of mind in knowing that we have experts monitoring the bill who will let us know if there’s a big spike and what we can do have an impact on the costs.”  

Rafael Garcia, CTO and Co-Founder, Clever