News & Analysis

FinOps Debuts Cloud Transparency Standards

The Foundation is a consortium with AWS, Microsoft, Google and Oracle as key members

Cloud adoption is no longer a good-to-have for enterprises and the few fence sitters postponing their decision now have a reason to make the shift. The consortium helming the cloud industry today launched its first set of open-source standards designed to assist companies easily track cloud costs and forecast future spends. 

The FinOps foundation that includes AWS, Microsoft, Google and Oracle, released FOCUS as its first offering designed to ensure transparency in costs and usage of cloud infrastructure. In the past, SaaS providers and cloud platforms used varying definitions for reporting company spends and complicated things further by providing data in diverse formats. 

The FinOps Foundation, which also launched the Linux Foundation some years back, says that FOCUS – FinOps Open Cost and Usage Specification – was launched in May but the round-number release debuted last night. Experts believe that the FOCUS V1.0 could be a major milestone signaling that the tech is now closer to production-ready status. 

The cloud standards that enterprises wanted

Given that the project is backed by the largest players in the multi-billion dollar cloud market, several large enterprise-level users such as Goldman Sachs and Walmart, have also backed this initiative. “We are establishing FOCUS as the cornerstone lexicon of FinOps by providing an open source, vendor-agnostic specification featuring a unified schema and language,” says Mike Fuller CTO at the FinOps Foundation. 

“With this release, we are paving the way for FOCUS to foster collaboration among major cloud providers, FinOps vendors, leading SaaS providers and forward-thinking FinOps enterprises to establish a unified, serviceable framework for cloud billing data, increasing trust in the data and making it easier to understand the value of cloud spend,” Fuller said in a statement. 

As readers would know, cloud operators provide customers with billing data providing the costs of services they use, which also includes granular details around individual product costs, and discounts, if any. Businesses use this billing data from the service providers to track their spends, forecast future costs and build their SaaS budgets. 

Since such billing data is usually quite large for the enterprises, these are seldom reviewed manually, instead going directly into the local analytics tools operated by the finance department. With the FOCUS launch, the Foundation hopes to standardize billing data, which would save enterprises the time and effort to reformat it to suit their ERP solution. 

Data sets with diverse formats and terminology

Currently, service providers have been organizing their billing data in multiple formats with some labeling compute costs as “instance pricing” and others using the term “virtual machine rates” to denote the same. These terminology differences need to be reconciled so that the ERP analytics tool can interpret them uniformly to generate accurate insights. 

Then there is also the challenge of billing datasets being structured in different formats where the number of columns could vary significantly for the same data. This further complicates the task for the enterprises who need to create a single format from multiple vendors for the analytics and insights to be useful. 

The FOCUS protocols solves a big challenge 

With FOCUS coming into play, a common set of rules for cloud billing information would get structured besides setting standards for the terminology. The latest version introduces several enhancements over the earlier version that came in September. It now allows organization of billing data from public cloud platforms but also SaaS applications. 

The Foundation also added open source components that can be used to check accuracy of incoming data before processing it. Besides the technical improvements, the latest version also introduces a library of use case samples with users getting access to over 40 guides that demonstrate how the standards can be applied to common financial tasks. 

It creates a basic framework that normalizes cost and usage data between both SaaS and cloud providers and before the specification hits its 1.0 release, project members would be able to take the specs and offer real-world use cases curated by FinOps practitioners.