Since 2011, Toast has been a one-stop shop for restaurants’ technology needs. The company offers everything from point-of-sales and online-ordering solutions to payroll and HR systems.
All of those solutions are delivered through the cloud. By using a range of AWS services, Toast can easily tap into the latest cloud-native capabilities for building its solutions and quickly scale up—or down—as customer demand changes.
Toast is deeply committed to a cloud approach, but the company has experienced some challenges managing multiple cloud services and controlling costs. The company implemented VMware Aria Cost powered by CloudHealth, offered VMware Cross-Cloud service, to gain clear visibility into all of its cloud utilization and spending. With new insights, the company was able to save tens of thousands of dollars in one month during the pandemic while simultaneously helping restaurants pivot to new ways of operating.
Realizing cloud benefits but encountering management challenges
“Toast has always been a cloud-based company,” says Ken Siskind, engineer programming manager at Toast. “By delivering our solutions through the cloud, we can give restaurant owners much greater flexibility in managing their business. In the past, restaurant owners had to be in the office to see reports. Using our cloud-based solutions, they can pick up a smartphone and see sales data from anywhere.”
Toast benefits from cloud flexibility as well. “With a cloud-based architecture, we can scale up services to support changes in demand—like for weekend spikes in restaurant traffic,” says Siskind. “And if we have more restaurants coming online, we can quickly build out our infrastructure to support them.”
Despite the benefits of the cloud, Toast faced some significant cloud management problems. Specifically, the company lacked a unified approach to managing all of its AWS services. Siskind’s team had no clear visibility into utilization or costs across those services.
“The native tools from AWS were a little difficult to use,” says Siskind. “We wanted a simpler way to manage all of our services and understand how we were spending our money.”
Gaining visibility across cloud services with VMware
In 2017, the Toast team implemented the CloudHealth solution, now called VMware Aria Cost powered by CloudHealth, to improve visibility across all of the company’s AWS services and ultimately control cloud costs. VMware Aria Cost is delivered as a SaaS-based VMware Cross-Cloud service.
“With [VMware Aria Cost], we can easily see where our money is going,” says Siskind. “For example, we can see what we’re spending on databases, servers and storage. If we see that we’re spending too much on an underused database, we can shut it down and immediately save money.”
Using VMware Aria Cost eliminated the complexity of using other cloud management tools. A weekly cost analysis that took hours now takes about 15 minutes. “[VMware Aria Cost] is very easy to use,” says Siskind. “Instead of having to drill into data to get information, I can receive an email that tells me what the restaurant line of business is spending per month and how that compares to previous months.”
Ramping up, then quickly pivoting
Before the pandemic, Toast was planning to capitalize on VMware Aria Cost insights to help scale up its cloud infrastructure and enhance the resiliency of its cloud-based solutions. But the pandemic forced the company to change those plans.
The new top priority was helping restaurants stay in business. “As restaurants began to shut down, we had to react fast,” says Siskind. “Initially, we worked to make it easier for customers to buy gift cards for restaurants, which helped provide restaurants with some cash to hold them over.”
As it became clear that the pandemic would last longer, the Toast team quickly shifted to new strategies. “We helped restaurants switch to online ordering, takeout, delivery and contactless interactions—like enabling customers to scan QR codes at outdoor tables to order or pay,” says Siskind.
At the same time, Toast’s existing solutions were vital in helping restaurants efficiently track inventory and sales, manage HR, and the like. Those solutions were more critical than ever as restaurants looked for new ways to streamline their operations.
Reining in cloud costs
While Toast helped restaurants navigate a turbulent period, the company also needed to take a fresh look at its own operations. Restaurant closures meant a reduced need for some of Toast’s solutions. “We realized that we really needed to cut our costs, because we had no idea where the bottom would be,” says Siskind.
VMware Aria Cost helped Toast quickly identify areas for scaling back cloud services. “By using [VMware Aria Cost], we saved approximately USD $50,000 in less than a month, with very little effort,” says Siskind. “Right away, we identified what services weren’t being used and what databases were oversized.”
Granular insights from VMware Aria Cost help the Toast team spot changes in cloud utilization from one week to the next—and even one day to the next. “We can see if a service has spiked and figure out what has happened,” says Siskind. “For example, we discovered a backup process wasn’t deleting previous database snapshots—and we were paying for extra snapshots. We were able to fix the problem and reduce our costs.”
The cloud cost savings that VMware Aria Cost helped Toast achieve during the pandemic enabled the company to avoid more drastic cost-cutting measures. “The more money we can hold onto, the better we can keep supporting restaurants,” says Siskind.
Looking beyond the pandemic
As Siskind and his team envision a post-pandemic world, they know that VMware Aria Cost will continue to be an important part of supporting restaurants and their customers. “[VMware Aria Cost] is part of our everyday process, and it helps us work toward our high-level business goals,” says Siskind. “Our job is to help restaurants succeed and enable them to delight their guests. By running our own cloud-based business more efficiently with VMware, we can help restaurants thrive.” ▪