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As Compute Resource Usage Soars, Storyblocks Reduces AWS Costs Using Reserved Instances

Executive Summary

As Storyblocks focused on maximizing its investment in AWS and supporting aggressive growth, the company needed to reduce the costs of its AWS infrastructure without burdening internal IT resources. To take on this challenge, Storyblocks turned to Mission for its Mission Cloud Foundation and Reserved Instance Optimization (RIO) services. Mission provided a dedicated FinOps Cloud Analyst to identify cost-saving opportunities along with capital to purchase AWS reserved instances while also helping determine when to utilize Amazon Reserved Instances vs. AWS Savings Plans. By partnering with Mission, the Storyblocks engineering team can focus all resources on enhancing customer-facing applications, and providing value at the product and infrastructure level for its subscribers. The partnership has also resulted in monthly savings for Amazon EC2 resources ($20K), S3 resources ($25K), and Redshift ($1400). Overall, Mission has helped Storyblocks reduce its average monthly costs across the AWS infrastructure by 7%, even as compute resource usage increased 33%.

“Companies like ours need a partner like Mission to analyze costs on an ongoing basis because as we grow, our infrastructure and storage keep evolving. The partnership with Mission is valuable because we have finite resources with specific expertise. We can now focus on what we do best while Mission provides the cloud infrastructure analysis and cost management support we need. Because Mission is best-in-breed in what they do, it positions us to be best-in-breed in what we do.”

James Peel
Senior Vice President of Engineering

The Challenge

Early in 2020, as the COVID pandemic hit—impacting many industries—Storyblocks prioritized reducing operational costs. A key area focused on was Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure costs. The company needed to more closely monitor compute resource usage to determine where cost-optimization measures could be implemented.

“A large percentage of our cloud costs comes from stored content,” says James Peel, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Storyblocks. “We had duplicate data stores for different types of video and audio files, and the way we architected our environment to store these files created the extra costs. We were also seeing an increase in the performance demand on our applications. We needed greater scalability while also finding a way to control the compute costs.”

To take on the challenge, Storyblocks started utilizing CloudHealth by VMWare, a tool for managing cloud costs that can also assist with monitoring and managing governance, automation, security, and performance in the cloud. Without the necessary bandwidth and expertise in CloudHealth cost-optimization analysis, Storyblocks looked for a cloud partner with cost-optimization expertise.

“In a complex environment like ours where applications change rapidly and storage demands scale quickly,” Peel points out. “We don’t want to manage the compute environment ourselves—we know we can’t do this as well as a cloud partner with the right expertise.”


Using the cloud allows Storybooks to turn its sole focus to its applications and to not have to worry about managing the underlying infrastructure. As the market leader, choosing the AWS cloud platform was the logical choice. 

“AWS provides an amazing set of tools and services that allow us to not worry about provisioning or maintaining our compute or storage infrastructure,” Peel explains. “AWS does this in a way we can’t afford to do so ourselves. They also give us the scalability, security and resiliency we need to run our business and meet the needs of our customers.”

Why Mission

Fortunately for Storyblocks, CloudHealth knew the right partner to turn to for cost-optimization and recommended Mission. That recommendation was soon followed by an endorsement of Mission from AWS. The Storyblocks management team knew it had found the right partner.

“Mission demonstrated their expertise in cloud cost optimization and just how proficient they are in conducting analysis. And their knowledge goes beyond cost management to also include best practices for how to operate in the cloud. Mission advises us on which AWS products to use, which is valuable because AWS has a large and complex portfolio to navigate. Mission also gives us insight into how new AWS services and features can be tailored to our environment.”

James Peel
Senior Vice President of Engineering

Strategy and Solution

Mission recommended its Mission Cloud Foundation service. This program provides Storyblocks with a dedicated Cloud Analyst who measures compute resource usage to identify areas of opportunity for cost savings while also assessing opportunities to apply security and cloud governance best practices. The Cloud Analyst is supported by a team of Mission cost-optimization experts who provide supplementary consultations on the Storyblocks environment when needed.

As part of Mission Cloud Foundation, Mission recommended RIO, its Reserved Instance Optimization program—where Mission provides the capital to purchase RIs and manages them on behalf of customers. Mission also utilizes its own CloudHealth license for visibility into the AWS environment to analyze where Storyblocks spends too much on cloud resources. Each month, the Mission analyst meets with Storyblocks to discuss reports that show AWS resources and where costs can be potentially reduced by reserved instances purchased through the RIO program. 

Mission also recommends AWS best practices for cost containment that can be easily and quickly applied to make sure resources are utilized optimally. This includes identifying and shutting down idle services, right-sizing compute resources, and utilizing Amazon Reserved Instances and AWS Savings Plans where needed.

Outcome and Results

Through the Mission Cloud Foundation and RIO services, Storyblocks has realized major savings in two primary AWS compute resource areas:

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)—when Mission began analyzing Storyblocks usage and spending trends for EC2 instances, 34% of the servers were covered by Amazon Savings Plans. Within one month, Mission recommendations for using reserved instances increased the coverage to 72% and eventually to 86%. The total monthly savings reached nearly $20K.

  • Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)—when Mission began analyzing Storyblocks usage and spending trends for EC2 instances, 34% of the servers were covered by Amazon Savings Plans. Within one month, Mission recommendations for using reserved instances increased the coverage to 72% and eventually to 86%. The total monthly savings reached nearly $20K.
  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)—Before collaborating with Mission, Storyblocks relied on standard S3 storage and needed a process for archiving and deleting files no longer used by customers. Through Amazon S3 Intelligent-Tiering, which moved files to Amazon S3 Glacier and Amazon S3 Infrequent Access, the cost for storage was reduced by 34%, from approximately $38K to $25K per month. The amount of storage for which Storyblocks uses Intelligent-Tiering and Infrequent Access has zoomed from 2 terabytes to 1.2 petabytes.
“Storage costs have come down for our video stored in multiple formats because Mission helped us understand how to best leverage the storage architecture without overpaying for S3. We now store files in different ways depending on the performance needed, and we use archiving functions to further reduce storage costs. Mission was also instrumental in negotiating the private pricing agreement with AWS where we get discounts based on our projected storage growth.”

James Peel
Senior Vice President of Engineering

Additional savings are expected in 2022 from a five-year private pricing agreement (PPA) for S3 storage that Mission helped arrange between Storyblocks and AWS. Whereas S3 accounted for 39% of the total AWS spend at the end of 2020, the percentage is now down to 19%.

Mission also identified reserved instance purchase opportunities for Amazon Redshift that are currently resulting in savings of $1400 per month. And Storyblocks received another big assist when an auto-scaling process created unplanned EC2 costs—Mission negotiated with AWS to reduce the charge for these costs by 75%. Mission then helped implement an alert system that prevents similar occurrences in the future. When alerts occur, Mission will triage incidents and provide recommendations for how Storyblocks should respond.

Next Steps

Mission is now analyzing the use of Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) (where Storyblocks is spending close to $6K per month) for possible reserved instance opportunities. This is expected to contribute further to the overall cost-optimization benefits Storyblocks will realize. In the past year, the company reduced AWS costs by 7% as the number of virtual machines in use increased 33%.

More important than the cost savings are the benefits the Storyblocks engineering team enjoys with Mission handling cost-optimization analysis and cost-savings recommendations. All resources can now focus on enhancing the Storyblocks applications that customers rely on to access the footage, audio, and image files they need to improve their storytelling capabilities.

“In addition to our AWS costs coming down, we also have a stronger security posture and more resilient architecture thanks to how Mission has advised us on operating our infrastructure. We feel confident our infrastructure will support our applications given the best practices we have implemented.”

James Peel
Senior Vice President of Engineering
AWS Services
  • Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) 
  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)
  • Amazon S3 Glacier
  • Amazon S3 Intelligent-Tiering
  • Amazon S3 Infrequent Access
  • Amazon Redshift
  • Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS)
Third-Party Integrations
  • CloudHealth by VMWare