What Is Cloud Sprawl?

Lucia Stanham - October 12, 2023

Cloud computing is an undisputed cornerstone of modern enterprises, enabling operational efficiency and nearly unlimited scalability. However, as organizations build out their systems in the cloud, they inevitably run up against a common challenge: cloud sprawl.

In this article, we’ll unpack the concept of cloud sprawl, looking into its causes and consequences. Then, we’ll consider effective strategies for managing cloud sprawl to ensure a cloud environment that is efficient, secure, and cost-effective.

Cloud sprawl definition

Cloud sprawl is the uncontrolled proliferation of an organization’s cloud services, instances, and resources. It is the unintended but often encountered byproduct of the rapid growth of an organization’s cloud services and resources.

Disorganized growth exacerbates cloud sprawl, and this can have significant operational and security consequences. Understanding and managing cloud sprawl is critical to an organization’s ability to reduce risk and rein in costs. This dynamic expansion can create management inefficiencies and cost overruns. In addition, it can introduce a significant risk of exploitable security vulnerabilities.

Cloud sprawl isn’t isolated to a particular type of cloud service. However, it is especially prevalent in software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) models. Because new services and infrastructure for these two models can be deployed with such speed and convenience, organizations often find themselves with an unchecked jungle of cloud resources.

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Causes of cloud sprawl

Cloud sprawl is often the result of various interrelated factors. Understanding these causes is crucial to effectively managing and mitigating cloud sprawl.

Lack of visibility and control

When organizations lack a comprehensive view of their cloud resources and usage, they find it challenging to effectively manage their cloud inventory. Without good visibility, redundant or idle resources begin to crop up. Control over cloud services only comes if an organization has clear visibility of those services.

Rapid growth

For most organizations, growth and expansion is a good thing. However, the pace of new resource deployment can outstrip an organization’s ability to manage and govern resources properly. Without a comprehensive strategy, the hasty addition of new services can lead to a tangle of disparate and uncontrolled cloud resources.

Decentralized decision-making

In larger organizations without a unified strategy, individual teams or departments might spin up new cloud services with complete independence. Although these decisions may be well-intentioned, this decentralized approach to cloud resource management contributes heavily to cloud sprawl.

Shadow IT

Shadow IT is “the unauthorized use of any digital service or device that is not formally approved and supported by the IT department.” Out of expediency, individuals or teams in some organizations might bypass the IT team to use unapproved cloud services. These services — hidden from the view of the IT department — bring an additional layer of complexity to cloud resource management and can unintentionally expand an organization’s attack surface.

Lack of policy enforcement

Some organizations have strict policies that guide and govern the deployment of cloud resources. The policies are designed to control usage and maintain security standards. However, poor policy enforcement will render them ineffective.

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Implications of cloud sprawl

Unchecked cloud sprawl has several significant implications. Awareness of these potential ramifications is an important first step toward managing and mitigating cloud sprawl.

  • Operational challenges: Attempting to manage an unwieldy number of cloud resources can be a logistical nightmare. Without a clear view of your entire cloud environment, the complexity that comes with cloud sprawl will affect your organization’s ability to plan and strategize effectively. Your teams will waste time navigating through the sprawling cloud environment or trying to troubleshoot issues.
  • Security risks: As your cloud environment grows, so does your attack surface. Even one additional cloud resource presents a new entry point for malicious attackers. Although cloud resource numbers and usage will grow with your organization, growth that is disorganized and sprawling may leave you vulnerable to breaches and attacks.
  • Financial implications: Without a tight rein on cloud services and resources, organizations might end up paying for redundant services or idle resources. In addition, the burden of managing a sprawling cloud environment will require additional staff time and labor. Ultimately, this impacts your bottom line.

Managing and mitigating cloud sprawl

In the face of these challenges, organizations must emphasize cloud visibility and governance. Having a clear understanding of your cloud landscape — including all services and resources, their usage, and their governance — is crucial for effectively managing cloud sprawl.

Another essential step is the implementation and enforcement of a robust cloud computing policy.

  • Set out guidelines on the procurement and use of cloud services.
  • Define acceptable practices.
  • Establish mechanisms for accountability and enforcement.

Strict adherence to your cloud computing policy will prevent the proliferation of uncontrolled cloud resources, keeping cloud sprawl in check.

Organizations have a range of options as they leverage tools and techniques to monitor and control cloud usage. Automated tools can help with many aspects of cloud sprawl control. These tools:

  • Provide comprehensive visibility of your cloud environment
  • Monitor usage patterns
  • Generate alerts and reports on cloud usage baselines or anomalies
  • Identify redundant or idle resources
  • Enforce compliance with established policies

CrowdStrike Falcon® Cloud Security provides organizations with unified visibility and continuous monitoring of their cloud resources. By helping your organization with cloud resource discovery and simplifying cloud security policy management, Falcon Cloud Security enables you to rein in cloud sprawl through a single pane of glass.

Finally, many organizations mitigate cloud sprawl by establishing a cloud center of excellence (CCoE), which is a cross-functional team responsible for developing and implementing the organization’s cloud strategy. In your organization, a CCoE can be instrumental in shaping cloud usage policies and establishing best practices.


Lucia Stanham is a product marketing manager at CrowdStrike with a focus on endpoint protection (EDR/XDR) and AI in cybersecurity. She has been at CrowdStrike since June 2022.