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HashiCorp Consul pricing adjusts to SaaS

Some users balked at HCP Consul pricing when it first became available, prompting HashiCorp to add a Starter SKU, though it has yet to release specifics on cost.

HashiCorp plans to expand Consul pricing options on its cloud platform, in part to woo small and midsize companies and open source users who suffered sticker shock with its initial SaaS rollout.

Consul is HashiCorp's service discovery and service mesh product, which handles network management in distributed environments. The product became generally available on the HashiCorp Cloud Platform (HCP) in February, and pricing became publicly available in March. HCP Consul emerged as part of a broader wave of service mesh SaaS offerings released this year; separately, HashiCorp also supports HashiCorp Consul Service (HCS) on Microsoft Azure.

HashiCorp Consul SaaS was initially priced in two tiers: a Development tier that supported up to 50 service instances in dev/test environments starting at 2.7 cents per hour per Amazon EC2 server node. Standard pricing, for production environments of up to 500 service instances, started at 6.9 cents per hour per EC2 node, plus 2 cents per hour per service instance.

HashiCorp defines a service instance as "a logical representation of an application or microservice that is registered in Consul," according to its pricing page. Volume discounts are available on the per-service-instance price, but the price per server node rises at higher scale.

For small and midsize customers, the prospect of a hosted service mesh was appealing, but HCP Consul's per-service-instance pricing was not.

"Basically, each new application registered in Consul would cost you 20 bucks [per month at the entry-level price], and that doesn't include actual resources needed for running that application," said Andrey Devyatkin, a senior cloud engineering consultant at Hippo, New York-based makers of an app that manages prescription drug pricing, in a March interview about HCP Consul's initial pricing. "I don't think it makes sense for small players ... Consul-agent-based billing, not application-based billing, would make more sense to me."

Screenshot by Beth Pariseau
HashiCorp CTO Armon Dadgar presents new HCP Consul pricing.

Now, HashiCorp plans to add a Starter SKU for HCP Consul to appeal to smaller users in response to this kind of feedback, co-founder and CTO Armon Dadgar said in a keynote presentation at the HashiConf Europe virtual event this week.

"Some of the feedback we got [on HCP Consul] was that having just a Development and a single-size production SKU wasn't enough," Dadgar said in his presentation. "There were other needs and challenges people were trying to solve."

Some of the feedback we got [on HCP Consul] was that having just a Development and a single-size production SKU wasn't enough. There were other needs and challenges people were trying to solve.
Armon DadgarCo-Founder and CTO, HashiCorp

The HCP Consul Starter SKU will be for entry-level production users and "open source users looking to minimize the operational cost of managing Consul in their own environment," according to a company blog post.

A high-end Plus SKU that features support for global-scale multi-cluster federation is also coming soon. Starter and Plus SKUs will also be added for HCP Vault secrets management, which became generally available in April.

No details were disclosed this week about whether the Starter SKU will involve a per-service-instance cost and how many services it will support, or how many service instances the Plus SKU will accommodate.

Service mesh SaaS pricing tests market

The per-service-instance price for HCP Consul is more tolerable for large companies, since they can get volume discounts and have different cost considerations than smaller organizations.

"If your company is more established and you had enough of a budget to free up folks to work on product more than infrastructure, it'd be worth it," said Connor Kelly, until recently a site reliability engineer at an online job portal company that was considering HCP Consul, in a March interview about HCP Consul's initial pricing.

However, the cap on the Standard pricing tier's introductory small level at 500 service instances could be an obstacle in big environments, Kelly said. The Standard tier also includes medium and large levels that scale higher for a higher per-server price, with volume discounts on service instances.

"If a company is [fully microservices-based] you can easily get to 500 service instances as you scale up," Kelly said. "Particularly if you end up with glue code or glue services that you might want on the service mesh."

HCP Consul isn't the only service mesh SaaS vendor that will tinker with its pricing as the market matures. Its competitors also must feel out service mesh users' appetite for SaaS support and what costs they will bear. And as a result, service mesh SaaS pricing varies considerably between vendors so far and will be subject to change.

"It's still very early in terms of market adoption [of service mesh]," said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC. "It's going to be difficult for everybody until the market sees an inflection point -- a big factor in getting to that inflection point will be clearing away objections, including pricing objections."

HCS on Azure, for example, is priced based on server infrastructure only, without a service-instance cost. Calico Cloud is priced per server node hour but also includes a per-month cost for log data ingestion, capped at 100 GB in its Starter edition. Kong Konnect Plus is priced at $250 per service per month, but it does not include a per-server price. Kong defines a "service" in this context as "an API that can be defined as a discrete unit of functionality and that can be accessed remotely by its consumers."

Beth Pariseau, senior news writer at TechTarget, is an award-winning veteran of IT journalism. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @PariseauTT.

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