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Introducing Unattended Project Recommender: discover, reclaim, or deprecate abandoned projects under your organization

In fast-moving organizations, it’s not uncommon for cloud resources, including entire projects, to occasionally be forgotten about. Not only such unattended resources can be difficult to identify, but they also tend to create a lot of headaches for product teams down the road, including unnecessary waste and security risks. 

To help you prune your idle cloud resources, we’re excited to introduce Unattended Project Recommender. It’s a new feature of Active Assist that provides you with a one-stop shop for discovering, reclaiming, and shutting down unattended projects. With actionable and automatic recommendations, you no longer have to worry about wasting money or mitigating security risks presented by your idle resources. Unattended Project Recommender uses machine learning to identify, with a high degree of confidence, projects that are likely abandoned based on API and networking activity, billing, usage of cloud services, and other signals. This feature is available via the Recommender API today, making it easy for you to integrate with your company’s existing workflow management and communication tools, or export results to a BigQuery table for custom analysis.

Thousands of projects can be unattended in large organizations, presenting major security risks

Your cloud projects can go abandoned or unattended for a number of reasons — ranging from a test environment that’s no longer needed, to project cancellation, to project owner switching jobs, and more. Not only can such projects contribute to your cloud bill (waste) but they may contain security issues such as open firewalls or privileged service account keys that attackers can exploit to get a hold of your cloud resources for cryptocurrency mining or, worse, compromise your company’s sensitive data. These security risks tend to grow over time because the latest best practices and patches are usually not applied to unattended projects. 

We experience this issue here at Google, too… In fact, it has been on Google’s internal security team’s radar for some time now, so we joined forces and looked into this problem together, starting with our very own “google.com”organization cloud projects. We quickly found some projects that were unattended, but remediating this issue was easier said than done due to challenges in several areas:

Detection: With lots of signals available to you via sources like Cloud Monitoring, what are the right ones you should look at (e.g. API, networking, user activity)? How can you tell the difference between an unattended project and a project that has a low level of activity by design (e.g. a “shell” project that holds an auth token)?

Remediation: Once you have identified a project that seems abandoned, how do you go about ensuring that it’s indeed an unattended project? How do you reduce the risk of deleting something that might be essential to a production workload, causing irreversible data loss? How do you solve this at the scale of your entire organization, beyond a one-time cleanup? 

Over the course of 2021 we built and tested a Google-internal prototype first, cleaning up many of our internal unattended projects, and then worked with a number of Google Cloud customers to build and tune this feature based on real-life data (thank you to all of our early adopters for working with us and your generous feedback that helped us shape this feature!) It was not uncommon for us to come across organizations with thousands of unattended projects, and we’re very excited to bring Unattended Project Recommender to all customers, in public preview.

Discovering and acting on unattended project recommendations

Unattended Project Recommender analyzes usage activity across all projects under your organization, including the following data:

API activity (e.g. service accounts with authentication activity, API calls consumed)

Networking activity (ingress and egress)

Billing activity (e.g. services with billable usage)

User activity (e.g. active project owners)

Cloud services usage (e.g. number of active VMs, BigQuery jobs, storage requests)

Based on these signals, it can generate recommendations to clean up projects that have low usage activity (where “low usage” is defined using a machine learning model that ranks projects in your organization by level of usage), or recommendations to reclaim projects that have high usage activity but no active project owners. Here’s what an example post-processed summary list of recommendations can look like for the “foobar” organization that has 3 projects:

In addition to the recommendations, you can also examine the underlying project activity insights that the recommendations are based upon. The insights provide additional information that can be useful for integration with your organization’s existing workflows and automation (e.g. send an auto-generated email or chat message to project owners based on the list provided by the owners field). Here’s an example insight payload:

GCP projects are used in many different ways and for many different purposes. In case you get a recommendation to delete a project that’s being used in a way that’s out of the scope for this feature, you can dismiss the recommendation and it will stop showing up for the given project. 

Restoring deleted projects

When you choose to shut down a project using the projects.delete() method, it gets marked for deletion. After a project is marked for deletion, it becomes unusable, all resources within that project are shut down, and a 30-day wait period for the project and all of its data to get fully deleted begins.

In case a useful project is accidentally shut down, you have the option to restore the project within that 30-day wait period. Since restoring allows you to recover most but not necessarily all of your project data and resources, we recommend carefully examining the utilization insights associated with a project and considering any additional utilization signals that may not be captured by the Unattended Project Recommender before taking the cleanup action.

Early customer success stories

A number of enterprise customers are already using Unattended Project Recommender to keep their organizations clean of unattended projects and resources.

Decathlon, a French sporting goods retailer, is excited for the insight Unattended Project Recommender will bring to their environment, and are already deploying it as a part of their latest cloud security initiatives.

“After a thorough test of this feature and the validation of our CISO, we ended up deleting our first 775 projects, and no one complained! A great help to improve our security. The next step for us will be to operationalize it at scale, and implement a company wide policy for unattended resource management.” —Adeline Villette, Cloud Security Officer

For Veolia, one of the world’s largest water, waste and energy management companies, not only does this feature reduce security risks and waste, but also helps drive cultural shift and alignment with its ecological transformation strategy.

“This feature allows us to reduce our costs and security debt on assets that are no longer in use, and is also fully in line with Veolia’s philosophy of limiting its carbon footprint. After having tested Unattended Project Recommender on more than 3,000 projects throughout our organization, we are looking to bring it as proactive alerts to our project owners at scale.”—Thomas Meriadec, Product Manager

Box, a secure cloud content management provider, views it as a foundation for building a repeatable process to remediate unused resources.

“Unattended Project Recommender is a great fit for us. It gives us a unified view of project usage across our entire organization and enables us to address security risks of legacy projects in a systematic and organized manner, ensuring an even safer environment.” —Matt Bowes, Staff Security Engineer

Getting started with the Unattended Project Recommender

To help you get started, we’ve prepared a Cloud Shell tutorial (source code) that you can use to find unattended project recommendations within your own Projects/Folders/Organization. Click this button to clone the tutorial from GitHub and run in your Cloud Shell environment:

As you can see, listing recommendations for your projects only takes a few clicks with the tutorial (special thanks to Lanre Ogunmola, Security & Compliance Specialist, for making this look so easy)! For additional detail on using the gcloud CLI or API to discover unattended project recommendations, please refer to the documentation page.

You can also automatically export all recommendations from your Organization to BigQuery and then investigate the recommendations with DataStudio or Looker, or use Connected Sheets that let you use Google Workspace Sheets to interact with the data stored in BigQuery without having to write SQL queries.

As with any other Recommender, you can choose to opt out of data processing at any time by disabling the appropriate data groups in the Transparency & control tab under Privacy & Security settings.

We hope that you can leverage Unattended Project Recommender to improve your cloud security posture and reduce cost, and can’t wait to hear your feedback and thoughts about this feature! Please feel free to reach us at [email protected] and we also invite you to sign up for our Active Assist Trusted Tester Group if you would like to get early access to the newest features as they are developed.

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