Cloud Rewind: Vendor Lock-In in the Cloud Age

Cloud computing has altered many perceptions and business practices since its early development. But with the recent plethora of providers and models, one of the larger preconceived IT notions it has taken on, both by the promotions of the companies providing the service and by the usage behaviors exhibited by its clientele, is the one vendor policy of 20 years ago. The whole idea of cloud is that it is contractual-less, and more easily integrated with a range of different providers and services than the IBM model championed in the early days of business IT. Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @CloudGathering.

The issues with vendor lock-in

Vendor Lock-In

Cloud has changed the way businesses approach vendor relationships.

Where vendor lock-in is concerned, businesses will often do it to themselves. Migrating an architecture is a massive undertaking, and very difficult to do both from a man-power standpoint as well as from a financial resources standpoint. Even if you can switch hosting providers, and save $2,500 per month, for many clients it’s just not worth it, because what they save over that year is roughly $30,000. So if the project to migrate is $50 to $60K, is it worth it to switch for the short term savings?

The work to migrate from one hosting provider to another is intolerable and not seamless – it causes downtime. With the concept of cloud, and some of the new ways infrastructures are being architected, everything is designed to fail (and failure is expected). With cloud, things get designed in robust ways, you can use the same practices to avoid vendor lock-in by simply approaching and designing for vendor relationships like different Availability Zones to your whole cloud architecture. That way you’re never reliant on a single vendor. More than that, when it comes time to get rid of a single provider, all your proverbial eggs aren’t in that one basket, so it becomes easier to spin up a new availability zone with one provider and build that one up and scale the other one down. Yes, you will have vendor overlap, complete with double payments, but it’s less onerous, less work, and it’s easier from a time and resources perspective. And with everything not being in a contract cloud, generally speaking, you are able to do things at the pace you are most comfortable with.

Vendor lock-in and loss of business agility

One of the areas of loss of agility occurs when working with a vendor who is not tuned to the specific needs of your business. You may have a business need that drives a particular piece of technology – load balancing for instance. You have need for a particular feature set on a particular load balancer. Let’s say you are working with Amazon, and all you really have access to is Elastic Load Balancer. But what you really need is NetScaler’s feature set – how do you run that if you’re solely with Amazon? They aren’t going to let you co-locate the NetScaler devices, so you’re out of luck. If you’re with another vendor more tuned to your business needs, it’s possible. What’s truly crucial is that in not being locked-in, if a provider is not addressing a need, you can simply move to one that will.

Does cloud require multiple vendors?

Managing multiple providers presents another overhead: different APIs, different interactions, different representatives from different companies that you have to deal with. Does cloud require this? The answer is yes and no. Generally cloud presents the opportunity to utilize different vendors in a fully customized portfolio mapped to the requirements of your business. In a way, having the different vendors doesn’t matter, since tools like RightScale exist to manage the different vendors, with built-in API management and a host of other benefits. You tell these systems what you need, where you need and when you need it – and that’s a very powerful functionality. However, platforms like RightScale do propose a sort of vendor lock-in. But compared to more tradition vendor lock-in (of the IBM variety), it’s not such a difficult situation, considering switching automation services doesn’t necessarily have to impact your business in terms of consistency of service, up-time or meeting client commitments. Migrating from automation services can be done behinds the scenes, with a lower cost associated overall.

By Jake Gardner

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