Is vendor lock-in different with cloud?

With clouds, the data and the compute reside outside the firewall and outside the direct purview of in-house IT. This potentially causes more major concerns around vendor lock-in.

Often the result of long-term "strategic IT contracts" with one of the legacy vendors such as IBM, BMC, CA, or HP, vendor lock-in occurs when a company becomes locked into the offerings of one vendor, making it difficult to change or add technologies from new vendors.

According to Deepak Kanwar, Senior Manager at Zenoss, an example of this in the cloud space is the lack of interoperability between cloud offerings such as AWS and Azure. The result of vendor lock-in is the same, a customer cannot move despite wanting to do so, he explains.

Kanwar points out while vendor lock-in has often been viewed negatively, organizations have historically willingly adopted it — such as with IBM during the mainframe days or Microsoft Windows to power their desktops.

"So why is vendor lock-in different with clouds? In each of the earlier cases, the data and the datacenter remained in control of the IT organization. With clouds, the data and the compute reside outside the firewall and outside the direct purview of in-house IT. This is causing major concerns around vendor lock-in," pointed out Kanwar.

ZDNet: What are some of the main concerns associated with vendor lock- in?

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Kanwar: Some of the key concerns include:

  • Vendor lock-in impacts organizational health - constant compromise and toleration since switching cost/effort can be significant.
  • Organizations often find themselves locked into the vendor ecosystem despite being dissatisfied for any reason, preventing them from competitive forces prevalent within an open marketplace.
  • Vendor lock-in can slow down innovation because customers that are now captive are unable to move, lowering the motivation for their vendor to continue on the path of rapid innovation.

However, the benefits of relying on a single vendor can actually be compelling, such as:

  • Organizations have the convenience of one-stop-shopping, as well as “one throat to choke” when they need help or support.
  • Organizations can negotiate favorable contracts and can take advantage of volume based discounting.
  • A single vendor SLAs may allow companies to do a better job setting service availability and performance expectation with their customers/consumers.
  • Technology standardization can allow organizations to minimize skill requirements and improve productivity and efficiency from their staff.

Q: What are some of the best practices regarding vendor lock-in for organizations seeking to develop in the cloud?

Kanwar: With emerging and interoperability standards, a complete vendor lock-in can be avoided; however, a partial lock-in may be unavoidable. For best results:

  • Ask the vendor directly what your exit options are if you need to move and what they do to facilitate a graceful exit.
  • Figure out a way for you to obtain physical access to your data if you choose to move – for this more than any contractual considerations might keep you locked-in.
  • Consider a cloud that is built upon an open source platform such as OpenStack . This might give you some assurance of interoperability with other providers.
  • While many contracts will be boilerplate, make sure to have a legal review to ensure the fine print is not locking your organization in somehow.
  • Review any change in terms of conditions pushed out by your provider and make sure the new terms are still in line with your business needs and expectations.