Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Cloud Expo Authors: Pat Romanski, Srinivasan Sundara Rajan, Trevor Parsons, Peter Silva, Jnan Dash

Related Topics: Cloud Expo, Microservices Journal

Cloud Expo: Blog Feed Post

Vendor Lock-in and Cloud Computing

Does lock-in simply come with the territory or can it be avoided?

IT vendor lock-in is as old as the IT industry itself. Some may even argue that lock-in is unavoidable when using any IT solution, regardless of whether we use it “on premise” or “as a service”. To determine whether this is the case, we examine traditional lock-in and the to-be-expected impact of cloud computing.

Vendor lock-in is seen as one of the potential drawbacks of cloud computing. One of Gartner’s research analysts recently published a scenario where lock-in and standards even surpass security as the biggest objection to cloud computing. Despite efforts like Open Systems and Java, we have managed to get ourselves locked-in with every technology generation so far. Will the cloud be different or is lock-in just a fact of live we need to live with? Wikipedia defines vendor lock-in as:

In economics, vendor lock-in, also known as proprietary lock-in, or customer lock-in, makes a customer dependent on a vendor for products and services, unable to use another vendor without substantial switching costs. Lock-in costs which create barriers to market entry may result in antitrust action against a monopoly.

Let’s examine what lock-in means in practical terms when using IT solutions and how cloud computing would make this worse or better. For this we look at four dimensions of lock-in:

Horizontal lock-in: This restricts the ability to replace a product with a comparable or competitive product. If I choose solution A (let’s for example take a CRM solution or a development platform), then I will need to migrate my data and/or code, retrain my users and rebuild the integrations to my other solutions if I want to move to solution B. This is a bit like when I buy a Prius, I cannot drive a Volt. But it would be nice if I can use the same garage, loading cable, GPS, etc. when I switch.

Vertical lock-in: This restricts choice in other levels of the stack and occurs if choosing solution A mandates use of database X, operating system Y, hardware vendor Z and/or implementation partner S. To prevent this type of lock-in the industry embraced the idea of open systems, where hardware, middleware and operating systems could be chosen more independently. Before this time hardware vendors often sold specific solutions (like CRM or banking) that only ran on their specific hardware / OS etc. and could only be obtained in their entirety from them. So a bit like today’s (early market) SaaS offerings, where all needs to be obtained from one vendor.

Diagonal (of inclined) Lock-in: This is a tendency of companies to buy as many applications as possible from one provider, even if his solutions in those areas are less desirable. Companies picked a single vendor to make management, training and especially integration easier but also to be able to demand higher discounts. A trend that let to large, powerful vendors, which caused again higher degrees of lock-in. For now we call this voluntary form of lock-in diagonal Lock-in (although “inclined”- a synonym for diagonal - may describe this better).

Generational Lock-in: This last one is as inescapable as death and taxes and is an issue even if there is no desire to avoid horizontal, vertical or diagonal lock-in. No technology generation and thus no IT solution or IT platform lives forever (well, maybe with exception of the mainframe). The first three types of lock-in are not too bad if you had a good crystal ball and picked the right platforms (eg. Windows and not OS/2) and the right solution vendors (generally the ones that turned out to become the market leaders). But even such market leaders at some point reach end of life. Customers want to be able to replace them with the next generation of technology without it being prohibitively expensive or even impossible because of technical, contractual or practical lock-in.

The impact of cloud computing on lock-in
How does cloud computing, with incarnations like SaaS (software as a service), PaaS (platform as a service) and IaaS (infrastructure as a service) impact the above? In the consumer market we see people using a variety of cloud services from different vendors , for example Flickr to share pictures, Gmail to read email, Microsoft to chat, Twitter to Tweet and Facebook to … (well, what do they do on Facebook?), all seemingly without any lock-in issues. Many of these consumer solutions now even offer integration amongst each other. Based on this one might expect that using IT solutions “as a service” in an enterprise context also leads to less lock-in. But is this the case?

Horizontal: For the average enterprise moving from one SaaS solution to another is not so different from moving from a traditional software application to another, provided they agreed whether and how their data can be transferred. What does help is that SaaS in general seems easier and faster to implement and that it is not necessary for the company to have two sets of infrastructure available when migrating.


For PaaS it is a very different situation, especially if the development language is proprietary to the PaaS platform. In that case, the lock-in is almost absolute and comparable to the lock-in companies may have experienced with proprietary 4GL platforms, with the added complexity that with PaaS also the underlying infrastructure is locked-in (see under vertical).

Horizontal lock-in for IaaS may actually be less severe than lock-in to traditional hardware vendors as virtualization - typical for any modern IaaS implementation - isolates from underlying hardware differences. Provided customers do not lock themselves in to a particular hypervisor vendor, they should be able to move their workloads relatively easy between IaaS providers (hosting companies) and/or internal infrastructure. A requirement for this is that the virtual images can be easily converted and carried across, a capability that several independent infrastructure management solutions now offer. Even better would be an ability to move full composite applications (more about this in another post).

Vertical: For SaaS and PaaS vertical lock-in is almost by definition part of the package as the underlying infrastructure comes with the service. The good news is the customer does not have to worry about these underlying layers. The bad news is that if the customer is worried about the underlying layers, there is nothing he can do. If the provider uses exotic databases, dodgy hardware or has his datacenter in less desirable countries, all the customer can do is decide not to pick that provider. He could consider contracting upfront for exceptions, but this will in almost all case will increase the cost considerably, as massive scale and standardization are essential to business model of real SaaS providers.

On the IaaS side we see less vertical lock-in, simply because we are already at a lower level, but ideally our choice of IaaS server provider should not limit our choice of IaaS network or IaaS storage provider. For storage the lesson we learned the hard way during the client server area –for enterprise applications logic and data need to be close together to get any decent performance – still applies. As a result the storage service almost always needs to be procured from the same IaaS provider as used for processing. On the network side most IaaS providers offer a choice of network providers, as they have their datacenter connected to several network providers (either at their own location or at one of the large co-locators).

Diagonal or inclined: The tendency to buy as much as possible from one vendor may be even stronger in the cloud than in traditional IT. Enterprise customers try to find as single SaaS shop for as many applications as possible. Apart from the desire for out of the box integration, an - often overlooked - reason for this is that customers need to regularly audit the delivery infrastructure and processes of their current SaaS providers, something which is simply unfeasible if they would end up having hundreds of SaaS vendors.

For similar reasons we see customers wanting to buy PaaS from their selected SaaS or IaaS vendor. As a result vendors are trying to deliver all flavors, whether they are any good in that area or not. A recent example being the statement from a senior Microsoft official that Azure and Amazon were likely to become more similar, with the first offering IaaS and the second likely to offer some form of PaaS soon.

In my personal view, it is questionable whether such vertical cloud integration should be considered desirable. The beauty of the cloud is that companies can focus on what they are good at and do that very well. For one company this may be CRM, for another it is financial management or creating development environments and for a third it may be selling books - um, strike that - hosting large infrastructures. Customers should be able to buy from the best, in each area. CFOs do not want to buy general ledgers from CRM specialists, and for sure sales people don’t want it the other way around. Similar considerations apply for buying infrastructure services from a software company or software from an infrastructure hosting company. At the very least this is because developers and operators are different types of people, which no amount of “devops training “ will change (at least not during this generation).

Generational: As with any new technology generation people seem to feel this may be the final one: “Once we moved everything to the cloud, we will never move again.” Empirically this is very unlikely - there always is a next generation, we just don’t know what it is (if we did, we would try and move to it now). The underlying thought may be: “Let the cloud vendors innovate their underlying layers, without bothering us”. But vendor lock-in would be exactly what would prevent customers from reaping the benefits of clouds suppliers innovating their underlying layers. Let’s face it, not all current cloud providers will be innovative market leaders in the future. If we were unlucky and picked the wrong ones, the last thing we want to be is locked-in. In today’s market picking winning stocks or lotto numbers may be easier then picking winning cloud vendors (and even at stock picking we are regularly beaten by not very academically skilled monkeys).

Conclusion
My goal for this post was to try and define lock-in, understand it in a cloud context and agree that it should be avoided while we still have a chance (while 99% of all business systems are not yet running in the cloud). Large scale vertical integration is typical for immature markets – be it early-day cars or computers or now clouds. As markets mature companies specialize again on their core competencies and find their proper (and profitable) place in a larger supply chain. The lock-in table at the end, where I use the number of padlocks to indicate relative locking of traditional IT versus SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, is more meant for discussion and improvement than as an absolute statement. In fact our goal should be to reduce lock-in considerably for these new platforms. In a later post I will discuss some innovative cross cloud portability strategies to prevent lock-in when moving large numbers of solutions into the cloud, stay tuned.

PS Not that I for a minute think my blogs have any serious stopping power, but do not let the above stop you from moving suitable applications into the cloud today. It’s a learning experience that we will all need as this cloud thing gets serious for serious enterprise IT (and I am absolutely sure it will, as the percentage of suitable applications is becoming larger every day). Just make sure you define an exit strategy for each first, as all the industry analysts will tell you. In fact, even for traditional IT it always was a good idea to have an exit strategy first (you did not really think these analysts came up with something new, did you?).

This blog originally was published at ITSMportal.com on July 14, 2010

More Stories By Gregor Petri

Gregor Petri is a regular expert or keynote speaker at industry events throughout Europe and wrote the cloud primer “Shedding Light on Cloud Computing”. He was also a columnist at ITSM Portal, contributing author to the Dutch “Over Cloud Computing” book, member of the Computable expert panel and his LeanITmanager blog is syndicated across many sites worldwide. Gregor was named by Cloud Computing Journal as one of The Top 100 Bloggers on Cloud Computing.

Follow him on Twitter @GregorPetri or read his blog at blog.gregorpetri.com

@CloudExpo Stories
How do you securely enable access to your applications in AWS without exposing any attack surfaces? The answer is usually very complicated because application environments morph over time in response to growing requirements from your employee base, your partners and your customers. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Haseeb Budhani, CEO and Co-founder of Soha, will share five common approaches that DevOps teams follow to secure access to applications deployed in AWS, Azure, etc., and the frict...
SYS-CON Media announced today that John Treadway’s blog has exceeded 475,000 page views. John Treadway, Vice President at Cloud Technology Partners, has surpassed 475,000 page views on the SYS-CON family of online magazines, which includes Cloud Computing Journal, Internet of Things Journal, Big Data Journal, Microservices Journal, and several others. His blog home page at SYS-CON can be found at JohnTreadway.SYS-CON.com.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Column Technologies, a global technology solutions company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Established in 1998, Column Technologies is a leader in application performance and infrastructure management for commercial and federal markets. The company is headquartered in the United States, with a diverse and talented team of more than 350 employees around th...
ProfitBricks has launched its new DevOps Central and REST API, along with support for three multi-cloud libraries and a Python SDK. This, combined with its already existing SOAP API and its new RESTful API, moves ProfitBricks into a position to better serve the DevOps community and provide the ability to automate cloud infrastructure in a multi-cloud world. Following this momentum, ProfitBricks has also introduced several libraries that enable developers to use their favorite language to code ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Blue Box has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's DevOps Summit New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Blue Box delivers Private Cloud as a Service (PCaaS) to a worldwide customer base. Built on a technology platform leveraging decades of operational expertise in cloud and distributed systems, Blue Box Cloud is a managed private cloud product available in both hosted and on-prem versions. Each Blue Box ...
SYS-CON Events announced today Sematext Group, Inc., a Brooklyn-based Performance Monitoring and Log Management solution provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Sematext is a globally distributed organization that builds innovative Cloud and On Premises solutions for performance monitoring, alerting and anomaly detection (SPM), log management and analytics (Logsene), search analytics (S...
SYS-CON Events announced today Isomorphic Software, the global leader in high-end, web-based business applications, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Isomorphic Software is the global leader in high-end, web-based business applications. We develop, market, and support the SmartClient & Smart GWT HTML5/Ajax platform, combining the productivity and performance of traditional desktop software ...
SYS-CON Events announced today Arista Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Arista Networks was founded to deliver software-driven cloud networking solutions for large data center and computing environments. Arista’s award-winning 10/40/100GbE switches redefine scalability, robustness, and price-performance, with over 3,000 customers and more than three million cloud networking ports depl...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place November 3–5, 2015 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. With a global footprint of data centers and network points...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cisco, the worldwide leader in IT that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cisco makes amazing things happen by connecting the unconnected. Cisco has shaped the future of the Internet by becoming the worldwide leader in transforming how people connect, communicate and collaborat...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Liaison Technologies, a leading provider of data management and integration cloud services and solutions, has been named "Silver Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Liaison Technologies is a recognized market leader in providing cloud-enabled data integration and data management solutions to break down complex information barriers, enabling enterprises to make sm...
SYS-CON Media announced today that Blue Box as launched a popular blog feed on Cloud Computing Journal. Cloud Computing Journal aims to help open the eyes of Enterprise IT professionals to the economics and strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Blue Box Cloud gives you unequaled agility, without the burden of designing, deploying and managing your own infrastructure. It’s the right choice when public cloud just won’t do. Blue Box Cloud is a managed Private Cloud as a Service (...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ciqada will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Ciqada™ makes it easy to connect your products to the Internet. By integrating key components - hardware, servers, dashboards, and mobile apps - into an easy-to-use, configurable system, your products can quickly and securely join the internet of things. With remote monitoring, control, and alert messaging capability, you will mee...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, p...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Stratoscale, the new data center operating system, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Based in Herzeliya, Israel, Stratoscale is redefining the data center, developing a hardware-agnostic, software platform hyper-converging compute, storage and networking across the rack or data center. The self-optimizing platform automatically distributes all physical...
SYS-CON Events announced today that ProfitBricks, the provider of painless cloud infrastructure, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY., and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. ProfitBricks is the IaaS provider that offers a painless cloud experience for all IT users, with no learning curve. ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Emcien will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Emcien’s vision is to let anyone use data to know the future. Emcien has built an automated, predictive analysis product that improves the lives of real people. Emcien allows people to automate their data analysis so they can build a better future.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dyn, the worldwide leader in Internet Performance, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Dyn is a cloud-based Internet Performance company. Dyn helps companies monitor, control, and optimize online infrastructure for an exceptional end-user experience. Through a world-class network and unrivaled, objective intelligence into Internet conditions, Dyn ensures...
SYS-CON Events announced today that GENBAND, a leading developer of real time communications software solutions, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's WebRTC Summit, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The GENBAND team will be on hand to demonstrate their newest product, Kandy. Kandy is a communications Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that enables companies to seamlessly integrate more human communications into their Web and mobile applicatio...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Open Data Centers (ODC), a carrier-neutral colocation provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Open Data Centers is a carrier-neutral data center operator in New Jersey and New York City offering alternative connectivity options for carriers, service providers and enterprise customers.