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Cloud Computing

Avoiding the Vendor Lock-in Tyrant

Vendor lock-in is a phenomenon that has been with us long before even the creation of the model-T. The catch with investing in the proverbial car of your color choice – as long as it’s black – is still with us, only this time it’s far less obvious, and the alternatives, in the Cloud world, are approaching at a faster greater pace. The danger with this pace of technical alternatives means that optimizing one’s investments and operational leverage points can be difficult to get right, and your choices can quickly become inefficient ones. However, the ingenious ways in which technology vendors have learnt to lock customers in through complex integrations, proprietary fabrics, sandbagging on interoperability, along with markitecture techniques to boot, are producing a number of locked-in casualties.

Here are, what I consider, the top ways to avoid vendor lock-in:

1. Deploying highly extensible tools is one way to future-proof against the threat of being disintermediated from your peers that are looking to march lockstep with the latest trends: including OSS/BSS systems, business productivity apps and ultimately, even price points. Those tools range from provisioning, migration and orchestration tools, to monitoring and management tools that are not so much open-sourced, as much as they are deploying open architectures. And the starting point for figuring it out is from a quick glance at the API documentation of any vendor – ensure that it is an easy to understand bidirectional interface.

2. Don’t buy into the markitecture. The dreaded fabrics and linkages between modules and products are usually not as necessary as promoted. Divide suppliers so that a heavy investment in the lower layers of IT infrastructure does not have exclusive ties into the higher layer applications. Today’s software products are not only easier to deploy and tear down than traditional hardware based products, but are aimed at commoditizing the underlying infrastructure and governing the network at a higher control-plane. This modern approach to using vendor agnostic tools can help to lessen the dependencies on any one vendor.

3. Find a vendor that adheres to a standard within their relative sector. Alternatively find someone that comes pre-integrated with a set of ecosystem partners, rather than a vendor with few technology partners and large amounts of channel partners, looking to stitch together your patchwork solution.

4. Enter the subscription economy. This is a new set of expectations by which you would not be crazy for asking for a limited contract and a monthly service fee. Aside from the shorter contract terms, utilities like billing is often associated with services that are relatively cookie cutter – meaning little customization, a feature of lock-in, and a way to build your confidence as you scale with the new technology.

5. Don’t buy a house with one exit. Would you ever think of going through the pain of selling your primary residence for another house, with just one door? That fire hazard shouldn’t wait until there’s an emergency. Ensure that remodeling for another door, and even another room, is easy. By the same token, be more informed of your alternatives, and condition yourself to checking all areas of your operations. All too often we make a vendor choice and move on to the next thing; never looking back again, until we face a serious amount of new pain, or a crafty vendor gets in front of us often enough. It’s important to meet “modern code” from the things we’ve learnt from the previous generation of technologies.

6. Know what you’ve contracted for. Unfortunately a feature of lock-in is that many IT decision makers no longer have a review point in their multi-year contracts, and lack serious SLAs or benchmarks against which to measure the vendor’s success. Use outside assistance if necessary, but know how to set the bar.

7. Embrace it. As crazy as it sounds, vendor lock-in, is to some degree, inevitable. Rather than avoiding it at all costs, try to make smarter decisions up-front, by being educated and selective. Control over your data is the last stand toward lock-in. The ability to migrate your data (and preferably your apps) into and out of environments is a measure of your relative lock-in. There are degrees of lock-in – some of which are more natural than others. The more features and services that are valuable to your end constituents over the long run, is one example, driven by knowing both your vendor and IT consumers.

8. Find vendors that play nicely with others. In many cases you have bought your black car, and the vendor convinced you to latch it onto his horse module. You are remorseful since it is now galloping toward the edge of the cliff. Look for a vendor up front that is agile, and that supports a wide variety of competing or complimentary solutions. This extends your ability to have an out to those alternate platforms. The market is moving quickly and there are numerous outlets of information on what technologies are driving the market, your competitors or even your own vendor’s operations. If you’ve got a good technology vendor on your hands, chances are they know another good one with a non-competing product you should be evaluating.

 

Antonio Piraino is CTO at ScienceLogic

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