A CIO writes (sort of): I’m terrified of cloud lock-in – what should I do?

A CIO writes (sort of): I’m terrified of cloud lock-in – what should I do?
Mat is director of product and market analysis at MongoDB. He is responsible for building the vision, positioning and content for MongoDB’s products and services, including the analysis of market trends and customer requirements. Prior to MongoDB, Mat was director of product management at Oracle Corp. with responsibility for the MySQL database in web, telecoms, cloud and big data workloads. This followed a series of sales, business development and analyst / programmer positions with both technology vendors and end-user companies.


“Dear Deidre,

I’m stuck in a loveless marriage.

I’m in a three-year relationship which I don’t think I can get out of. It started off great, but now I’m getting bled dry and I don’t have the freedom I thought I would have. What should I do?


C.I O’Really.”

Some of you will be suffering from the same concerns as poor Mr. O’Really. Over the last two years it seems like every organisation has been enthusiastically walking down the aisle with whichever cloud vendor had the best deal at the time.

In this ‘heartache column’, I want to look at the inhibitors of cloud adoption and which factors are driving the fear of cloud lock-in. Then talk through the two crucial steps users can take to get the best of both worlds – the business velocity provided by the cloud, without the risks of locking themselves into a specific vendor.

Our own Cloud Brief research has found 82% of respondents are strategically using or evaluating the cloud today. So they should, cloud computing is helping business build better services, quicker and at a lower cost. Better, quicker, cheaper. It’s what we’re all looking for in a relationship with the vendors we love the most.

The number one driver for cloud adoption is agility – the need to rollout new applications faster. This was reinforced at a recent meeting I had in London with developers from a leading global financial institution. They complained it takes three months for hardware supporting a new project to be procured, installed, racked, and stacked. Clearly unacceptable in today’s hyper-competitive market governed by agile development, continuous integration, and elastic scaling.

Where did it all go wrong?

The cloud is providing serious value, but hitching your wagon to one provider could present serious competitive disadvantage. Another cloud vendor could make all sorts of changes to become more appealing. New services, features or region availability are all changes that could give your competitors an advantage.

So what form does that lock-in take? It’s not about the hardware, operating systems and software of the past, instead it’s about APIs, services and data. The underlying infrastructure made up by compute, storage and networking are largely a commodity and can be exchanged between cloud providers. But as we move up the infrastructure stack, the APIs and data these services exchange become less portable.

There are a number of potential friction points: security, management, continuous integration pipelines and container orchestration. That’s not all though, business need to also consider their content management, search, databases, data warehouses, and analytics too.

It’s the data management services which cause most concern. You may have heard of the term ‘data gravity’. It was coined a few years ago, but has a real resonance today. As you’ll remember from fourth form physics: The mass of an object increasing is equalled by the increase in the strength of its gravitational pull. Well, the same is true for data. The more data you have in a specific location, the harder it is to move.

So you’ve got data gravity tugging on your heartstrings and you’re staring down the barrel of being locked-in to an endless stream of unfulfilling and expensive date nights. What are the options?

Open your heart

There are no easy answers, especially if your organisation needs the simplicity and convenience of an “as-a-service solution”. However, there are two things you can do to greatly improve your options.

The first step is to find a service that can be run on multiple public cloud platforms. Would you buy a car that can only be driven on 30% of roads? Don’t buy a service that only works on Amazon, Google or Microsoft.

Second, find services which have open source alternatives. That way, if you tire of your current vendor relationship, you can just give them the heave-ho and download the same software and run it yourself, anywhere. Having an open source choice means you can run your deployment on another cloud or on your own private infrastructure.  Going from an as-a-service to running it yourself does require planning, but it does give you the ultimate freedom.

To demonstrate why both of the above points matter, take a look at Comparethemarket.com. The largest price comparison site in the UK made the switch from managing its own on-premise infrastructure to Amazon Web Services (AWS). As a part of that move, the IT team considered the AWS DynamoDB NoSQL database service. However, concerns around exposing itself to excessive AWS control made comparethemarket.com eliminate DynamoDB as an option.

So our advice to C.I. O’Really is blunt: get a divorce. If your vendor isn’t treating you right then get one that is. Find a solution that is cloud-agnostic and that has an open source version available. These two points will go a long way to giving you the joy of the cloud, along with the freedom. They may seem charming but please, just date your cloud provider, don’t marry them.

Editor’s note: Dear Deidre is a well-known UK agony aunt column in The Sun newspaper. Other agony aunts are also available.

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