Cloud lock-in: Why it’s bad for business and how you can avoid it 

By Johan Scheepers

The cloud can offer businesses many opportunities, including workforce mobility, scalability, enhanced security, access to flexible services, and cost savings. But as organisations migrate more of their data and infrastructure to the cloud, they also become increasingly reliant on their chosen cloud service providers. This can lead to long-term limitations when companies find themselves locked in with a single vendor or solution, and they discover that making changes is a costly affair. There’s no doubt that cloud lock-in narrows companies’ options; based on years in the IT industry, this is how I think you can avoid it.

The lock-in dilemma

Forrester predicts that the global cloud infrastructure market will grow by 35% to $120 billion in 2021, with technologies such as virtualisation, containerisation, and cloud native development incentivising increased cloud adoption. With increased adoption, problems may arise when companies focus solely on meeting their immediate requirements without considering future consequences or needs. Others don’t always read the fine print, and only realise they’ve become dependent on their vendor or what the real costs of switching are later down the line.

The International Data Corporation estimates that by 2022, over 90% of enterprises worldwide will be using a multi-cloud approach. This shows that more businesses are realising that using a single cloud vendor can be limiting, and that a multi-vendor strategy gives better flexibility and room for innovation. In a multi-cloud environment, organisations can diversify their risks and choose a provider based on what’s best for which use case.

Even with a multi-cloud approach, however, you could still end up using various systems that only work in a particular vendor’s environment, making it difficult to move your data and leaving you with vendor lock-in on multiple levels of your IT infrastructure.

Making sure you are free to move between vendors gives organisations a viable exit strategy, and the bargaining power to negotiate terms with vendors. When business requirements, legislation, terms and conditions, vendor offerings or tariffs change, as they often do, businesses that are locked into contracts will suffer.

The hidden costs of migration

The cloud promises flexibility, but if you can’t move your data based on what suits you, this may be a false promise. In general, cloud vendors want businesses to continue using their services, so the harder it is for businesses to move data, the better it is for vendors. Data migration can become very costly because of egress fees, but this is often overlooked when cloud contracts are signed.

Interoperability limitations can also result in lock-in. In a traditional cloud environment, moving to a different platform is not just a matter of ‘lift and shift’; applications may need significant (and costly) changes to work on a different vendor’s platform. Businesses are then left with two choices: to suffer the migration costs and challenges, or continue using their existing, potentially suboptimal, vendor.

The flexibility of an open hybrid cloud

Building on an open hybrid cloud mitigates many of the risks of cloud lock-in because it gives organisations the flexibility to choose where they want to move or scale, without many of the compatibility limitations that come with proprietary cloud platforms. This means you get all the benefits of the cloud, without having to worry about what’s going to break when you move it to a new platform. With the open hybrid cloud, you can run your primary production with one hyperscaler, and for example have your Disaster Recovery Site  with another. Moving workloads from on-premise to the public cloud to optimise costs and resources is simple, providing true flexibility.

Much of the cloud is already built on open source, and most open source cloud environments are designed on open standards that support interoperability. Kubernetes, for example, is an open source container-orchestration platform that has set an industry standard for managing cloud-native workloads. It automates many of the manual processes involving the deployment, management, and scaling of containerised applications. For businesses using a multi-cloud approach, Kubernetes allows them to move workloads effortlessly between on-premise, private, or public cloud infrastructure.

To take the headache out of cloud migration and management, businesses need to look for enterprise-ready open source providers that can offer them managed services with their choice of hyperscaler, with the additional benefit of open source portability.

Choosing the open hybrid cloud as a foundation for your cloud strategy doesn’t only avoid cloud lock-in, it also unlocks access to a vast open source community. This means your business can benefit from shorter resolution times for changes or bug fixes, as well as a much more rapid software development cycle.

Start with the end in mind

Before any business commits to a cloud service provider, they should always consider what they want to achieve in the long term with their technology. This will allow you to build a cloud strategy to help you meet those goals. It’s also essential to think about your exit strategy and know the hidden costs and challenges of migration before you sign that contract so your business can avoid the future risks of having vendor lock-in limit its growth.

With the open source hybrid cloud, thinking about your exit strategy is easy because you can’t be locked-in with a single vendor. Unlike with proprietary cloud environments, open standards give businesses the flexibility to add or migrate to new cloud platforms and services when they need to, enabling innovation without limitation.

(Johan Scheepers is the Senior Manager, Solution Architects: sub-Saharan Africa at Red Hat).


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