According to SearchCloudApplications, vendor lock-in “is a situation in which a customer using a product or service cannot easily transition to a competitor’s product or service. Vendor lock-in is usually the result of proprietary technologies that are incompatible with those of competitors. However, it can also be caused by inefficient processes or contract constraints, among other things.”

While vendor lock-in is a valid concern for IT leaders evaluating cloud services, such as PaaS and model-driven rapid application development platforms, it’s often exaggerated and distorted by vendors looking to mitigate competitive threats and build confidence in their own products.

Much of the attention (and FUD) is directed at the technology aspects of lock-in, but there are several other equally crucial areas that can lock organizations into platforms, if they aren’t careful. To help identify and mitigate those risks, we define the three main types of lock-in below and provide key questions to ask during the vendor evaluation process.

We hope this information helps you avoid cloud vendor lock-in while ultimately making the best technology/platform choice for your business.

Data Lock-In

Data is the primary asset in any information system. Therefore, understanding if and how (easily) you can access your application data is a key concern to minimizing lock-in concerns.

Key questions to ask:

  • Who owns my data? Is it written into the contract with the vendor that I own my data?
  • Can I easily get my data out of the vendor’s platform?
  • In which format(s) do I received my data? Is it a proprietary format that I need to manually convert before I can move it to another platform? Or is it in an open format like XML?

Cloud Lock-In

The cloud provider ecosystem is dynamic. While you may be happy with your current provider, conditions can change at any time. One price hike, security breach, or change in terms is all it could take to force you to reevaluate your choice of vendor.

The only way to mitigate the risk of cloud lock-in, therefore, is to ensure you can easily port your applications and data to any cloud provider at any time, in a highly automated fashion.

Key questions to ask:

  • How much effort does it take to move your applications to another cloud provider? Is it truly automated/one-click?
  • Is your cloud provider based on open technology (e.g. Cloud Foundry, Open Stack), facilitating greater portability?

Intellectual Property Lock-In

When it comes to custom software, your organization’s intellectual property (IP) resides in the form of code or application models. If for some reason you decide to move to another vendor, you want to be able to transfer that IP as efficiently as possible to your next target platform of choice. To avoid intellectual property lock-in, ensure that the design artifacts holding your knowledge can be easily exported to a platform-neutral format, facilitating the migration. After all, the bulk of your resources are spent building applications, not running them in the cloud.

Key questions to ask:

  • Do I own the intellectual property rights of the design artifacts (code/models)?
  • Do I have access to the models/code/core configurations?
  • Can I export my models/code to my target architecture of choice (e.g. Hibernate, Spring or other Java/.NET frameworks) without relying on proprietary libraries/services I cannot maintain?
  • Is it possible to revert back to the original platform in case I change my mind? If you can’t revert your decision, this is also a form of lock in, with much higher risk because there’s no way back.

Using these questions as a guide during your vendor evaluation, you can be more confident in your decision to select a cloud platform that eliminates vendor lock-in on multiple levels, not just technology lock-in. You’ll have the peace of mind that you’ve made the right platform choice to drive your business forward, while having the comfort that you can easily migrate to another platform in the future, should your needs or circumstances change.