Cloud vendor lock-in fears dwindle for enterprises

Vendor lock-in concerns are slowly dissipating as enterprises prioritize functionality and speed to market. Other concerns continue to climb up the list, including skills and compliance.

A cloud migration poses a number of challenges and concerns, but for many enterprises, cloud vendor lock-in no longer tops their list.

Vendor lock-in has been a general enterprise concern for years, even with legacy hardware and software in local data centers. In a traditional lock-in scenario, an enterprise that purchases hardware products each year builds up dependencies and finds it difficult to move off the platform.

With the rise of public cloud, enterprises gained flexibility to avoid on-premises hardware and software commitments, but vendor lock-in risks didn't fully disappear.

"The fact is that all the major cloud platforms operate differently, so when you pick one, you're basically picking a team," said Carl Brooks, analyst at 451 Research.

Nevertheless, switching from one provider to another can be a costly move, but in general, cloud lock-in concern is less prominent among enterprise IT teams than it used to be.

"There are concerns around understanding security, there are concerns around skill sets, there are concerns around performance … but lock-in is quite often one of the lower ones that customers rank in terms of concern," said Deepak Mohan, research director at IDC. Enterprises are willing to risk lock-in for the tradeoff of agility and faster access to emerging technologies that cloud computing offers. For example, while some enterprises pursue a multi-cloud model to ease their lock-in fears, the more prevailing reason users opt for multi-cloud is to access a broader mix of cloud services and functionality.

"Think of lock-in and multi-cloud in separate [terms], because they're not as tightly coupled as people thought they would be a few years back," Mohan said.

As of right now, the main concern for companies moving to advanced services is to get performance advantages and simply be able to go to market.
Hyoun ParkCEO and founder, Amalgam Insights

Some multi-cloud deployments include higher-level cloud services -- such as machine learning, AI and big data -- which can especially pose cloud vendor lock-in risk. The more that enterprises use these advanced offerings, the more dependencies their applications amass. That's because these services, such as Amazon Redshift and Google Cloud AI, are typically unique to each vendor and can hinder portability. However, enterprises are willing to accept that risk to tap into these technologies.

"As of right now, the main concern for companies moving to advanced services is to get performance advantages and simply be able to go to market," said Hyoun Park, CEO and founder of Amalgam Insights, an analyst firm based in Boston. "They are not thinking deeply about lock-in at this point for most emerging services."

Be prepared

Another reason enterprises worry less about cloud vendor lock-in is because they have a stronger understanding of their own cloud resources and requirements. As their cloud deployments matured, IT teams identified which workloads they can more easily move off a particular platform, as well as how to move them across cloud boundaries, Mohan said.

To achieve this and further alleviate lock-in concerns, enterprises should take a complete inventory of all the cloud services they use. Tools from companies such as RightScale, CloudHeath Technologies and CloudCheckr can track services across vendors, as well as monitor their cost and security capabilities.

More enterprises also mitigate cloud vendor lock-in risks earlier in their planning processes with an exit strategy. This isn't an automatic reset button, but it can facilitate a cleaner getaway.

"When you develop an exit strategy, you are basically developing a strategy to completely support an application with a second provider," said Mindy Cancila, managing vice president at Gartner. "This means you must source the second provider, have the expertise to understand their architecture … and you must be prepared to manage and support that application on a second cloud platform."

Security, skills and compliance

Many enterprises now prioritize other concerns over vendor lock-in, such as security and compliance. What's more, as the vendor landscape is so competitive, cost remains at the top of the list. Enterprises need to understand the pricing structure of their cloud provider and estimate how much their workloads will cost. Numerous factors can create sticker shock, such as wasted resources and traffic charges.

Another top concern is a lack of skills, as new technologies continue to emerge, including multi-cloud. This skills gap can be traced back to other concerns, such as security, according to Mohan. Enterprises need experienced staff to build and manage a cloud environment, as well as those that understand available services.

Go all-in

Despite the momentum of multi-cloud, some enterprises still prefer the opposite approach and accept lock-in risks to enjoy the simplicity of using a single provider -- i.e., only needing to learn the technologies and idiosyncrasies of that one platform.

The longer an enterprise uses one provider and its services, the more it builds up its expertise to further optimize the cloud environment, Cancila said. Additionally, single-vendor customers can avoid common multi-cloud challenges, such as integration and security.

"It allows you to be less focused on the boiler room and more focused on application development and IT support," Brooks said.

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