Today’s increasingly competitive business landscape requires organizations to always be innovative in order to deliver premium experiences to their customers. For many businesses, this remains a significant hurdle. As new technologies emerge, businesses have the opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation—but only if they’re not restricted to one vendor solution.
Vendor lock-in occurs when customers are not able to leverage other vendor services, whether it’s due to proprietary technology that doesn’t integrate with other solutions, or due to contracts that limit customers from using other technologies. Data gravity, or when companies make it complicated and expensive to move data between vendors, is another challenge that prevents users from deploying multiple technologies, which can hinder innovation.
For example, many cloud providers make it difficult to go the multi-cloud route. Oftentimes, organizations using a major cloud provider end up tied to multiple services offered by CSPs, further locking them in as customers.
Negative Effects of Vendor Lock-in
Vendor lock-in significantly limits the agility and flexibility of IT departments. When tied to one provider, organizations are no longer able to leverage competing infrastructures to save money. Furthermore, over-reliance on a single vendor puts organizations at risk if a mission-critical service becomes unavailable (whether due to network downtime or cyberattacks).
For those committed to GCP’s new Hyperdisk storage technology, they would be unable to experience the benefits of AWS DynamoDB. Similarly, those locked in to Microsoft Azure would be unable to leverage AWS Trainium instances. This causes organizations to miss out on important performance gains and business revenue.
Eliminating vendor lock-in addresses these issues while letting users select best of breed services across cloud providers based on unique business needs; geolocating close to users ensures improved customer experience, app performance whlie reducing latency. The flexibilty to move service providers also helps organizations better comply with regional and national security requirements. Certain regulations restrict data from leaving specfic regions, in which case data may need to be replicated with these restrictions in mind.
Being Locked-in Isn’t Always a Bad Thing
There’s a broader trend and move towards composable infrastructures. The notion of composability, or building infrastructure and applications from component parts, enable businesses to configure modular parts as needed to achieve business goals. Having an application that is composable, built on multiple deployments and across multiple clouds allows applications to seamlessly communicate with each other and ultimately improve the customer experience. Having a truly effective composable infrastructure in the cloud allows organizations to have services built on top of that, while providing visibility into where the data is and how it can be moved.
For many organizations, being locked into a service limits composability and therefore their ability to innovate. However, there are times when using one solution makes sense.
Systems are getting increasingly complex as they scale and new technologies are bolted on to improve business processes. For those in the early stages of product development that are grappling with limited skills and resources, implementing a single vendor’s hardware or software can help with the complexity and speed at which products are brought to market. Nevertheless, decisions should be made with the principle of modularity in mind. This will allow them to make changes to their tech stack as business needs evolve.
Strategies for Preventing Lock-in
When it comes to vendor lock-in, there are strategies to avoid it. First, as mentioned above, using a modular software approach provides organizations with the freedom to mix and match parts of a system. Designing portable applications makes it easy to decouple a service from the infrastructure. Second, leveraging open standards allows users to take an agnostic approach to technology. Third, it’s important for users to thoroughly read vendor contracts, including the fine print.
Open standards were developed to address the challenges associated with vendor lock-in. With open standards, users are able to integrate competing vendor solutions to create a bespoke tech stack that meets the unique needs of a business. This enables organizations to compose services in a way that makes sense for the business, freeing them from a vendor’s proprietary interface.
When it comes to the fine print, these are the things to look out for: Does the service allow for easy migration? Are there tools available to easily integrate and migrate applications and data? Is the service affordable? It’s also important to understand contractual agreements, including any details around auto-renewals that can keep organizations locked in to services without having the chance to evaluate ROI. If you have the infrastructure and resources to do so, negotiate retaining ownership of data. This can help with the negative effects of data gravity.
Furthermore, in order to avoid lock-in, organizations have the option to adopt hybrid and multi-cloud strategies. With 90% of organizations deploying multi-cloud architectures, this provides them with the flexibility to take advantage of the best prices and features that are most aligned with their business needs. They also have the option to choose open source technologies and/or vendors that offer CSP agnostic services to avoid lock-in.
Sidestepping Lock-in to Drive Innovation
Being locked into a vendor solution can hamper innovation, which can negatively impact business revenue and growth. In order to stand out amongst the competition, understanding lock-in and ways to address it will position businesses for future success. Many businesses that remain locked into a specific solution will miss out on opportunities to provide customers with the best experience possible, and ultimately risk facing obsolescence.
About the author: With over 16 years of experience, Rahul Pradhan is VP of Products at Couchbase (NASDAQ: BASE), a cloud database platform company that 30% of the Fortune 100 depend on.
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