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Steps to avoid cloud vendor lock-in

December 21, 2015

A recent article pointed out that getting a clear indication of the costs of a cloud platform, like Amazon’s AWS or Microsoft Azure, isn’t as easy as you might think. So what happens if your business commits to a cloud platform and then you find you could move to another platform that costs less? What can you do to reduce the business risk of cloud vendor lock-in?

Lock-in occurs when a system is so central to business operations that a move away will disrupt business in a significant and costly way. It’s not unusual for organizations to find they are locked into a particular vendor’s product; in recent years the classic example has been ERP software. The problem now in the modern world is that markets and competitors can change quickly, companies can decide to adjust business models, or face new regulatory requirements. If these changes require you to move application infrastructure, or re-locate data, you need to be comfortable that you can make those changes – to another cloud provider, or even back on-premise.

 

Here are a few steps you can take to avoid the risk of cloud vendor lock-in:

Legal

The adoption of a cloud or SaaS deployment strategy will require a new set of legal agreements to protect your business. As analyst group Constellation Research note:

“Client–vendor relationships in the cloud are seemingly perpetual. When converting from an on-premises arrangement, it is imperative that these agreements provide a chance for a new slate.”

Constellation Research are one of the groups that provide a Cloud Buyer’s Bill of Rights. Of course their document isn’t free, but you could end up spending much more if you ignore their advice.

Standards

You should ensure that your cloud or SaaS vendor uses standards-based technology. For example, do they store data in a relational database format that you can access easily if you want to move data elsewhere? Another aspect you can check is how you can modify or enhance the business rules in the cloud vendor’s software via APIs (application program interfaces) that they provide to customers and third parties. Few APIs means that you are stuck with whatever the cloud vendor decides are the appropriate rules and processes that your business can use. A limited number of APIs, and lack of database standards is going to increase your risk of vendor lock-in.

Integration

Enabling interoperability between systems has been a goal of IT developers for many years. SOA (service-oriented architecture) was supposed to have achieved this some years ago, but the knowledge and skills required to make it work have been rather specialized. Software vendors provided integration solutions in the past, but these are expensive and again require a high level of developer skill. However, a new breed of cloud-based integration software has arisen, what Gartner calls Integration platform-as-a-service (iPaaS), that makes integration easier and less costly to use.

An iPaaS is the technical solution to the problem of vendor lock-in. With an iPaaS you use connectors to access the data and rules in an application, and the application can be on-premise or in the cloud. The processing of data occurs in the cloud so you don’t need to invest in infrastructure. Because iPaaS vendors provide many connectors for a variety of different systems, you can connect, and disconnect, systems if you wish to move applications around.

The ERP syndrome, when businesses believe that they just have to invest in an ERP system, has led to many organizations relying on a centralized system to manage operations. Despite that, there is always a need to integrate with other third party apps, but recent research found that over half of all ERP customers are dissatisfied with the integration capabilities of their ERP system. Instead of letting the ERP system dictate your integration requirements, using an iPaaS allows you to protect your ERP investment and still implement other systems like an e-commerce website.

Alternatively, if your challenge is to manage a hybrid cloud environment (combining on-premise applications with cloud and mobile systems), or you need to transform your business for the 21st century, you can use an iPaaS to ensure integration of cloud-based and best-of-breed software.

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