May 29, 2019 | 3 min read

3 Cloud Strategies that Mitigate the Risks of Vendor Lock-In

By: Robert Perrin

3 Cloud Strategies that Mitigate the Risks of Vendor Lock-In

A common concern among those entrusting their company’s applications and data to the cloud is vendor lock-in. Independent suppliers have their own concerns and incentives that may not align with yours. Having a single supplier of a product as sticky as software can constitute a risk to your business. Here are three cloud strategies that turn the risk of vendor lock-in into opportunities for choosing a scalable cloud strategy that aligns with your business needs.

Single Cloud Strategy

While there are risks of working with a single cloud provider, it’s often the most effective, efficient, and affordable way to migrate business applications to the cloud, especially for small and young systems or new projects. It can be the best solution for many IT organizations and doesn’t have to limit future growth.

The principles of good cloud architecture are common across reputable cloud providers. Look for a vendor that is at the forefront of innovation, well-established, and has solid best practices that have consistently delivered results, such as AWS or Azure. Over time, it should be relatively straightforward to add components across multiple cloud providers in response to the needs of the business. As a well-architected system matures, growth from a single cloud solution to a multi-cloud solution will happen organically.

Multi-Cloud Strategy

Another option is to architect your system to take advantage of multiple clouds at once. By distributing your computing needs across different clouds, you can target the strengths that each has to offer, such as adopting the smartest AI services, the most affordable compute resources, and data stores suitable to your specific needs.

A multi-cloud model is flexible and allows you to maintain negotiating power with cloud providers. While your business might not be able to easily abandon a provider entirely, it can shift resources to favor one over another. You can leverage each cloud’s strengths for maximum impact and keep common functionality in containers to make it easier to migrate between cloud hosts.

The chief drawback of this model is complexity. While there are tools and frameworks to aid the process, it requires added work to ensure that components in different clouds are configured and built to communicate and interoperate securely and efficiently.

Cloud-Agnostic Strategy

Finally, some choose to build their cloud systems using a cloud-agnostic approach. Using only generic interchangeable functionalities from cloud providers allows the entire system to move from one provider to another in a relatively straightforward way if business needs or cost structures shift in the future. Standardization among tools such as Docker for containers, Kubernetes for container orchestration, and Terraform for infrastructure specification and setup make this sort of generic cloud app increasingly feasible.

This architecture may seem safest. However, it comes with significant opportunity costs. By limiting yourself to the subset of functionality that is common among all cloud providers, you forgo the aspects that make each cloud stand out among its competitors. Depending on your business needs, the differentiators of various cloud providers can significantly benefit your organization. Finding the common feature set supported by your tools across all the cloud providers you’d like to use can be frustrating and may yield disappointingly narrow results.

In addition, you are imposing the costs of portability between clouds upon yourself up front. You will often have to choose a semi-managed service with extensive configuration over a fully managed service with minimal setup to maintain consistency between cloud providers. Even with tools, frameworks, and abstraction layers to support you, there’s still significant configuration, abstraction, and testing work required to support porting your system between clouds.

The concerns about cloud vendor lock-in are real, but there are strategies you can employ to mitigate the risks. If you need help weighing the benefits and risks of each approach for your organization, contact us to talk with one of our cloud specialists. We can help you define and implement the right cloud strategy to fit your business needs.