Avoiding Cloud Vendor Lock-in

Always ask before entering into any contract, “How do I get my data out in the future if I need or want to?”

Cloud vendor lock-in is typically a situation which a customer using a product or service cannot easily transition to a competitor. Lock-ins are usually the result of proprietary technologies that are incompatible with those of its competitors and it can also be caused by inefficient processes or constraints among other things.  I’ve seen many customers come up against this in the past with traditional data centers where their storage vendor or hyper-visor solutions locked those customers into fixed solutions which inhibit the customer to be agile in moving to new technologies. The cloud albeit public or private can be no different when it comes to using lock-in techniques for retaining its user base.

Fear of Lock-in

Cloud lock-in is often cited as the major obstacle to cloud service adoption. there are a number of reasons why a company may look to migrate to the cloud, most often its all about reducing the physical infrastructure that they have in their data centers, cloud gives them the agility their look for, additionally reducing not only the CAPEX but also the OPEX required for the ongoing maintenance of the systems.

There’s also the question of how they should migrate to the cloud , the complexities of the migration process may mean that the customer stays with their provider which could also mean there’s a compromise in that their current provider doesn’t meet all their needs and limits the agility of their IT and value it provides to the business. 

In some cases during the migration to another provider it may be required to move the data and services back to the original on-premises location which in itself may be an issue as the original architecture may no longer be available or the data center is now reduced in resource availability and prohibits such an action. Further more the data may of been changed to allow its operation on a particular cloud vendors platform and would need to be altered again to run on an alternative cloud platform. 

Cloud vendor lock-in

Its only natural that cloud vendors want to lock you in after all they’re there to make money and need you to stay with them, they work at ways to keep you using their services and try to ensure that migrations are not an easy task. their customers often don’t know the impact until they try to migrate and can be devastating when it happens. Due to these challenges migration services from third party vendors are becoming a common occurrence and turning into lucrative business.

Taking the leap

Most companies I’ve talked to recently have similar experiences when looking to migrate from their current cloud vendors, the majority were unhappy with the perceived costs of using cloud infrastructure after all cloud was suppose to be cheap but the ROI was taking longer than first anticipated. The cloud vendors support services were a close second due to the lack of any personal experience offered from their vendor, i guess there’s only a number of times that “Take a look at this FAQ” is going to help.

One of the other major problem with cloud vendors is that you typically need to over allocate already inflated resources to the services you are providing as cloud resources are most of the time shared with other users of their services. its a bit like a house share, the last thing you need is someone hogging the bathroom.

PaaS services were also another reason, whilst PaaS is great in reducing the OPEX of the underlying infrastructure and application or database services it does start to get expensive with large number of API gateway calls which if unplanned for can be a bit of a surprise when you get your invoice, add to that one clouds PaaS may not be inter-operable with another so some type of data cleaning is going to be needed.

GDPR (there I’ve said it) was another reason which raised its head especially if the vendor was US based then the C.L.O.U.D. Act comes into effect.

https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20180319/BILLS-115SAHR1625-RCP115-66.pdf#page=2201

If your using a US based provider then your data is no longer private as is can be handed over to the US government if they deem any suspect need to, oh and hosting in a different region outside of the US doesn’t help either so using a Irish region will not allow you to escape the act. The last time I check the big 3 public clouds are all US owned but if you believe that this may not effect you then you don’t need to look too far to see it in action, I’m sure we all remember Cambridge Analytica and the Facebook debacle that company had to hand over its data and now no longer exists! Taking up a hybrid cloud approach and using a dedicated European provider with multiple region support will help avoid this.   

One company that I spoke to had a concerning case in that their cloud vendor had no export facility for the data and had challenges on how to cleanly extract the data, this challenge was compounded even more as the tax man also called in an audit on their accounts during the migration phase and had to take a hit on a penalty as the accounts were not available at the time of the audit. The whole process was painful and time consuming and they surely learnt a lot from the experience.

And the moral of the story is …..

Ask the important questions, “How is the data securely stored?”, “Who has access to my data”, “How is my data protected?”, “Do I need to modify my data so the cloud vendor can store it?” and most importantly “How do I get my data out in the future if I need and want to?” In most cases getting your data out is going to cost you but knowing that’s its possible is half the battle. if your new provider has tools to make it easier for you then that’s even better.

And lastly

Be aware of the existence of the CLOUD Act and its potential implications for your business.
Adopt a hybrid cloud strategy, which clearly defines which data can be stored in public cloud services, and what should be stored in data centers operated by European managed service operators.
If you have large amounts of customer data, and would like to alert them if you do get a request to hand over personal data under the CLOUD Act, you might want to consider adding a warrant canary clause on your website.

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