PaaS and Vendor Lock-In

Some cloud vendors will go to great lengths to ensure you continue to use their services.  If their methods include maintaining good business relationships and delivering great customer service, you probably have nothing to worry about. However, if a provider attempts to keep your business by creating obstacles and eliminating alternative IT options, that’s another story. As the name suggests, “vendor lock-in” occurs when a provider attempts to keep their clients by making it difficult for them to leave. However, if you do your due diligence, you can recognize the warning signs and avoid vendor lock-in. Commonly, vendor lock-in is discussed as a problem unique to PaaS (platform as a service) solutions.

Cloud service providers utilizing a PaaS model allow their clients to build their own applications using the vendor’s platform. These products are appealing to consumers because they are given the freedom to choose from a variety of features and options that can cater to their needs. Sounds great, right? Not quite. PaaS provider platforms are all created differently, each with a unique IT design. The problem with vendor lock-in is not seen in the client-facing technology used to create the applications. Instead, it is seen in the underlying technology design– in the coding used to support the applications.

These days, vendors have different code options for programming. Often, competing cloud service providers intentionally use different, incompatible code languages in their platform programming. Essentially, these providers are simply creating language barriers. Imagine you have planned a trip to China, but the only language you speak is English. Now consider what it would be like to arrive in China without an English to Chinese dictionary. Even the simplest of tasks would become extremely difficult to complete; navigating and ordering food would seem impossible. The same is true for some PaaS consumers wishing to switch providers or even incorporate a different vendor’s application into their solution. In order to monopolize their business and keep their clients, some providers count on this vendor lock-in approach.

Preventative Measures

While vendor lock-in unfortunately happens in the world of cloud computing, it is also easy to avoid. The key to preventing this from happening to you and your solution is to simply know who you are going into business with. How can you do this?

  •  Read about cloud service providers and their solution reviews to determine if consumers are experiencing vendor lock-in related to underlying IT design.
  • Ask the provider about data migration, should you choose to use a different vendor in the future.
    • Find out if they will assist in moving your data to an alternative solution.
    • If not, ask the provider if they will move you back to your previous IT solution.
  • Review the MSLA (Master Service Level Agreement) for any information on data migration, termination of service, and retrieving backed-up data.
  • Look for a service guarantee in the Service Agreement, in case you are unhappy with the service after a trial period and want to explore other options.
  • Speak with a consultant to determine what you need from a cloud solution, both now and into the future. Tip: Future planning can help prevent a sudden need to switch applications or providers.