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Costly IT mistakes: Identifying and avoiding vendor lock-in

Being stuck in a cloud server contract that doesn’t offer the service you need can be really painful, frustrating and costly. Vendor lock-in is where a provider makes it difficult to switch, meaning it’s too costly, disruptive or time-consuming for the business to move to a new supplier. This leaves firms at the mercy of the vendor despite the fact that the service may not offer the reliability or scalability they need.

It’s similar to how Apple previously locked its consumers into purchasing music that would only play within its own software – iTunes or via an iPod. Not only did this frustrate customers, but it pushed potential consumers away from purchasing Apple products and also resulted in lawsuits being filed.

What is vendor lock-in in cloud computing?
When it comes to the cloud, it’s relatively common for companies to find it difficult to change suppliers, as it can become difficult to move suppliers once customers are set up.

It’s even trickier with cloud migration, as this involves moving data to a totally different type of environment, which may mean data migration and compatibility challenges. If third-party software is incorporated into an organisation’s processes, these processes may become dependent on that software, making it even more difficult to make any changes.

One of the bigger concerns around vendor lock-in is that it can leave companies stranded if the cloud vendor goes out of business, resulting in downtime and data loss. On top of this, a cloud management system needs to be effective enough to allow organisations to align their IT infrastructure with their business goals – if they are locked into a provider that can’t provide the ideal services, it could impact their overall business growth.

Additionally, if the vendor drastically changes their product offerings, the service may no longer meet business needs. If the vendor imposes significant price hikes, it can leave businesses stuck paying a rate they can’t afford for a service they need.

And if a service quality declines, it can disrupt more than just one business. For instance, AWS experienced an outage in 2021, taking down about 33% of its cloud services, which resulted in service downtime and disruption for seven hours, as well as reputational damage. One failure turned into thousands of people across the globe being affected.

Avoiding vendor lock-in
Portability is key in the cloud. Ensuring the portability of applications is a good place to start when looking to avoid vendor lock-in. If workloads are based on the vendor’s proprietary APIs, configurations and technologies, which don’t support open standards, the chance of being locked in is much greater.

Data is the most valuable commodity to a service provider, but it can be the hardest to migrate. If it’s stored and curated in a common format, migration from platform to platform will be easier. Here, cloud service providers often make it easy to use their proprietary managed data management platforms.

Opting for a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud is also a good way to avoid failure or resilience issues. A multi-cloud approach involves multiple cloud services platforms rather than one – this reduces risk, especially when it comes to unexpected outages. Businesses can also have the best of both worlds, with the flexibility of a multi-cloud coupled with the control of on-prem and private cloud architecture by opting for a hybrid cloud. This architecture can help increase the agility and innovation needed to keep up with business demands, but it also has operational autonomy, so you can have direct control over your data.

And, of course, managing backups is important. Independent backups of all data will allow businesses to host the data elsewhere if it gets too difficult or time-consuming to extract it from a cloud service; this also protects against ransomware.

Finally, evaluate a cloud vendor carefully before you sign up. While concentrating on migration and BAU is important, it’s also important to not lose sight of the vendor’s end-of-contract approach. It’s best to make sure there’s a clear exit strategy that will protect the business. Research the terms and conditions fully and ensure there won’t be any hidden costs or seemingly small changes that you lock into that provider. Ideally, work with a provider like Fasthosts ProActive with transparent pricing and client-oriented processes to build a solution that works for you.

Using the cloud has many benefits, especially around scalability, security and cost-effectiveness. But it’s important not to get locked into a service that isn’t suitable for your business in the future or puts the company at risk.

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