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Misunderstandings about vendor lock-in

Don’t let outdated concerns hold back your business

By Phil Le-Brun

Every day, I work with organisations who see the huge potential of migrating to the cloud. Sometimes, their enthusiasm comes with a degree of apprehension about taking what can feel like a major step. I often find that this apprehension is based on a particular misunderstanding about cloud migrations. 

I’m talking about what gets termed ‘vendor lock-in’. This age-old concern is rooted in challenges of the past, when traditional tech vendors had a reputation for tying businesses into multi-year Enterprise Licence Agreements, which make switching to another vendor expensive. As a result, organisations were often forced to keep using the same IT products – even if there was a better deal on the table elsewhere, or business needs had outgrown the software.

So, I get that history has created worries about vendor lock-in, and why these concerns have been carried forward into cloud migrations. After all, when you migrate thousands of servers along with their applications and data, and invest in ongoing modernisation, you want some assurances that you aren’t restricting your future options, or that you can walk away if you choose.

The pandemic has forced organisations to think more carefully about how they control costs and maintain flexibility. The good news here is that, particularly over the last year or so, I have seen many customers scale their clouds up or down to quickly preserve liquidity, or to meet massive new demand. This is not something that is possible in traditional data centres.

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Below, I’ll explain why choosing a single cloud provider doesn’t mean losing control. Because in fact, the myths about vendor lock-in simply don’t reflect the reality of modern cloud environments – or the experience we offer at AWS.

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Pay for what you use

AWS services are pay-as-you-go – in much the same way that utility companies charge for gas and electricity. As a result, you only pay for the compute, storage and other services that you use, for the duration that you use them for. Conversely, if you have a peak in customer demand, you can seamlessly scale up to meet this, and back down afterwards, optimising spend with returns.

If you want to shut down your cloud environment and take all of your data with you, you can. While there would be some work and cost to do this, it remains true of any IT solution.

You also need to ask, do the potential switching costs outweigh the risks associated with running a complex multi-vendor setup, or the burden of running your own data centre, all in the name of minimising an already negligible or misunderstood risk? From experience, I know this is a rhetorical question.

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Your data, where you want it

We’ve built our cloud infrastructure on open standards. This means that you have the freedom to move your own data wherever you want. In fact, the same tools we offer to migrate into the AWS cloud can be used to help you migrate out of it. We’re not in the business of restricting how you use your technology. This reduces the sense of risk, and ultimately, makes for a healthier and more productive partnership.

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You can customise your own solutions

The AWS cloud is far more than just another data centre. It offers a rich and extensive host of cloud services that you can combine and adapt to rapidly build applications that power your business.

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Potential issues of working with multiple cloud vendors

You have the choice to select more than one cloud vendor. This often appeals because it seems to promise more control and flexibility. However, the reality is rarely quite like that.

Complexity is one of the biggest impediments to companies’ speed and profitability. Trying to run applications across different cloud platforms is a case in point. It hinders your ability to be agile, and you’ll quickly rack up costs. This is ironic given that for many, moving to the cloud is designed to bring speed, flexibility, and more proverbial bang for the buck.

Having to be fluent in multiple technologies also means that IT teams can’t unlock the full potential of different cloud offerings. This lack of in-depth understanding hampers decision-making, and leads to compromises. More often than not, trying to use the lowest common denominator across the clouds leads to additional cost and complexity, rather than unleashing the cloud’s true value.

Ultimately, you need to consider whether you want your team to be capable on several platforms, or highly skilled on one.

There’s also a general point to consider here about perceived risk. How many companies have two ERP systems “just in case”? How many have ensured that all of their applications can use different vendors’ databases? The answer is almost none. And it’s because the cost of this protection against hypothetical risk is not worth the significant real costs in terms of expenditure, complexity, and agility. All of which are reasons why organisations embrace the cloud in the first place.

If there is a business need to use multiple vendors, and it outweighs the resulting complexity, consider putting the majority of your workloads in one cloud, and the remainder in a different one. This will ensure that you gain some experience without all the adverse consequences. In addition, use automation where you can to help maintain consistency and simplify operations.

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So, is vendor lock-in something you need to worry about?

Hopefully, I’ve helped you understand that it isn’t the challenge you might perceive, because you’re never really locked in. Yes, there’s clearly a degree of dependence when using a single cloud provider, but you can still move your data to whatever environment you choose, and only pay for the services you want.

Compare that to what you have today, and you’ll see that moving to the cloud will significantly reduce the degree to which you are locked in with your current systems and data centres.

One of the reasons I joined AWS was its customer centricity, something I appreciated when I was a customer myself. AWS shows this not just in what it says, but also in what it does. AWS’ customer obsession has led to prices being reduced 106 times since launching in 2006. Our rapid pace of innovation is also helping industries of every kind transform how they work. In fact, we released 2,757 significant new services and features in 2020 alone.

All of this is important when you consider choosing us as your main vendor. With planning throughout your cloud journey, we can help you to mitigate any perceived risks. In doing so we can ensure that you realise the full promise of your investment – helping you create a more productive, secure, and cost-effective IT environment to power your business.

Phil Lebrun Hexagonal

Phil Le-Brun

Phil joined AWS as an Enterprise Strategist and Evangelist in September 2019. In this role, he shares practical lessons from his experiences implementing technology at scale. He uses these lessons to help enterprises succeed in achieving their own cloud-based technology goals to support organizational agility and customer-centricity.