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Avoiding vendor lock-in and the data gravity trap

To remain competitive, today’s companies must always be innovating. However, innovating remains a challenge for many organizations as they struggle to adopt the technologies they need to enable it. One of the main reasons for this struggle is that these organizations are locked into a specific vendor’s technology.

Client lockout occurs when a client cannot migrate to another provider’s services. This could be due to proprietary technology that is not compatible with other vendors’ technology, or contractual terms that bind customers to a single solution. Some providers may prohibit customers from switching to another provider to ensure customer retention, or at least make it extremely expensive to migrate, thus discouraging customers from using a competitor’s service.

Fighting the confinement

There are several things to consider to avoid vendor lock-in. Let’s look at some of the most important. Consumers should consider taking advantage of a modular software approach, this allows users to interchange various parts of a system without replacing the whole. Consumers must ensure that software complies with established, open standards. And finally, customers need to read the fine print in the contracts they sign with vendors.

The biggest vendor lock-in trap is creating a dependency with a vendor’s ecosystem. A customer can easily succumb to the adjacent services and tools offered by a provider, and that dependency can become a major hurdle to overcome when a consumer decides to switch providers.

By reading the fine print, consumers should find out if the service they plan to use allows for easy migration, if there are enough tools to allow them to easily integrate and migrate their applications and data, and how cost-effective the service is.

Safeguard freedom of movement

Additionally, many providers make it difficult for data to move between providers, often referred to as “data gravity.” By making data movement more difficult and expensive, providers create a lock-in even though they may claim that their service is based on open standards.

Cloud providers are a classic example of this. Many companies start using cloud providers for one service only to find that the application now uses dozens of other services offered by this cloud service provider. Avoiding these dependencies and having clear abstractions allows a company to switch vendors, when necessary.

Today, enterprises are adopting hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategies to avoid vendor lock-in and the data gravity trap. In fact, many companies are choosing providers that provide independent cloud services that are also open source to benefit from the greater freedom and avoid provider lock-in. Additionally, working with vendors with large partner ecosystems can help reduce blocking risks.

What makes open standards so effective?

Open standards are the antidote to proprietary technology. Open standards allow users to move freely between providers, to combine or integrate them, with competing providers to create their own solution. They allow you to compose your service or system freely and free you from a vendor’s proprietary interfaces.

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Open standards grew out of our previous vendor lock-in experiences. If we forget that history, we are doomed to repeat it. Open standards have evolved over the years to solve the very problem of vendor lock-in.

When being locked up makes sense

While the general move is toward the concept of “composable IT,” where software-defined infrastructure and application components seamlessly interact to make businesses agile, there are times when vendor lock-in makes sense.

IT environments are already complex enough, so it’s always good to simplify some assumptions. Standardizing on hardware vendors, software infrastructure, or even cloud providers in the early stages of a product or business, when both capital and skilled resources are limited, is a good idea. These decisions can speed up the development process and help bring the product to market faster. But decisions made in the early stages of a business can impact later, so they must be made with the principle of modularity deeply embedded in the architecture. This will allow you to more easily switch providers or support multiple providers.

Staying flexible to foster innovation

As technologies progress over the years, companies trapped in a specific technology ecosystem will miss out on vital innovations happening in the industry around them. This will quickly lead to competitive disadvantages, as your systems may fall behind in functional richness, user experience, performance gains, and operational agility. Ultimately, this will cost your business revenue and growth. Implementing lock-in avoidance strategies will help businesses respond to an increasingly competitive and fast-moving marketplace.

Ravi Mayuram is CTO of Couchbase, provider of a leading cloud database platform for enterprise applications that 30% of the Fortune 100 companies depend on. He is an accomplished engineering executive with a passion for creating and delivering innovative products for businesses. industry leaders, from startups to Fortune 500.

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