How to Avoid Vendor Lock-in with a Multi-Cloud Strategy

Jul 4 2016 | by Yoav Mor

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The public cloud makes smart business sense for virtually any enterprise. But concerns about vendor lock-in hold many companies back from making the move to on-demand IT services. Despite the scope for considerable cost savings and operational efficiencies, you’re tied to the specific protocols, standards and tools of your chosen cloud vendor. This could make migration costly if, at some time down the line, you want to switch to another provider.

So what’s the solution? Well, you could consider a hybrid environment – using a mixture of cloud-based and in-house systems. But, if you use just the one public cloud provider, you still face the potential of vendor lock-in. However, one way to avoid the problem is to adopt a multi-cloud deployment strategy.

In this post, we look at the advantages of the multi-cloud approach, how to choose from the range of different vendors and how to manage a complex multi-cloud environment.

The Benefits of a Multi-Cloud Deployment

A multi-cloud environment not only eliminates the financial risk of putting all your IT eggs in one basket. It also encourages you to take a more agnostic approach to your software – whereby the application software stack is independent of the underlying infrastructure. Not only does this reduce the level of lock-in but also creates the interoperability that’s required for fast migration of workloads.

What’s more, different systems are suited to different platforms. For example, an organization may favor Azure for running Microsoft-centric applications. But to perform big data analysis it may prefer Amazon or Google, which are better adapted to running Hadoop workloads. A multi-cloud strategy allows you to do just this, giving you the option run an application in an environment based on its needs – without making compromises.

A multi-cloud arrangement can also offer an enhanced level of protection against costly downtime periods, as it provides the option to build in redundancy across more than one proprietary cloud resource.

How to Choose the Right Mix of Providers

The best way to guard against vendor lock-in is to choose your services wisely from the outset. So do your homework. A good place to start is Gartner’s latest Critical Capabilities Report. It evaluated 15 leading IaaS providers and their ability to deliver value in a range of core features and use cases. Use it to get an initial overview of the capabilities on offer and continue your research from there.

Once you’ve drawn up a shortlist, look into which offerings provide the best support in terms of infrastructure security, performance and cost. Consider the different pricing models and packages, including minimum charges per hour or minute. Lower cost options may be well suited to running less critical workloads. But you may want special capabilities, such as bare metal or fast instance launch, for specific workloads.

Also check out what tools or services each vendor provides to migrate large amounts of data. Determine the cost of data transfer out of their service and whether you can migrate data directly to another provider – without moving it back on premises first. Some vendors have started working towards standardization, portability and interoperability across different clouds. So look for support of industry standards, such as Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI).

How to Manage a Complex Multi-Cloud Environment

The key to successful multi-cloud management is to start small and expand gradually. This will help you stay on top of costs, develop insights into your deployments and make informed adjustments and enhancements as your environment grows.

Another way to avoid the complexity of operating across different cloud platforms to use containers. By contrast with VMs, containers use shared operating systems and are designed to be self-sufficient and portable.

You can also overcome the complexities of working with more than one vendor by using third-party multi-cloud management tools. These make monitoring, analyzing and managing your clouds easier by providing information about all your deployments through a single interface and via consolidated reports. Many also offer additional features you can’t get through an individual cloud vendor.

Multi-Cloud environment

This enterprise started migrating from AWS to another cloud provider in October 2015.
The top report demonstrates how costs on both AWS (blue) and the other cloud provider (red) grew.
The bottom report demonstrates how AWS data transfer costs grew 250% and S3 api calls and data retrieval costs grew 200% since October 2015.

Multi-Cloud environment

How to Overcome Objections

Whether you’re presenting a case for using a single provider, hybrid approach or multi-cloud environment, it’s important you put the risks of vendor lock-in into perspective. Remind decision makers that, in a similar way, your company could also find itself tethered to a traditional data center. They may even see the cloud as the lower risk option, as no purchase of hardware is involved. They’ll also need to know you have measures in place to guard against sprawl. This is especially important in a multi-cloud environment, where you can readily lose control of your deployments without a rational and orderly structure. And don’t forget that moving between different vendors will gradually become easier, as the trend for cloud standardization gathers momentum.

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