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Amazon CTO: 'You should be able to walk away' from cloud providers

But fears of vendor lock-in is one of top hurdles to cloud computing adoption

By , Network World
April 20, 2012 12:28 PM ET

Network World - At an Amazon Web Services summit event in New York City on Thursday, CTO Werner Vogels said one of the core philosophies related to the company's market-leading suite of infrastructure as a service products is that customers should be able to opt out whenever they want.

"You should keep your providers on their toes every day," he said during the event, which was webcast live. "If we are not delivering the right quality of services, you should be able to walk away. You, the consumer of these services, should be in full control. That is core to our philosophy."

Vogels spoke specifically within the context of the company's pay-as-you-go pricing model in which consumers pay for as much, or as little, of the services they want. But, according to many, AWS and other cloud providers don't necessarily make it easy to leave. Sure the systems can be turned on or off depending on need, but just how easy is it to move data out of AWS's Simple Storage Service (S3)?

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"In the cloud technical community, there's this prevalent idea that data has gravity, and once you move your data into a cloud provider, it becomes burdensome to get it out," says Dan Koffler, founder of Hybrid Cloud Gateway, a service that helps customers connect their on-premise IT environments to public cloud vendors, such as AWS. Koffler says it's not necessarily hard to move data out of S3, it just may be more expensive than putting it in.

Concerns related to vendor lock-in are "a major obstacle to cloud adoption," Koffler says. Lock-in is one of the biggest concerns customers have when setting up a cloud strategy, he says. AWS isn't any better or worse than other public cloud providers Hybrid Cloud Gateway works with -- Terremark, Rackspace and GoGrid Cloud Hosting each have similar barriers, he says. "It's pretty much the same with all of them, it's just part of the cloud business model, they want customer adoption and they want to keep their customers," he says.

An AWS spokesperson wrote in an email that the company is "committed to offering customers choice and flexibility," noting that customers "don't want to be locked into a particular operating system or programming language and want to bring their existing skills to the cloud." Rena Lunak, an AWS spokesperson, also said that it costs more to put data into the S3 system than to take it out because of the multiple layers of redundancy the company uses to back up the data. She says customers are free to add data to or remove data from S3 as they wish, and such requests are a small portion of a customer's bill.

Other customers find ways to work around vendor lock-in. Jorge Escobar is the vice president of engineering for Order Groove, a SaaS-based e-commerce site that allows retailers to offer subscription services and recurring purchase plans. Escobar says he's built the system with middleware in place that protects the company from vendor lock-in. Middleware allows Escobar to separate the back-end cloud services from the front-end application layer. Object relational mappers, or ORMs, are readily available, usually for free, he says, for most programming languages to be built into the code. "I don't know how commonly they're used, but it's the type of thing where if you don't have it, you can get bit in the butt, and then it just takes a lot of long nights and weekends combing through the code and taking out any remaining calls to your previous system," he says.

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