6 sneaky ways cloud infrastructure providers lock you in

You use cloud vendor A for certain workloads, but you want to use cloud vendor B for others. That's often easier said than done.

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Clem Onojeghuo (CC0)

With more enterprises adopting multi-cloud and hybrid cloud computing strategies, it's more important than ever to avoid getting locked into just one cloud provider's tools and technologies. Multi-cloud and hybrid cloud deployments offer many benefits. They include the ability to pick and choose which cloud vendor's add-on services are right for your business, as well as the ability to implement best-of-breed solutions when the time is right. Multi-cloud also adds redundancy and security because all of your proverbial eggs are not in one basket.

Despite the trend toward multi-cloud, however, there are still plenty of ways to find yourself locked in. Here's a quick look at six common ways enterprises get locked into using one provider, along with some advice on how businesses can keep cloud implementations open and interoperable. 

1. Proprietary interfaces

The major cloud infrastructure providers offer add-on services designed to automate routine tasks like streaming, orchestration, and serverless functions. The idea is to free up enterprise users so they can spend more time focusing on higher-value activities. But if the cloud provider uses proprietary application programming interfaces (APIs), those basic services can lead directly to vendor lock in. Users can avoid this problem by seeking out a cloud infrastructure provider that supports open APIs and builds services using open source tools like Kubernetes, Kafka, Terraform, and Fn.

Keep in mind that simply supporting open APIs may not be enough. The cloud provider also needs to do so in a consistent fashion across services and regions. In other words, make sure the cloud provider’s approach to open APIs isn't disjointed. One way to assess this is to take a close look at the providers roadmap to determine if it is realistic and can properly support your multi-cloud strategy now and in the future. 

2. Lack of open source support

Open source technologies can greatly simplify the process of moving workloads between enterprise data centers and cloud environments. As they are cloud neutral, open source standards also make it easier to move across clouds, avoid cloud lock-in, and drive multi-cloud deployments. But to realize this benefit enterprises must choose cloud providers who provide wide-ranging support from open source and other third-party tools. This is especially true for the growing number of enterprises adopting a DevOps approach to IT systems management.

3. Not enough qualified partners

Some providers have made decent inroads in terms of building an ecosystem of third-party software and services that support their platform. But that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to find a qualified professional services partner or managed service provider (MSP) that can help you properly implement these tools. Business that can't find a reliable partner will probably get locked into using the cloud provider's own professional services—and that lack of choice can add additional cost, challenges and risk.

4. Inadequate feature sets

It might look like that cloud provider offers an open, interoperable environment when you get started. But what about down the road when it's time to add things like DNS, Load Balancing, CDN, or WAF services that need to run across clouds? Make sure the provider can support these types of 2nd and 3rd level services and, specifically, that they can integrate the services with other providers' infrastructure endpoints. If the cloud provider fails to accomplish this, the services won't be full featured and won't live up to their full potential.

5. Poor container development experience

Developers are increasingly adopting container-native technology for new cloud-native apps and for traditional apps being migrated to the cloud. But they're also concerned about the prospect of being locked in by cloud vendors or application development platform providers. The reason? While most cloud providers offer tools that can help developers create container-native services, the process usually requires the developer to navigate a menu of non-integrated, discrete, and proprietary components. That's a recipe for lock in. The best way to avoid this issue is to choose a cloud provider that offers an open, standards-based, and composable stack, supported by a container-first ecosystem.

6. Poor support for non-cloud native workloads

Some providers lack the technical and go-to-market capabilities required to properly support enterprise customers with non-cloud native workloads. For example, you might find a provider with a poor history supporting formerly on premise Microsoft Windows-based workloads. This lack of choice can stifle a business and lock it into using subpar tools and technologies. Your best bet is to look for a cloud provider with full feature sets and a track record of solid performance. Make sure the cloud portal is easy to understand and offers consistent capabilities across regions.

Finally, when looking at the provider's business, find out if they truly have the in-house talent and industry expertise required to support your business as it grows and expands its multi-cloud strategies over time.

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