Friday, June 4, 2010

Cloud storage and unified computing: Beware vendor lock-in

June 4, 2010 – Vendor lock-in is always a bad thing, but in the case of cloud computing, cloud storage and so-called unified computing, it could be much worse.

Vendor lock-in with, for example, RAID arrays or backup software is a mild form of lock-in. You’re not exactly shackled and chained in an iron-clad tank underwater. Although it might be painful, time-consuming and costly, IT shops migrate data from Vendor A’s disk array to Vendor B’s disk array all the time.

Migrating from one cloud provider (whether they’re providing cloud computing or cloud storage services) to another may be much more difficult. There are options, however. Some vendors offer tools for migrating from one cloud provider to another. Nasuni is one example, and here’s the Nasuni team’s (not exactly commercial-free) blog on this subject: “The Cloud’s Little Secret: Vendor Lock-In.”

And the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is working on standards that promise portability between cloud storage providers (see “SNIA develops standards for cloud storage.”) However, it’s unclear whether SNIA’s standards will succeed and whether the cloud market share leaders will support those standards.

But these potential solutions to cloud storage lock-in beg the question: Why would you want to move from one cloud storage provider to another?

Nobody’s rushing to put their production data in a public cloud; rather, they’re contemplating putting their backup/secondary/archive data in the cloud. And if cloud storage providers meet their SLAs (and that’s a good bet with the large providers because those SLAs are relatively non-demanding) and they keep their prices in the pennies-per-GB range (which they will due to intense competition in this space), then it would be an extremely rare case where you would have any need to switch providers.

So the whole issue of migrating between cloud storage providers (which apparently has become a hot topic in the cloud community) seems to be a moot point, at least until companies start putting production data in the cloud.

Now, vendor lock-in in the context of unified computing is a different matter. If unified computing takes off, lock-in will not just be something to avoid; it will be a way of life in IT land.

But I think it’s quite possible that unified computing may backfire on the vendors that are pushing it. In an age of unified computing lock-in, IT shops may be more inclined toward non-unified-computing vendors. That means the “other” vendors in the market share pie charts.

The potential for vendor lock-in in unified computing may drive IT away from their existing vendors. Instead of cementing the market leaders’ positions, unified computing could finally be the trend that works against the big guys.

Maybe I should have titled this post “Lock, stack and barrel.”

Anyway, here’s some more info on unified computing and the potential of vendor lock-in: “Weighing the pros and cons of unified computing.”