Embracing cloud vendor lock-in can help you gain a competitive advantage. Fearing it can leave you behind.

In our previous blog post, we wrote about the reasons why many companies fear cloud vendor lock-in, where those fears stem from, and tactics you can implement to avoid lock-in.

While it’s a legitimate concern, we actually believe that you shouldn’t fear cloud vendor lock-in.

Rather, you should embrace it to ensure you get the most value out of cloud computing.

Quite a 180°, huh?

The only way that you can efficiently build impactful, next-generation applications that provide real value to your customers is to go deep with your cloud service provider (CSP) and use their higher-level services.

Let’s see why.

 

The role of IT has changed

The IT department used to be viewed as a cost center that essentially kept things status quo and just fixed things that were broken.

Is your Outlook email not syncing? Give IT a call.

Does your laptop take forever to boot up? Call your IT technician and maybe he or she will give you a new one.

Is your ERP system not responding to your data queries? Time to file a support ticket.

IT support guy

This guy’s job has changed. Photo courtesy of quickmeme.

IT used to primarily maintain internal tools and processes, make sure nothing breaks, and keep costs to a minimum.

Today is a different day. Every organization, no matter the industry, is becoming a technology company, so the IT department is now depended upon to provide a competitive advantage.

Whether it’s making sure that customer data can be accessed and analyzed quickly, ensuring scalability of applications, or preventing security breaches, IT has become a central player in companies’ innovation and revenue-generating activities.

Instead of focusing on maintenance, IT departments are now heavily involved in the technology strategies of forward-looking companies. This entails helping build scalable, flexible, and reliable applications as fast as possible.

Cloud computing has become increasingly integral to achieving this, and IT again must adapt to changing times.

 

Giving up control to maximize value

One of the primary fears of cloud vendor lock-in is the loss of control over core IT responsibilities such as security, uptime, and general infrastructure management.

Yes, it’s nice to know that you have full control of your infrastructure and associated processes. But at what price?

By keeping full control of your IT, you’re sacrificing speed, agility, and cost savings that you need to stay ahead of your competition, while maintaining or increasing the complexity of running your IT operations.

Standard features of your application, such as databases, servers, and storage can be easily deployed and managed by a CSP. Additional activities such as security, disaster recovery, and maintaining high availability can be handed off as well.

And if you’re building a next-generation product that incorporates the latest technologies such as Internet of Things, serverless, and big data, you need to embrace vendor lock-in and take full advantage of a CSP’s offerings.

Instead of keeping all IT operations in-house, you can find a cloud service provider who will provide the infrastructure and staff to manage it all for you, while you focus on building the best applications possible for your customers.

 

 

A prime example of embracing vendor lock-in

We have a client, Experient, who offers an innovative location data collection solution for event organizers. The application uses beacons to capture the location of tens of thousands of event attendees, and then processes and analyzes this data. These insights are then provided to event organizers and sponsors to better understand how attendees flow through the event and how many potential customers walk by and around sponsors’ booths.

Experient was preparing for one of the largest trade shows in the world, and they expected to collect 15 times more data at this show than any prior event.

They didn’t feel comfortable that their current solution could capture and process this massive amount of data fast enough, so they seeked to improve the application.

The initial setup of the solution was as such:

  1. Beacon location data was collected by mobile apps that ran on devices distributed throughout the event floor
  2. This data was then fed into a MongoDB database housed on an on-premise server
  3. A service aggregated the MongoDB data in batches, which was then fed into an on-premise SQL database
  4. The SQL database powered reports that were accessible via a web portal

The primary issue was that the data couldn’t be aggregated in MongoDB in an efficient manner because the aggregation process required more computing resources than what Experient had readily available in their on-premise data center.

Experient could have played it safe and just moved their MongoDB instance to Amazon EC2 to expand server capacity and more efficiently aggregate the data. While an incremental improvement may have been achieved, it wouldn’t have moved the needle that much.

Rather, Experient fully embraced AWS and worked with us to create a solution that included higher-level services such as Kinesis Firehose, Redshift, API Gateway, and Lambda.

experient AWS architecture

Experient’s AWS architecture

Instead of feeding the data into the on-premise MongoDB, Kinesis Firehose was set up to deliver the data directly into AWS and store it in a Redshift cluster for aggregation and analysis.

Another independent Redshift cluster was implemented to accept the aggregated data and serve it to the web portal that was used by Experient’s clients for data analysis in near real time.

We then included an API Gateway layer that used a Lambda to process the compressed data and send it to Kinesis Firehose. This alleviated the need to transform the data collected by the beacons or worry about including AWS SDKs in the mobile apps.

The improved system now performs orders of magnitude faster than the prior solution, has the ability to scale on-demand to support billions of data captures, and costs less to run.

Experient continued to go all-in with AWS by increasing their Redshift use and experimenting with other tools such as Pinpoint. They continue to explore ways to leverage AWS to improve their applications.

 

Conclusion

Many companies transition slowly to the cloud because they fear that there’s too much risk of being locked into one CSP.

In reality, the risk of moving slowly and not taking advantage of all that CSPs have to offer is greater than the risk of vendor lock-in.

By fearing cloud vendor lock-in, you may find yourself creating a generic, watered-down application that’s portable across different CSPs. You may also find yourself missing out on the ability to build an innovative solution with more speed and agility, and getting bypassed by your competitors who are leveraging vendor-specific, cloud-native technologies.

Which do you fear more?

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