To Avoid Cloud Lock-in, Ask the Right Questions Upfront

Jeff Byrne, Senior Analyst & Consultant

So you’re ready to move important data to the cloud, to gain benefits such as improved scalability as your data set grows, and the opportunity to convert some CAPEX-heavy storage to an OPEX-driven, pay-as-you-go model. You’ve short-listed a few providers, and are ready to check them out before making a final decision. What “keep-me-awake-at-night” issues are you focusing on in your due diligence?

If you’re like most IT professionals we speak with, avoiding lock-in is likely at or very near the top of your list. What can you do to avoid getting stuck with a cloud provider if things don’t work out? Here’s a short checklist that might prove helpful:

  • Vigorously qualify your short list of providers upfront to reduce the risk of having to switch later. As part of due diligence, determine whether they offer the cloud data use cases you’re interested in today or might expand to in the future. Can they accommodate your requirements for availability, performance, security and other key SLA metrics? Carefully review the SLA terms and spend at least a few weeks conducting a trial assessment. Are costs reasonable for the selected use cases? Reach out to peers for their experiences with providers.
  • Consider how portable your cloud data and apps would be should you need to change providers. Will data be stored in a format that’ll allow for easy movement down the road?  Similarly, are the VM images and/or application containers you’re running relatively portable? Most providers run customized hypervisors (based on Xen, KVM, etc.), which means images may need to be modified before transfer. Converting to an open VM format (like OVF) may be helpful, but the overall migration process will require some effort when running lots of VMs. Containers tend to be much more portable, but relatively few enterprises we speak with have more than a handful of their business apps running in containers today.
  • Check out the provider’s tools, services and associated costs for moving data out of the cloud. Would these enable you to cost effectively migrate assets to new providers? Are third-party tools and services available to fill any gaps? Think through the likely migration process, and determine how much IT staff time and other resources may need to be invested. Can you afford to take on a cloud-to-cloud migration project given the amount of data you’ll be storing with your new provider?
  • If storing primary data critical to your business in the cloud, consider how you might continue to provide access during migration. For example, you may want to stage the migration effort, replicating or accelerating the transfer of more important data to the new cloud, or do it off hours or at times of lower demand.
  • Tier data via a cloud storage gateway or similar solution to avoid getting stuck with critical business data in the cloud that’s difficult to move. With this hybrid storage approach, primary and active (transaction-oriented) data is stored in your data center, while less active or inactive (secondary or tertiary) data may be stored in the cloud. Tiering can help avoid the unpleasant and costly prospect of migrating “warm” or “hot” data between providers.

When it comes to moving data to the cloud, there are no guarantees. Make sure you’re prepared if you end up picking the wrong horse and need to make a switch down the road. 

Published by Jeff Byrne

Jeff brings to Taneja Group more than 25 years of marketing and operational experience at a variety of infrastructure software, systems and semiconductor companies. He focuses on all flavors of cloud and virtualization technologies, and also covers the intersection of these technologies with various types of storage. Jeff develops and leads primary research initiatives to help vendors better understand market trends and customer requirements, and in response, to adapt their products, solutions and messaging to more effectively address IT buyers’ needs. Jeff advises clients on issues ranging from product and competitive positioning to messaging and go-to-market programs, and helps companies to work through challenging product and technology transitions. Prior to joining Taneja Group, Jeff spent five years as Vice President of Marketing and later Vice President of Corporate Strategy at VMware, a leading provider of virtualization, cloud and mobility solutions acquired by EMC in 2004. Earlier in his career, Jeff held senior management positions at DG Systems, Dataquest, MIPS, and HP. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Math and Computational Sciences from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard.

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