Q: Some CIOs are lamenting that clouds do not really provide flexibility — they are locked in to a cloud provider since they have built apps around for it and trained their staff on how to use the system. What are your thoughts on this?
Chong: Cloud can provide a certain amount of flexibility and there are ways to use multiple clouds together. Lock-in has been a concern for CIOs for many decades. They are often cautious of becoming beholden to one or two vendors' solutions, with very little room to migrate to a competitive one. In Hong Kong, many enterprises already have several assessment models to ensure that vendor lock-ins do not hamper their IT strategy or vision.
Cloud lock-in is much less definable. Cloud technologies are now open, making it easier for customers to move their infrastructure, data and apps elsewhere. Better virtualisation has also eliminated the problem where operating systems and open source software are concerned. For example, the hypervisor that makes virtualisation possible is now available in proprietary and open source versions. That makes virtual servers more portable. Tools also exist to migrate data back and forth among the big server Cloud players, especially VMWare, OpenStack and Amazon.
Cloud vendors are also working on open standards for APIs and platform. These will offer the freedom for customers to move between service providers, according to the business demands.
The majority of vendor lock-in occurs inside enterprises where customised applications exist. Add these to the cloud, and the infrastructure becomes very proprietary. This is unavoidable unless these applications are replaced or reengineered to be more open.
Customers also need to be aware what vendors are selling. In fact, many vendors sell proprietary solutions made with almost exclusively open source components. This is not just a cloud issue but has been a concern for some time.
Lastly, customers should look for a software vendor that knows how to support the different cloud providers with its API. They should also employ vendors who can provide an abstraction layer between your code and the cloud provider.
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