How the cloud can help enterprises break free from vendor lock-in [Q&A]

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In the IT industry, software vendors naturally focus their efforts on developing easier ways to onboard new customers and provide unique functionality on their platforms, but they rarely devote development cycles to making it easy to export workloads. As a result, it can be difficult to extract workloads and move between competing platforms. This is commonly referred to as 'vendor lock-in' and is especially concerning with databases and enterprise applications.

But, according to Chris Patterson, senior director of product management at Navisite, an RDX company, cloud computing offers an unusual opportunity for companies to break free from vendor lock-in. He believes cloud migration could alter the status quo, because when organizations decide to migrate their databases to the cloud, it also creates an opportunity to change to new alternatives, such as Amazon Aurora and Azure SQL.

We talked with Chris to learn more about how the cloud can help enterprises finally break free from vendor lock-in.

BN: Why are so many organizations still struggling with database lock-in?

CP: For years, large, legacy database vendors have deterred migration to other vendors by not prioritizing development efforts for data extraction. While it is understandable that they would focus on building features to keep customers, this has resulted in migration processes being too complex, costly and disruptive. Once a business is running on a certain database, there's really no easy way to get off it -- not unless the company wants to forfeit significant time, resources and budget.

This has left organizations virtually helpless. Even when these large vendors change and increase licensing models and maintenance costs, for many users, the price increase is easier to swallow than the thought of migrating to a new database.

Many of these locked-in companies don't yet realize that the cloud can serve as a catalyst for change.

BN: What opportunities does cloud migration offer?

CP: More and more companies with legacy database implementations want to migrate to the public cloud to escape the challenges that accompany in-house system deployments: large capital outlays, time-consuming infrastructure deployment and management, and lack of elasticity and adaptability. Migrating to a new environment introduces a natural opportunity for organizations to also migrate workloads from their existing database to open source cloud options, such as Amazon Aurora or Azure SQL.

If you're going to go through all of the work involved in migrating an on-premise database to the cloud, you may as well evaluate different providers before starting the migration process. The same amount of effort will be required throughout the migration, regardless of whether you're sticking with your existing vendor or switching to a new provider. So, why not take this opportunity to break free from legacy vendor lock-in?

BN: But, doesn't vendor lock-in exist in the cloud world, too?

CP: Yes, from both the system and cloud platform perspective. From the system perspective, once you've migrated your on-premise vendor to the cloud, the barriers to switching vendors remain similar to the typical on-premise model. It’s the actual migration phase where the window of opportunity is open to make a change to open source alternatives. From the platform perspective, if you rely on only one cloud provider to house, secure and manage all of your data, application and infrastructure needs, then vendor-lock is a very real concern, and the platform becomes a single point of failure.

However, there are some things that companies can do to avoid typical lock-in challenges in the cloud, such as adopting a hybrid- or multi-cloud environment and leveraging open source options. One of the biggest advantages of using an open source platform is that companies aren’t tied to a specific vendor's technology; rather, open source software typically supports interoperability -- significantly reducing the risk of vendor lock-in in the future.

Most importantly, with open source cloud options, customers won't be subject to legacy vendors' customer-antagonistic licensing practices, maintenance fees and sub-par customer support.

BN: What are some other benefits of using open source databases?

CP: With open source, companies can experience enterprise-grade database performance and features while simultaneously benefiting from the transparent, 'pay-as-you-go' open source business model. There's tremendous flexibility because users can customize and improve source code. And, there's the power of 'community.' When a community of developers works together to improve an application, database or software, the net result is often expedited development, innovation and time-to-market. Additionally, the power of community helps to strengthen the security of open source projects, because having a large number of technical people inspecting source code typically results in faster identification and remediation of bugs, flaws and vulnerabilities.

BN: Can you share a few cloud migration best practices?

CP: Before beginning the cloud migration process, develop a comprehensive on-premise-to-cloud migration budget and strategy. Then, assess the on-premise database to identify areas that could impact migration success. When migration issues are addressed early in the cloud conversion lifecycle, problems are minimized and projects are completed faster.

It's also important to take the time to thoroughly understand and evaluate different architectures and vendor products. Companies that do decide to move to a different provider when migrating to the cloud should consider a refactoring service. Refactoring, the process by which developers re-code applications and adjust database schemas, is a requirement for migrating off of one database and onto another, but, in many cases, it also serves as the chief impediment to application migration due to the number of staff hours required. Refactoring services can remove this obstacle from the migration process by reducing IT staff involvement in refactoring projects by 80 percent or more.

Post migration, companies should closely monitor resource utilization, and implement migration testing and conversion plans.

A few simple best practices, such as the above, can turn the migration process from a massive undertaking to a very doable IT project. And, when IT departments can simplify the migration process while simultaneously using it as an opportunity to end the vicious cycle of database lock-in, they can deliver significant value -- not only for their department, but for the business and the business’s bottom line as well.

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