Vendor Lock-In or Love-In: Evaluating Your IaaS Options

Vendor Lock-In or Love-In: Evaluating Your IaaS OptionsThere have been a whole series of highly visible moves where large enterprise vendors are making long-term commitments to use another Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) vendor’s infrastructure (note: I’m going to lump all these vendors [Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform] into the IaaS category for brevity, even though each also offers some PaaS and SaaS offerings):

In some cases (Apple in particular), they use all three of the big IaaS vendors. This naturally leads to the question of “why should I select one IaaS vendor over another, or should I be able to use several?”

I have written extensively about the technical reasons why we, here at Spanning, continue to invest into our relationship with AWS. In light of the recent news about who is adopting which IaaS vendor, I thought it would be important to revisit this discussion from a business perspective.

Benefits of IaaS

Let’s refresh on why an enterprise business would consider moving some or all of their workload to an IaaS vendor. There are a couple of driving reasons:

  • Reduce costs: IaaS allows an organization to reduce their upfront capital expenditure by adopting a “use what you consume” model. This is even more prevalent with all the cost reductions being passed down by the IaaS vendors as they achieve even larger efficiencies and scale. AWS has reduced their prices at least 51 times!
  • Do more: IaaS allows an organization to scale up to larger workloads much faster than doing the same on premises.
  • Offload work: IaaS allows an organization to delegate the operation of their compute resources to a trusted partner in order to invest in their core business rather than commodity services.

Understanding Your Mission

So, with that in mind, it is most important to clearly understand what you are looking for in your relationship with an IaaS vendor. Do you view them as a commodity service that will enable you to extend your capacity at a lower TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)? Do you consider them to be a technology partner with innovation that you can leverage? Do you need geographic or vendor redundancy? Are you building a cloud-native application or do you need to adopt a hybrid model where you use both cloud and on-prem resources?

None of these considerations are right or wrong, they are simply driven by your own business needs. And, interestingly, they point out that what one company finds compelling, another might find unsuitable.  

Is a Single IaaS Vendor for You?

Many enterprise organizations are considering IaaS vendors as a lower-cost scalability alternative in an effort to augment their on-premises systems. In this case, using a middle-tier technology such as CloudFoundry or OpenStack makes total sense as it makes it possible to code once and run everywhere. You will need to invest into this decision on day one and practice using multiple vendors. However, by making that decision upfront, you will have the architecture and operational experience to be able to follow the most efficient IaaS capacity over time. While this approach clearly offers more flexibility, the upfront complexity and cost should not be underestimated. You need to stick with this approach for a while before you can recoup your investment.

On the flip side is a vendor-specific approach in which you integrate tightly with your chosen technology partner. In this case, you will need to have a clear understanding of how the roadmaps for your company and your IaaS partner align. This approach allows you to delegate a lot of operational effort, and some commodity code to your vendor. But, you will pay some extra overhead in terms of monthly costs. Are you trying to run a highly-efficient or highly-effective organization? An efficient organization wants to get the most bang for each buck, but this limits flexibility. An effective organization looks to reduce the overhead associated with the delivery of new functionality and is interested in maintaining flexibility around future decisions.

While a single-vendor choice might sound less complex, it is really just “differently” complex, because you still need to make sure that you architect your solution in such a way that it can scale as your needs change and grow.

At Spanning, we are focused on delivering new functionality that delights our customers. We continue to evaluate how best to do this, but our IaaS partnership with Amazon Web Services allows us to focus on our core functionality rather than operational or security considerations. These are critically important to us, so much so that we prefer to have a single technology partner that focuses on scalability and security so that we can focus on data protection and recovery.

Are You Ready to Commit?

So, it is clear that IaaS is a growing trend and that there is a lot of news about the big three and their customer “wins.” This activity is good for all of us because it gives us stronger and more compelling choices in terms of how we migrate our technology architecture. However, it also adds more complexity to the decisions we need to make.  

As you step deeper into this world, stay focused on your core mission and roadmap. You may find that making a strong commitment to a single IaaS vendor opens up a whole new realm of possibility for your organization.