More Cloud FUD: Data Portability & Cloud Lock-in


A while back, I took the folks over at RackSpace to task for spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) concerning Cloud APIs. Luckily, for all of the parties involved, they simmered down on the subject (which most likely had nothing to do with my little article).Now, the OpenStack project that RackSpace incubated no longer looks like the “Chicken Little” of the open source software world.

However, just like that game of whack-a-mole, we have another FUD top-ten hit ripping through the charts: data portability & cloud lock-in.

Simply put, data portability is about how you get your data in and out of the cloud. Cloud lock-in is the fear that you will become so dependent on specialized cloud services that you cannot leave the service. According to some CEO/CTO’s, we did not have these problems back in the day when the only choices were co-location and managed services, these issues are only respective with cloud.

A Quick Trip Down Memory Lane

Ah, those fun, carefree, simpler times when the world revolved around you and your IT needs. It was so long ago I can barely remember all those free services my co-location/managed service providers would shower upon mejust for being their customer. Apparently, those nicer-than-nice folks would move my data for free, anywhere I wanted! They didn’t care if it was on my hardware or their hardware. I’d say, “Jump!”, and they’d say, “How high, sir?” Isn’t that how you remember it?

Yeah, me neither.

Back to Reality

Data has mass. The larger your data footprint, the heavier its mass. The heavier its mass, the more effort it will take to move it. While the size of the data we produce and use is getting bigger, we haven’t exactly kept up in the networking arms race to make moving it painless. There are some very cool advancements in the area of Silicon Photonics, but that’s still a fairly exotic solution.

The thing is, data has always had mass. It is always a problem to move it and we have always been screaming for a faster, bigger pipe. The cloud has not done anything to make this problem any bigger. Data portability is a logistical problem – not a contractual, term of service conundrum. I know of exactly zero cloud service providers (CSPs) that prohibit you from moving your data. I also know of exactly zero service providers, of any ilk, that will move it for free.

Cloud lock-in is the newest FUD on the block and it suffers from a similar pattern of taking a common reality and renaming it into a buzzwordy problem. It has been and always will be a fact that the use of a vendor/provider’s special services/features/assistance will make it harder to leave that vendor/provider – even when there is a supposed “standard” in play. For example, look at JAVA. JAVA is my favorite example of an effort that succeeded, even though it failed to meet its goalbecause it was supposed to be the end all, be all of portability. However, depending on the application service you use and special features you decided to embrace, it can be more painful to move from platform to platform than most other programming languages.

That’s How They Get Yah

In the cloud game, you often see cloud lock-in & data portability FUD coming from CSPs that just don’t have a lot of services to offer or self-titled consultants looking for press. What comes next is “reefer madness”-like pontification that says if you start using these highly addictive services you can never stop. Personally, it reminds me of when my grandmother used to tell me that I should skip the cornbread at the all you can eat buffet,  “Cause that’s how they get yah.”

Cloud computing is defined, and nowhere in that definition does it say that special services will not be provided or that your implementations are to be painlessly portable between providers. The Cloud will not save you from not thinking ahead all of the time. Just like any IT decision, you should be looking and thinking long term. And if you have a plausible reason to move your IT infrastructure from provider to provider, then by all means try to do that. I’m not sure that is a career-advancing decision, but some people like drama the way I like sleeping without my cell phone going off at 3AM.

In the classic movie & book Princess Bride, Westley tells Buttercup, “Life is pain Princess, whoever tells you otherwise is selling something.” Make the right decisions about your needs and goals and you can mitigate this pain. However, that doesn’t mean you should hide from services that could help you run your IT infrastructure more efficiently and economically,  as many sensationalist authors and third-tier CSP’s would have you do.

Chris Uttenweiler

Chris Uttenweiler is Manager of DLT’s Cloud Practice. His diverse background in IT operations and infrastructure design allows him to uniquely blog about best practices and IT perspective.