The Illusion of Lock-In Avoidance

January 9, 2014 in Systems3 minutes

Over the past few months I’ve heard a lot about vendor lock-in, specifically with respect to new SDN/Network Virtualization products that have come out last year. It appears that no matter what product you look at, there’s some major factor that will cause you to be severely locked in to that vendor until the end of time. Unless, of course, you’re a proponent of that vendor, in which case, that vendor is NOT locking you in, but that other guy totally is.

The fact is that any vendor will put into place some mechanism that will encourage you to stay with their method of doing things (call it lock in if you must). It is ALL vendors’ goal to lock you in to their product - that’s how they make money. Truly the only way to avoid this entirely is to buy purely commodity hardware and invest millions into high-end engineering talent and in-house software development that…you know….commoditizes that hardware. Clearly not a realistic situation for most, unless there’s some small group of people with billions in cash lying around - in which case, please give me a call.

This is true even if you’re talking about a software solution with no hardware. Lock-in transcends hardware or software - it is a method of doing things. Now - that method may manifest itself in a hardware feature, but that’s just one way of doing it.

I want to caution those from talking about “lock-in” in this way when it comes to anything on the infrastructure layer (and that counts for physical or virtual). If a purchase on the infrastructure layer locks you in to a certain way of doing business in your IT operations - you’re doing something wrong.

As an IT department or LoB, provide the rest of the business with tools that abstract away the specifics underneath. Don’t rely on those specifics to provide value to the business. Instead, choose the nerd knobs that allow you to remain agile and focused on the business objectives that you have in front of you for the short term. Make strategic decisions that allow these tools to improve and become even better over time. Don’t put yourself in a position where the technology defines how you provide value to the business. Then you WILL be locked in - by yourself.

This strategy is low-hanging fruit for the DIY types that live and breath open source, and I’ll be honest - it’s the one I would prefer if I had the choice. For the rest of you, I’d suggest that you seek out the tools that allow you to generalize your IT operations. They’re out there.

Make your IT operations less about the technology and more about providing interfaces for the other aspects of the business to consume that take care of the translation between application language and geek speak.