Almost every company is investing in the cloud to improve data storage and application software capabilities. According to Gartner, almost two-thirds (65.9%) of spending on application software will be directed toward cloud technologies in 2025. At the same time, it's critical that companies are very intentional in their cloud migration strategy to avoid vendor lock-in, which can hinder long-term growth and cause workflow disruption within the cloud.
Here are some factors to consider when building a long-term cloud strategy, as well as advice on how to avoid them.
1. Don’t conflate your organization’s needs.
A huge misunderstanding about moving to the cloud is that IT systems will immediately improve. It can be a rude awakening for organizations when they don’t see a strong return on investment from their cloud services right off the bat. The stress compiles when their systems aren’t being enhanced or they’re not experiencing actual waste reduction.
It’s important to think long-term when it comes to establishing a cloud journey. Think of which services will be the best fit for your business over the next 24 months? That might seem a long time but transitioning to the cloud is often a five-year process, and some institutions, like banks, can take closer to a decade to transition to the cloud.
On top of this, it’s best to develop a strategy that allows movement between major cloud providers -- AWS, Azure, and GCP -- because each one brings a little something different to the table. For example, for more sophisticated machine learning for analytics, GCP is probably the best fit. But Microsoft workloads should be run on Azure. Additionally, it’s likely that as your organization’s data grows its needs will also change, and this flexibility will alleviate those growing pains.
2. Become cloud-native one step at a time.
Understanding the technical infrastructure as well as your organization’s overall business strategy inside and out will help avoid vendor lock-in. By specifically defining expected business outcomes after moving to the cloud, your organization will not fall beholden to acquiring features or software that won’t move the needle for growth or efficiency.
Before beginning this journey, IT leaders should be asking: Do we have the team and resources we need to get us to a cloud-native state? Your employees may need to undergo serious training to run the new systems operating in the cloud, or you might need to hire talent with specialized skill sets that will help run the technology effectively. There’s also the consideration of cost, and whether it’s worth operating on your own infrastructure versus using a managed service. This cost-benefit analysis is critical for deciding which solutions to start with, and which can be added on further down the line.
As your enterprise grows, your strategy might shift to include managed services because there won’t be a need to hire different people for every system, removing the heavy lifting internally. For example, rather than having internal IT teams manage the migration of data from one cloud to the other, organizations will outsource a solution that can handle data deployment, migration, disaster recovery, and other services. But operating on multiple systems will only succeed if these solutions aren’t bogged down by heavy workloads and provide the flexibility of data growth and provider fluctuation that I continue to emphasize.
3. There are tell-tale signs you’re being trapped.
Once your business establishes a clear strategy for how to execute systems in the cloud, the next step is choosing the services that will help your organization reach both business and technical goals. The easiest way to tell if a vendor is reeling an enterprise for lock-in is if they don’t allow for flexibility, whether that’s apparent within the contract or if their systems aren’t capable of running across multiple cloud providers. As an enterprise, you need to invest in solutions that will run across any of the major cloud providers. These systems should be able to integrate seamlessly, and data should be able to be transferred mindlessly. If not, the long-term cost is going to be significant.
The platforms your organization chose should provide access to data in a simple way so it can be easily moved around at any point in time. Often, data will be locked in only one location, and it becomes a hassle and an expense to move it somewhere else. But since data is changing and growing all the time, you might quickly realize your data could be used differently than originally anticipated. Being able to export this data and move it to another platform should be built-in and easy.
4. Remember, lock-in can be resolved.
If your organization winds up in a sticky situation, it’s best to stay calm and remember it’s not the end of the world. The first step is to evaluate other technologies that could compete with the current solution. Once a strong negotiation strategy is in place, communicate with the incumbent vendor to say your organization is willing to walk if they’re not willing to be more flexible. Hopefully, incentives create room for vendors to be more accommodating. If you really find yourself in a bind, sift through the terms and conditions of the contract for a way tp get out of it. Certain clauses can provide an escape route, but hopefully, it never gets to this point.
While it’s critical to be cautious, there are green flags for promising vendors as well. The best vendors have multi-cloud availability and allow businesses to move between cloud providers, understanding their changing needs.
Realizing your business needs to determine which services are the best fit for your workloads is the first critical step in the cloud journey but sticking to services that can keep your organization innovating without worrying about storage concerns or slow run-time is just as important. Think long term. What will happen to your systems if there is a need to support similar workloads across several cloud providers? Is your data dependent on the applications running across different cloud providers? Most of the time, vendors come with good intentions for their customers, but as an IT leader, I recommend keeping these tricks in your back pocket so you can be prepared and ensure a successful cloud journey for the long term.