I am doing a lot of research into Cloud Computing at the moment, and spent an enjoyable morning with Salesforce.com, one of the largest Cloud vendors.
However, one thing that particularly piqued my interest was the discussion on Cloud lock-in. One of the most frequent concerns I hear from companies thinking about Cloud is that they are worried about vendor lock-in. After all, with Cloud being so new, what if you lock into a supplier who does not survive?
The discussions with Saleforce.com highlighted an interesting aspect to this debate. One of its offerings, force.com, provides a ‘Platform as a Service’ (PaaS) cloud offering, where users are presented with an environment in the cloud complete with a whole host of useful tools to build their own applications to run int he cloud or customize existing ones. However, Salesforce.com offers its own programming environment which is “java-like” in its own words. This immediately raises the lock-in concern. If a company builds applications using this, then these applications are not portable to other Java environments, so the user is either stuck with Salesforce.com or faces a rewrite.
A bad thing, you might think. BUT Salesforce.com claims that the reason it has had to go with a Java-like environment is that this enables it to provide much improved isolation between different cloud tenants (users) and therefore better availability and lower risk. For the uninitiated, the point about Cloud is that lots of using companies share the same cloud in what the industry calls a multi-tenancy arrangement, and this obviously raises a risk that these tenants might interfere with each other in some way, either maliciously or accidentally. Salesforce.com has mediated that risk by offering a programming environment that specifically helps to guard against this happening, and hence differs from pure Java.
So, is this lock-in a bad thing or good? I don’t know whether Salesforce.com could have achieved its aims a different way, and I have to admit that to a cynic like me the fact that solving this problem ‘unfortunately’ locks you into the supplier seems a bit suspicious. However, this is irrelevant since the vendor is doing the work and has chosen its implementation method, which it is of course free to do. Therefore, the question facing the potential force.com user is simple – the strategic risk of being locked in to the supplier has to be balanced against the operational risk of possible interference from other tenants. Depending on how the user reads this balance, this will determine how good or bad the lock-in option is.