Cloud computing is often seen as sort of the liberator of corporate IT. Tired of maintaining that proprietary CRM system? Move it to the cloud. And, as I've shared previously, the solutions for integrating your on-site data with cloud data are proliferating.
But there's another side to this cloud story that I've seen mentioned a few times recently, and I think it's worth considering. The question is: Are you risking a platform lock-in by moving to cloud computing?
Kevin Lynch, the CTO of Adobe, and Paul Maritz, the CEO of VMware, expressed concern about platform lock-in during a recent panel discussion at the Web 2.0 Summit. Intelligent Enterprise covered the event and reported that Lynch referred to the situation as a possible "Balkanization of the Web on the server side." Maritz is quoted as remarking, "One of the challenges of these platform-as-a-service plays is they're highly proprietary."
The problem seems to be, while vendors are willing to integrate with your data, they're not willing to integrate with other vendors -- an all-too-familiar problem in traditional IT software that seems inevitable in the cloud as well. The article notes that there are unresolved issues of "data portability, application portability, and data ownership" that may force you to pick a vendor -- and stay there.
Maritz and Lynch aren't the only ones expressing concern about potential lock-in. This Sys-Con Media blog piece, by Dare Obasanjo, covers a similar discussion, started by Tim Bray of Sun Microsystems, writing on his personal blog. Bray is quoted as saying:
"...if cloud computing is going to take off, it absolutely, totally, must be lockin-free. What that means if that I'm deploying my app on Vendor X's platform, there have to be other vendors Y and Z such that I can pull my app and its data off X and it'll all run with minimal tweaks on either Y or Z."
Bray then goes on to call out both Google and Amazon as specific examples where this is not the case.
The Sys-Con piece reports that Google's Dewitt Clinton took Bray to task on this, saying it is possible to move the data away from Amazon and Google and there's no deliberate effort by either to lock out other vendors. (If you're curious about the tit-for-tat, you can read Bray's original post and the comments here.)
Obasanjo wraps up his post with the observation that, while lock-in may be too strong a word for what's going on in the cloud, those looking to cloud solutions really don't have a lot of choices at this point and there are interoperability problems companies should consider before moving to the cloud:
"....the fact is that today if a customer has heavily invested in either platform then there isn't a straightforward way for customers to extricate themselves from the platform and switch to another vendor. In addition there is not a competitive marketplace of vendors providing standard/interoperable platforms as there are with email hosting or Web hosting providers."
As I said, I'm just starting to see rumblings on this. But it's definitely an issue IT leaders will want to watch and consider. After all, whether it's in the cloud or in your server room, the applications and data remain your responsibility.