Lock-in: truth or fiction?

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I have been discussing technology with suppliers and their suppliers for many years, and many use the term "lock-in", meaning a barrier to changing suppliers or linking to a supplier. The questions were: "Will we be dependent on the supplier because of this product?" or "Solution X is preferable for us because it does not make us dependent on the supplier." I thought a lot about this issue and shared my thoughts with clients, but the writing of this post was sparked by a discussion of the @nigelpoulton post called VSAN and HW arrays , where lock-in was mentioned.

I said that this paranoid horror story of the IT industry has never been and could not be.

What is hidden behind the term lock-in?

When I ask customers who are concerned about the lock-in (or dependence on the supplier) to explain what exactly they are afraid of, they always respond with something like “I don’t want to become addicted later”.

Well, that's something. Usually, after a few questions, the situation is reduced to the fact that the changes may not be feasible due to the high costs - time or money.

This sounds reasonable, but the main problems are mainly related to the way IT people look at lock-in:

  • Maximalism: you either were captured lock-in, or not.
  • The real price of technology dependence is calculated incorrectly.
  • A huge amount of time and money is spent on avoiding addiction, but they are not counted.

Effort is the real measure.

Efforts are that without which movement is impossible, the more difficulties there are, the more efforts must be made to move on; I think this term is better suited than the lock-in. In fact, we calculate (and, I hope, in advance) how much money and time (which also costs money) will be spent on any changes. The higher the costs, the more effort. The more effort, the greater the benefit must be from the changes made. Any IT solution involves cost and effort.

There is no impossible volume of effort.

Consider the example of a company with the most obvious lock-in technology-bound - Netflix platform on AWS. Can Netflix get away from AWS? Of course. Would it be worth the cost? In no case. As the benefits of using another platform outweigh the costs of the transition, they will leave AWS.

That's the whole point of Nigel’s comments that VMware VSAN "tightly binds to the hypervisor." How much effort does technology change require? Certainly, this requires some effort, but is it really so large that we can talk about a “lock-in”? Hardly.

Open Source also requires effort and cost.

I often hear about those who choose open-source projects to avoid an ominous “lock-in”. Of course, such projects require less financial resources, but they also require a significant amount of time (which, as we know, costs money). Chose CloudStack, but want to upgrade to OpenStack? How much effort will this process require?

Measure effort and count expenses

The most advanced IT workers (infrastructure, developers, purchasing department, even management) have to make decisions in this way.

Whether you are writing for a specific API, choosing a platform for storing data or signing a contract, you need to ask yourself the question:

How much effort and cost will it take to change the work environment, and will it be worth it?

There are many examples of companies (such as Netflix) that make decisions despite the fact that these decisions fall under the concept of lock-in, and these are not bad decisions at all. EMC switched to SalesForce.com several years ago and (like most customers) carefully customized it. Many may decide that EMC is now tied to Salesforce, but I bet if you ask EMC Sales management if they would change their mind, if they could, they would answer that they would accept it again.

So is there a lock-in?

I think it is worthwhile to retreat from the point of view that it does not exist at all, but then it is worth changing the definition of lock-in to the following: this is a situation in which the efforts and costs of change far exceed the estimated gain . If you look at everything from this point of view, you will stop seeing the ominous lock-in in every dark corner.

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