Do software vendors truly eliminate vendor lock-in?

Cops plus supplesBy Greg Schulz

I'm always interested when I hear or read a software vendor or their value added reseller (VAR) or business partner claim that their solution eliminates vendor lock-in.

More often than not, I end up being amazed if not amused over the claims which usually should be rephrased as 'eliminating hardware vendor lock-in.'

What is also amazing (or amusing) is that while some vendors make claims of eliminating (hardware) vendor lock-in, there is also some misdirection taking place.

While some solutions may be architected to cut hardware vendor lock-in, how they are sold or packaged can force certain vendors technology into your solution.

For example, the EMC Centera software in theory and architecture is hardware vendor independent, however it is sold as a solution (hardware and software), similar to how Dell sells the DX which uses software from Caringo and - you guessed right - Dell hardware, among many other similar scenarios from other vendors.

How about virtualisation or other abstraction software tools along with cloud, object storage, clustered file systems and related tools?

StorageIO industry trends and perspectives, I/O, clouds, virtualizationKeep in mind the golden rule of management software and tools which includes virtualisation, cloud stacks, clustered file systems among other similar tools.

The golden rule is simply: whoever controls the software and management controls the gold (e.g. your budget).

In the case of storage software tools, such as virtualisation, cloud or object storage, cluster or NAS system: while they can be correct depending on how packaged and sold of eliminating hardware vendor lock-in, the lock-in also moves.

The lock-in moves from the hardware to the software which, even though a particular solution may be architected to use industry standard components - often to make it easy for acquisition - a vendor packages the solution with hardware.

In other words, the vendor unlocked you from one vendor's hardware with their software, only to lock you into their's or somebody else's.

Now granted, it may not be a hard lock (pun intended), rather a soft marketing and deployment packaging decision.

However there are some solutions that give themselves or at least via their marketing on hardware independence only to force you into buying their tin wrapped software (e.g. an appliance) with their choice of disk drives, network components and other items.

So when a software or solution vendor claims to cut vendor lock-in, ask them if that is hardware vendor lock-in and if they are moving or shifting the point of vendor lock-in.

Keep in mind that vendor lock-in does not have to be a bad thing if it provides you, the customer, with value.

Also keep in mind that only you can prevent vendor lock-in, which is like only you can prevent cloud data loss (or you could say it's a shared responsibility!)

Here is my point. So what if a vendor chooses to wrap their software with an appliance to make it easy for you to buy and deploy? Unless they are willing to work with you on what hardware that will be, perhaps they should think about going a bit easier on the vendor lock-in theme.

In the quest to race from hardware vendor lock-in, be aware with ears and eyes wide open to make sure that you are not fleeing from one point of lock-in to another.

In other words, make sure that the cure to your vendor lock-in challenge is not going to be more painful than your current ailment.

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7 Sep 2012, 7:07 p.m.

Though any decision has its Ying/Yang componentry, I respectfully disagree with the premise that 'lock-in' is a good thing. For the client company to get best pricing (weighed against best implementation/service), the hosting company needs not the 'resting on laurels' complacency that can be inspired by knowing a customer is locked-in. Not that it is as bad as a monopoly (which also can have its benefits); still, if clients have 'ease with leaving,' then hosting companies should work harder at keeping clients, and the overall quality and pricing should always improve.