More Cloud FUD: Data Portability & Cloud Lock-in

A while back, I took the folks over at RackSpace to task for spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) concerning Cloud APIs. Luckily for all involved they simmered down on the subject (which most likely had nothing to do with my little article), and now the OpenStack project that RackSpace incubated doesn’t look like the Chicken Little of the open source software world anymore.

However, just like that game of whack-a-mole, we’ve got another FUD top-ten hit ripping through the charts: Data Portability & Cloud Lock-in.

Simply put, Data Portability is about how you get your data in and out of the cloud. Cloud Lock-in is the fear that you will become so dependent on specialized cloud services that you cannot leave the service. According to some CEO/CTO’s, we didn’t have these problems back in the day when the only choices were co-location and managed services – just now with cloud.

Ah, those fun, carefree, simpler times when the world revolved around you and your IT needs… Really, it was so long ago I can barely remember all those free services my co-location/managed service providers would shower upon me, in the days of yore, just for being their customer. Apparently, those nice folks would move my data for free, anywhere I wanted! They didn’t care if it was on my hardware or their hardware. I’d say, “Jump!”, and they’d say, “How high, sir?” Isn’t that how you remember it?

Yeah, me neither.

Data has mass. The larger your data footprint, the heavier its mass. The heavier its mass, the more effort it will take to move it. While the size of the data we produce and use is getting bigger, we haven’t exactly kept up in the networking arms race to make moving it painless. There are some very cool advancements in the area of Silicon Photonics, but that’s still a fairly exotic solution.

The thing is data has always had mass. It is always a problem to move it and we have always been screaming for a faster, bigger pipe. The cloud has not done anything to make this problem any larger. Data Portability is a logistical problem – not a contractual, term of service conundrum. I know of exactly zero Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) that prohibit you from moving your data. I also know of exactly zero service providers of any ilk that will move it for free.

Cloud Lock-in is the newest FUD on the block, and suffers from a similar renaming of a common reality into a buzz wordy problem. It has been, and always will be a fact that the use of a vendors/providers special services-features-assistance will make it harder to leave that vendor/provider – even when there is a supposed “standard” in play. Look at JAVA – my favorite example of an effort that succeeded, even though it failed to meet its goal. JAVA was supposed to be the end-all be-all of portability. However depending on what application service you use, and what special features you decided to embrace it can be more painful to move from platform to platform than most other programming languages.

In the cloud game, you often see Cloud Lock-in & Data Portability FUD coming from CSPs that just don’t have a lot of services to offer or self-titled consultants looking for press. What comes next is a “reefer madness”-like pontification, that says if you start using these highly addictive services you can never stop. Personally, it reminds me of when my grandmother used to tell me that I should skip the cornbread at the all you can eat buffet – “Cause that’s how they get yah.”

Cloud computing is defined, and nowhere in that definition does it say that special services will not be provided or that your implementations are to be painlessly portable between providers. The Cloud will not save you from not thinking ahead all the time. Just like any IT decision, you should be looking long term – and if you have a plausible reason to move your IT infrastructure from provider to provider as the wind may take you, then by all means *try* to do that. I’m not sure that is a career advancing decision, but some people like drama the way I like sleeping without my cell phone going off at 3AM.

In the classic movie & book Princess Bride, Westley tells Buttercup “Life is pain Princess, whoever tells you otherwise is selling something.” Make the right decisions about your needs and goals and you can mitigate this pain. However, that doesn’t mean you should hide from services that could help you more efficiently and economically run your IT infrastructure – as many sensationalist authors and third-tier CSP’s would have you do.

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