Oct 14 2011   3:10PM GMT

Fear of vendor lock-in is legitimate cloud concern — don’t be bullied

Linda Tucci Linda Tucci Profile: Linda Tucci


Although security and compliance are the risks IT professionals point to first when they’re asked why they have bypassed cloud computing, bigger issues loom. Vendor lock-in and interoperability are what you really should be worrying about, according to cloud users and cloud providers at a cloud computing summit in Burlington, Mass., yesterday that was put on by the Mass Technology Leadership Council.

“This is a big issue in cloud. I would caution everybody in this room, as a potential Internet service provider or as a consumer, not to get caught in this trap, because what is going on here is that everybody is creating their own standard for what the cloud stack looks like,” said Michael Skok, general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners in San Mateo, Calif., referring to findings from interviews with some 400 high-level IT professionals and IT vendors. His prediction?

“I think you will see efforts like the OpenStack initiative become more popular, or you’ll see de facto standards coming from players like Amazon. But you’ve got to watch for this, because it is not going to be easy to navigate as we work towards these standards that are emerging.”

Now, it just so happens that North Bridge Venture Partners is an investor in two successful young cloud-based computing companies that have bent over backwards to make the issue of vendor lock-in and interoperability moot. One is Acquia, the commercial open source software vendor for the Drupal open source Web development platform. Drupal is used by some of the biggest and busiest websites in the world, among them the White House and the Al-Jazeera network. Acquia’s cloud infrastructure and services help these users manage, monitor and scale their Drupal platforms. The other company, Demandware, is an e-commerce software technology company whose customers include Lands’ End, New Balance and Barney’s. Demandware provides a Software-as-a-Service/Platform-as-a-Service offering that lets retailers control “everything about their Web and mobile presence,” CEO Tom Eberling said.

‘Open SaaS’

To address fears over vendor lock-in, Acquia, for example, offers something its coined “open SaaS,” said Chris Brookins, vice president of engineering and product management. “It’s not just about being able to get access to your data — which there has been a lot of talk about, with Facebook and Google — but it is also about the freedom and ability to leave our SaaS at anytime. You can take not only your code that powers the site, but the database; all your files; and effectively, if you feel too constrained by the SaaS, you can leave and host it yourself, hopefully on our PaaS,” he said.

A risk? Sure, Brookins said, when I caught up with him after the panel. But one that has paid off handsomely: “What we have found it that by eliminating that barrier to adoption — that fear that I might be locked in forever — we’ve had significant growth.” The company hosts 60,000 sites and enjoys 100% year-over-year growth. It also apparently offers a product that’s hard to refuse: Metrics show that even when customers leave, they are back in about a month.

“Our value proposition is: how do we effectively run their sites, scale their sites and add features at a pace that they couldn’t possibly do themselves for them –and, in way that they have the upside value but they don’t have any of the fear,” Brookins said.

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