In the cloud lock-in is often a greater concern than lock-out*, but both should be top of mind for organizations looking to deploy cloud seriously, or better said, for organizations that want to deploy cloud for serious business
Lock-in is the phenomenon that it is often difficult (lengthy and expensive) for user organizations to switch suppliers, often because after some time the software becomes so closely linked with the way the organization works that saying goodbye to the vendor becomes virtualy impossible. It is no coincidence that there are only two industries (IT vendors and drug dealers) that routinely refer to their customers as “users”.
But also in the cloud lockout must be avoided. Just imagine a scenario of a typical cloud provider, who controls the entire stack from application to hardware, unexpectedly going out of business (like a Nirvanix, that had a relatively soft landing and was able to give two weeks notice to its customers) or if that provider decides it does not want to serve a certain company or country anymore. Like how several cloud providers locked out Wikileaks after the first press leaks, or a vendor like Mega Upload, where regular customers lost all access to their data after a judge ordered them to shut down completely based on media industry accusations. But same can happen if a reputable large provider decides some of its products are no longer strategic. The big difference between the cloud and traditional in-house hardware and software is that as soon as the provider stops it service, the customer is immediately out of business. This is very different form traditional IT where resources could often still be used for years, even if the hardware is out of warranty and the software out of support.
Having a plan B and an up to date and easy to execute exit strategy is therefore much more important in the cloud than it was in the past. Agreeing upfront what parties will be allowed and enabled to continue the services if the original provider no longer can (or no longer wants to do so). At this moment this is only pragmatically possible for open source solutions that are already offered by multiple parties, but in some countries hosting providers are putting standard rules and arrangements in place ≈to move customers from one hosting provider to another, in case the need arises, including any commercially licensed standard software. But for traditional SaaS there is still a distinct risk f being “Locked out of Heaven”. So for now the advice from one of my first bogs ever, still stands: Any good cloud strategy must start and end with an exit strategy”.
* Locked Out of Heaven is an album by Bruno Mars, an artist whose popularity grew even faster than the popularity of cloud computing. But this album is not a collection of different songs. It is a compilation of several remixes of the same number, allowing the customer to choose the delivery method that he likes best for his situation.