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Data / Software Development / Storage

Vendor Lock-In and Data Gravity Challenges

As we move full steam into the era of big data, where devices are generating more data than ever, data gravity will become more of an issue.
Feb 23rd, 2023 2:18am by
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“Data gravity” is a principle associated with the more familiar issue of platform or application vendor lock-in, but in the context of data.

Based on the amount of data or the “weight” of it, the analogy to the laws of gravity goes that the more data you have, the more data it will attract and pull applications, services and workflows into its orbit. The effects of it are heightened when trying to move data between vendors; however, problems may arise before then.

The Challenge for the Enterprise

Vendor lock-in has long been a play in the software industry to make it more difficult to switch to other software if you wish to move to another solution.

Typically enterprises are more susceptible to this due to large deployments, the complexity of their linked systems, time and costs associated with switching vendors, including the need to re-train staff. As a result, they are less likely to move to another data center, cloud provider, application provider or data access vendor.

As we move full steam into the era of big data, where devices are generating more data than ever, data gravity will become more of an issue. In fact, IDC forecasts that by 2025, approximately 175 zettabytes of data will be generated. Subsequently, vendor lock-in challenges will arise that need to be addressed.

Lock-In Cause and Effect

Not being able to migrate to the services of other vendors can happen for a number of reasons. It could be because of contractual obligations, but it is more likely to happen if the vendor technology is proprietary, making it less likely to be compatible with the systems of other vendors.

In response to that, the open source ecosystem has evolved over the last couple of decades to provide viable alternatives that allow organizations to benefit from the most freedom.

Lock-in can sometimes even happen by accident, where innovation becomes stagnant and better alternatives are not evaluated as they should be. For example, you could have a market-leading product with little or no competition that generates good revenue for a long time, so there is little incentive to modernize. Then out of nowhere, someone comes along with a new model that upends the market.

Regardless of how the situation arises, there are undeniably negative consequences to vendor lock-in. Let’s look at some of these from a data perspective.

  • Data compliance: Data laws are becoming more complex. There are a number of relatively new ones like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which continue to evolve. Furthermore, data sovereignty further complicates things — for instance, organizations working in China would need to use Alibaba, while those working in Russia would need to use Yandex. Not having control over your data means there’s more likelihood of a failure to comply that can lead to fines and service outages.
  • Increased costs: Not optimizing data on old infrastructure for new technology can lead to higher costs.
  • Less innovation and flexibility: Without the ability to adopt emerging technologies, new features and other business opportunities could be missed.
  • Security risks: Data breaches are all too common, and the chances of this happening are wider when you are on legacy architecture.

Some or all of these can lead to compounding reputational damage for the organization, resulting in a number of knock-on effects.

Breaking Out

Getting free of vendor lock-in should start with the contract, whether when entering a new one or renegotiating an existing one. Be sure to check the small print, ensure that it is possible to export it when you wish and in a format that is acceptable for your engineers. It should not be cost prohibitive.

Beware of being led to use additional vendor services that can over time increase your reliance on them and make it more difficult to move away. This is common for large cloud service providers (CSP) that might have additional services for database, analytics, monitoring and so on. Tight integration is an attractive prospect on the surface, but it might come back to bite you.

In addition, enterprises are adopting hybrid and multicloud strategies to avoid the data gravity trap. This can be a positive factor in choosing vendors who provide CSP-agnostic services (frequently open source) to benefit from the most freedom and to avoid vendor lock-in.

A good vendor spread should make your system more modular as it makes it easier to swap parts in and out. Beware, however, of having too much fragmentation, given the costs related to creating and maintaining integrations. In addition, working with vendors with large partner ecosystems can help reduce the risks of lock-in.

Couchbase: Multicloud Support and Data Access Made Easy

Choose a solution like Couchbase that will enable, not disable, your multicloud strategies. Many data solutions offer multiregional synchronization, sometimes across different cloud vendors.

Couchbase offers cross data-center replication (XDCR), which is a highly performant replication technology used to replicate data between Couchbase clusters. This is complementary to the intracluster replication. XDCR provides asynchronous replication and maintains data consistency across sites.

Don’t wait to audit your data stores. Factor regular app modernization reviews into your development processes at regular intervals. Avoiding being locked in a specific tech ecosystem will lead to operational agility, leading to opportunities to use vital innovations happening in your industry. Ultimately this will cause more business revenue and growth.

Learn more about Couchbase’s modern multicloud database here, and try Couchbase for yourself today with our free trial.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Pragma.
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