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Who Is Responsible for Vendor Lock In?

What is the difference between vendor lockin, account control and stickiness?

In my opinion it can be from either or all the above.

What is vendor lockin

Vendor lockin is a situation where a customer becomes dependent or locked in by choice or other circumstances to a particular supplier or technology.

What is the difference between vendor lockin, account control and stickiness?

Im sure some marketing wiz or sales type will be happy to explain the subtle differences. Generally speaking, lockin, stickiness and account control are essentially the same, or at least strive to obtain similar results. For example, vendor lockin too some has a negative stigma. However vendor stickiness may be a new term, perhaps even sounding cool thus it is not a concern. Remember the Mary Poppins song a spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down? In other words sometimes changing and using a different term such as sticky vs vendor lockin helps make the situation taste better.

Handcuffs from Cops Plus

Is lockin caused via vendors, their partners or by customers?

Is vendor lockin or stickiness a bad thing?

No, not necessarily, particularly if you the customer are aware and still in control of your environment.

I have had different views of vendor lockin over the years.

These have varied from when I was a customer working in IT organizations or being a vendor and later as an advisory analyst consultant. Even as a customer, I had different views of lockin which varied depending upon the situation. In some cases lockin was a result of upper management having their favorite vendor which meant when a change occurred further up the ranks, sometimes vendor lockin would shift as well. On the other hand, I also worked in IT environments where we had multiple vendors for different technologies to maintain competition across suppliers.

As a vendor, I was involved with customer sites that were best of breed while others were aligned around a single or few vendors. Some were aligned around technologies from the vendors I worked for and others were aligned with someone elses technology. In some cases as a vendor we were locked out of an account until there was a change of management or mandates at those sites. In other cases where lock out occurred, once our product was OEMd or resold by an incumbent vendor, the lockout ended.

Some vendors do a better job of establishing lockin, account management, account control or stickiness than compared to others. Some vendors may try to lock a customer in and thus there is perception that vendors lock customers in. Likewise, there is a perception that vendor lockin only occurs with the largest vendors however I have seen this also occur with smaller or niche vendors who gain control of their customers keeping larger or other vendors out.

Sue Bee Honey
Sweet, sticky Sue Bee Honey

Vendor lockin or stickiness is not always the result of the vendor, var, consultant or service provider pushing a particular technology, product or service. Customers can allow or enable vendor lockin as well, either by intent via alliances to drive some business initiative or accidentally by giving up account control management. Consequently vendor lockin is not a bad thing if it brings mutual benefit to the suppler and consumer.

On the other hand, if lockin causes hardship on the consumer while only benefiting the supplier, than it can be a bad thing for the customer.

Do some technologies lend themselves more to vendor lockin vs others?

Yes, some technologies lend themselves more to stickiness or lockin then others. For example, often big ticket or expensive hardware are seen as being vulnerable to vendor lockin along with other hardware items however software is where I have seen a lot of stickiness or lockin around.

However what about virtualization solutions after all the golden rule of virtualization is whoever controls the virtualization (hardware, software or services) controls the gold. This means that vendor lockin could be around a particular hypervisor or associated management tools.

How about bundled solutions or what are now called integrated vendor technology stacks including PODs (here or here) or vBlocks among others? How about databases, do they enable or facilitate vendor lockin? Perhaps, just like virtualization or operating systems or networking technology, storage system, data protection or other solutions, if you let the technology or vendor manage you, then you enable vendor lockin.

Where can vendor lockin or stickiness occur?

Application software, databases, data or information tools, messaging or collaboration, infrastructure resource management (IRM) tools ranging from security to backup to hypervisors and operating systems to email. Lets not forget about hardware which has become more interoperable from servers, storage and networks to integrated marketing or alliance stacks.

Another opportunity for lockin or stickiness can be in the form of drivers, agents or software shims where you become hooked on a feature functionality that then drives future decisions. In other words, lockin can occur in different locations both in traditional IT as well as via managed services, virtualization or cloud environments if you let it occur.

Keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Customers need to manage their resources and suppliers
  • Technology and their providers should work for you the customer, not the other way around
  • Technology suppliers or providers conversely need to get closer to influence customer thinking
  • There can be cost with single vendor or technology sourcing due to loss of competition
  • There can be a cost associated with being best of breed or functioning as your own integrator
  • There is a cost switching from vendors and or their technology to keep in mind
  • Managing your vendors or suppliers may be easier than managing your upper management
  • Vendors sales are tasked with removing barriers so they can sell and setting barriers for others
  • Virtualization and cloud can be both a source for lockin as well as a tool to help prevent it
  • As a customer, if lockin provides business benefits than it can be a good thing for all involved

Closing thoughts for now:

Ultimately, its up to the customer to manage their environment and thus have a say if they will allow vendor lockin. Granted, upper management may be the source of the lockin and not surprisingly is where some vendors will want to focus their attention directly, or via influence of high level management consultants.

So while a vendors solution may appear to be a locked in solution, it does not become a lockin issue or problem until a customer lets or allows it to be a lockin or sticky situation.

What is your take on vendor lockin? Cast your vote and see results in the following polls.

Nuff said for now

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz - Author The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)
twitter @storageio

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More Stories By Greg Schulz

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO (StorageIO) Group, an IT industry analyst and consultancy firm. Greg has worked with various server operating systems along with storage and networking software tools, hardware and services. Greg has worked as a programmer, systems administrator, disaster recovery consultant, and storage and capacity planner for various IT organizations. He has worked for various vendors before joining an industry analyst firm and later forming StorageIO.

In addition to his analyst and consulting research duties, Schulz has published over a thousand articles, tips, reports and white papers and is a sought after popular speaker at events around the world. Greg is also author of the books Resilient Storage Network (Elsevier) and The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC). His blog is at www.storageioblog.com and he can also be found on twitter @storageio.

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