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Make cloud applications portable to avoid lock-in woes

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Containers may help developers build apps that can move across cloud environments, but they're not always enough to eliminate lock-in risks.

The cloud computing landscape constantly evolves, but cloud vendor lock-in is still an ever-present issue. Today, enterprises try to avoid being tied to one vendor by increasing their cloud workload portability. There are numerous ways to make applications portable, such as employing containers, but "ultimately, the ability to place software in one place, and then be able to automatically move it from Amazon to Google to IBM or [another provider] -- it's really not as easy as people would claim it to be," says David Linthicum, SVP of Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud consulting firm based in Boston.

In this podcast, Linthicum and Marten Mickos, CEO at HackerOne, a provider of vulnerability-tracking software, discuss the issues of portability, the potential for cloud vendor lock-in and the current IT job market.

What role do containers play in cloud portability?

Containers have become the go-to technology for making applications portable. As Docker becomes more popular, big cloud providers are offering their own container management services to lure in enterprises. But don't containerize an application just for the sake of it.

"Containers are changing the game a bit, but I'd still argue that there has to be a reason for us to containerize something, which means you doing a lot of additional work to architect the [existing] application for containers … and then you have to look at whether or not you're going to make the move and actually use it for portability going forward," Linthicum says.

While containers help make applications portable, it will take some time for mainstream adoption. "Containerization will ease this problem a little bit, but it will take time -- it will take years,"Mickos says.

Linthicum agrees. "But even though there is a desire to do it, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of folk[s] who are actually doing that in practice," he says.

Is cloud vendor lock-in unavoidable?

Lock-in always produces higher prices, without exception.
Marten MickosCEO at HackerOne

To take advantage of better services or prices, enterprises want the ability to make their cloud applications portable. But, after becoming too dependent on one vendor's services -- especially if they're native and unique to the cloud provider's platform, such as an identity access management service -- it is difficult and expensive to move.

"Docker and container management and orchestration solutions have made portability vastly easier, but as soon as you start availing yourself to the special services of whatever platform you're on, you're hooked," Linthicum says. "Then, I am kind of stuck where I am unless I am willing to pay the money to change the software to meet the demands and basically make it cloud-native on other platforms."

Lock-in doesn't just occur with vendors, but also with cloud models. "Whether you use the public cloud or you build your own cloud, you're locked in. If you go to a public cloud, you are locked into all the attractive add-on services that [vendors] provide," Mickos says. "If you build your own cloud, you're locked in to your own design."

Still, cloud vendor lock-in can prove to be more expensive in the long run, as the price of certain services rises. "Lock-in always produces higher prices, without exception," Mickos adds. [9:26 -- 14:38]

What is the state of the IT job market?

Cloud has shaken up the IT job market and, as time goes on, more jobs are shifting toward cloud. "I don't think every job will shift over to a cloud computing position but, certainly, it's having the biggest impact," Linthicum says. With the industry changing so quickly, new skill sets pertaining to agile methods, microservices and containerization are already in high demand.

"People are left behind with their education and certification … because it's not needed anymore," Mickos says. "[Enterprises] are not hiring the traditional IT people, they need people who can live in the modern cloud world … and I will guess it will hit the older generations much harder than the younger ones."

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Still, it is never too late to begin classes, receive job training or obtain new certifications to gain the needed experience and skills for today's job market. "My best advice is: learn new skills and learn them quickly and also learn the new methods, not just the new technical skills," Mickos says, citing agile development methods as an example.

While some IT jobs may seem archaic, "all the systems that run hospitals, governments and society … are built in the old paradigm, [which is] where a lot of the mission-critical stuff still is …. We will need people to keep the lights on," Mickos says. The most valuable people in the job market today are those who have the knowledge and experience in cloud, but also has a strong foundation in traditional IT.

"The laws of computing aren't changing, but how we're consuming computing …. It just seems like the sea of change is coming," Linthicum says. [17:30 -- 25:25]

Next Steps

Spot vendor lock-in before it happens

Listen to experts discuss public cloud market trends in 2016

Create portable apps using Docker and microservices

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