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Evernote's move to Google downplays cloud lock-in concerns

Cloud lock-in continues to fall down the list of concerns for companies willing to accept the tradeoff to tap into a platform's higher-level services.

Google's latest high-profile customer is yet another example of the growing number of companies that aren't terribly concerned with putting all their IT eggs in one cloud-based basket.

Evernote Corp. said it plans to move its entire IT infrastructure to Google Cloud Platform by the end of this year. The popular web-based app for storing and synchronizing files across devices is the latest to brush off concerns about cloud lock-in, as it embraces Google's higher-level resources to expand its own offerings.

Evernote's assets are located in two data centers, which house a combined 3.2 PB of data between its 200 million users' notes and attachments. The company's aggressive migration plan ultimately calls for putting its entire data footprint on Google Cloud Platform by the end of 2016.

Two primary categories drove Evernote's interest in Google, according to Anirban Kundu, Evernote's CTO: the infrastructure components for storage, pub/sub and queuing mechanisms; and Google Machine Learning tools for language processing -- in particular, Natural Language API and Translate API. The initial migration won't involve rearchitecting, but that is planned for the early part of 2017 to utilize the higher-level services.

Evernote plans to build a level of abstraction for data storage, but it acknowledged that's not really possible with services such as Machine Learning, and that's OK, Kundu said.

"The problems you run into are the APIs are not homogenous congruent in any form, and that means we'd have to write for multiple cloud providers, which defeats the speed and the agility of why we did this in the first place," Kundu said.

Evernote's decision wasn't based solely on bottom-tier compute or networking resources, for which it could have spread resources across multiple providers. The company did look at other cloud providers, though it didn't specifically cite which ones.

It's yet another example of how deals in the public cloud are less about cheap servers and more about finding the most innovative services to improve products and gain customers.

"It's about value -- the added value of leveraging Google's machine learning services to improve the product," said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst with Forrester Research.  "This is what will drive the next wave of cloud adoption -- the search to provide a reason for companies to move operations to a cloud platform beyond cheaper servers or storage."

The cloud lock-in boogeyman

Avoiding lock-in is a common concern among IT customers and vendors -- but some say that's a blanket characterization, with overly negative connotations.

There are punitive or predatory types of lock-in, where contracts are written to make it hard to do anything else, or with some kind of penalty for leaving, said Andrew Reichman, research director with 451 Research.

But there is also a lock-in with positive benefits -- where users go deep with a service, cloud or otherwise, because it offers something unique or fits well with staff skills and isn't worth the effort to migrate away from, Reichman said. In those instances, over-prioritizing concerns about cloud lock-in can be shortsighted.

"If the solution isn't a commodity, if it's not the same as everyone else's, then there's some amount of lock-in," Reichman said. "That doesn't have to be a bad thing -- you choose the solution you think is best, and you don't limit it and say you're only going to use some of it."

Of course, not every company is so eager to move all its assets to one platform, especially those that aren't born in the cloud. Some large enterprises continue to pursue OpenStack as a means to avoid cloud lock-in. Others hedge bets by spreading resources across providers, or have different business units building applications across the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

Another notable example is Dropbox, which earlier this year said it moved more than 90% of its data off AWS and onto custom-built infrastructure. There are scenarios where public cloud becomes more expensive and less advantageous than building tailored infrastructure, but that typically involves a certain level of scale. Dropbox, for example, handles more than 500 PB of data, compared to Evernote's 3.2 PB.

"We didn't see any tremendous benefit in terms of innovation or speed to deployment in us managing the infrastructure," Kundu said.

Google and Evernote already partner through Google Drive, though that relationship had nothing to do with selecting which public cloud it moved to, Kundu said. He also downplayed the importance of price, saying the highest priorities were security and reliability, as well as the accuracy with those higher-level services.

For Google, another enterprise IT feather

The deal also represents another win for Google as it tries to catch AWS and Azure and prove it's capable of handling enterprise workloads. In the past year, prominent companies, such as Disney and Coca-Cola, have disclosed their use of the platform for certain projects, while other popular web-based companies, such as Spotify, have said they plan to move the majority of their workloads on Google Cloud Platform.

Software companies such as Evernote are akin to the types of customers AWS was highlighting several years ago, but Google still has some work to do to get those larger enterprises onboard, Reichman said. Building that portfolio of customers is a slow process, but it's these types of moves that will continue to build momentum, he added.

"References are really powerful," he said. "Buyers want to feel like they're not the first one using it."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected].

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