Are We Too Concerned with Vendor Lock-In?


I’ve written frequently about vendor lock-in and how to avoid it, but Matt Asay suggests that lock-in might be the least of a CIO’s worries. No one wants to get stuck being price gauged by a mega-vendor, but the truth is being locked into something that works is better than freely using something doesn’t.

Earlier this week, VMware’s Matthew Lodge wrote: “Openness is not about how you write software, it’s about what you allow your customers to be able to do.” Asay quotes Red Hat’s Gordon Haff:

The key is that phrase “you *allow* your customers to do.” IOW the vendor, in this case VMware, calls the shots.

I agree with Haff, but Asay has a point in saying this is an ineffective strategy. He cites Red Hat’s past marketing efforts as an example: “Red Hat for years has emphasized value, not fluffy intangibles in its field marketing. Yes, the company will talk about vendor lock-in for its high-level marketing messages, but the salespeople walking in to talk with a CIO? They’re talking about performance-to-cost ratios over competitors like IBM and HP.”

Actually, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst told me in an interview recently that the company doesn’t even focus that much on cost. Whitehurst said that when the Red Hat team went back and asked customers why they chose RHEL, customers almost always emphasized performance and flexibility – not cost.

As we start to look at the next round of debate – VMware vs. OpenStack, Heroku vs. Cloud Foundry, etc. – advocates of open source software and open standards would do well to keep in mind the real value of software: performance, agility, stability, and so on.

Photo by M. Thierry