ECIS report: Careless choice of cloud provider adds big costs later

  • Wrong choice now runs up huge costs later
  • Interoperability, standards needed for benefit of business and government
  • Open approach is vital to avoid lock-in and facilitate vendor switching

BRUSSELS, 12 November – Government and businesses should act with care in choosing a cloud provider or may face big switching costs, according to a report that was being released on Thursday by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS).

The report, “Ensuring a thriving cloud market: Why interoperability matters for business and government”, describes common pitfalls for businesses and governments trying to purchase cloud services, and suggests strategies to counteract potentially costly problems.

Users become locked in to one system if it is proprietary. The alternative is to use systems designed to common standards, freely available for use by anyone, known as “open standards.” Such open standards are used on the World Wide Web.

The report suggests users make sure they choose cloud providers who allow permit them to remove their own data – and the complex formats in which it is stored – without paying huge fees. In some cases, users are forced to make a complex, costly, and difficult conversion from a proprietary format.

“It is essential that enterprises do not overlook the implications of switching vendors in the future,” the report says. “Open interfaces and data formats – based on open standards – are key.”

“Closed interfaces and data formats may also limit the ability of the user to efficiently transfer their data in the future. This is the very definition of lock-in,” the report says.

In addition, the report offers policy makers four recommendations to help assure interoperability:

  • Public procurement:  Governments need to consider exit and migration strategies when considering purchases, and need to know that closed or proprietary solutions can make it costly and inefficient to transfer data or applications.
  • World Wide Cloud: Like the World Wide Web and the Internet, the value of the cloud lies in its global nature, and fragmenting the cloud will inhibit the cloud.
  • Follow EU competition rules: Cloud providers should compete on the merits.
  • Establish criteria for customers: Provide questions to help buyers evaluate offers, to judge if they face the risk of lock-in.

The report explains in detail how cloud services are arranged and sold. Generally public clouds – as opposed to those run within a company or agency – are sold in three different ways, at the levels of software, platforms, or infrastructure. Clouds substitute for computers or servers in the following instances:

SaaS: Those who choose to purchase software as a service (SaaS) use software that is running at some remote location and store data there. The user is unaware of the underlying operating system or any other details, but simply uses the software as though it were on a local computer.

The report said users may face trouble if SaaS software such as word processing or email relies on proprietary data formats, because “the ability to move seamlessly from one vendor to another may be difficult.”

PaaS: At the next level is the Platform as a Service (PaaS), which allows customers to build and operate their own applications. These apps run on an operating system in the cloud.

Some of these cloud operating systems have open and standard inter-connections upon which the apps rely, but others are proprietary. It is relatively simple to move from one standardised, open PaaS operating system to another, but difficult to move from a proprietary system.

The report warns that Platform as a Service “has strong potential to lock users in to proprietary platforms.”

IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides an entire computer remotely. Engineers can write their own operating systems, and everything above it – applications, storage and all the rest. However, just as with PaaS the inter-connections to this virtual computer can be open or proprietary – or even a mix.

Customers interact with the cloud at what is known as the “management interface”. Whatever is behind the management interface is hidden to consumers, and whether the underlying operating system is open or closed is irrelevant.

“The management interface – perhaps the most critical [level] – may still be proprietary. As a result, the majority of cloud services today are driven by a proprietary platform,” the report said. Open management interfaces are available to consumers from some cloud providers.


For the full text of the report, please see:

For ECIS’ policy recommendations prepared on the basis of the report, please see:

About ECIS:

ECIS is an international non-profit association founded in 1989 that endeavours to promote a favourable environment for interoperable ICT solutions. It has actively represented its members regarding issues related to interoperability and competition before European, international and national fora, including the EU institutions and WIPO. ECIS’ members include large and smaller information and communications technology hardware and software providers. The association strives to promote market conditions in the ICT sector that ensure there is vigorous competition on the merits and a diversity of consumer choice.

Twitter: #ecisbrussels