Vendor Lock-In in Perspective Illustration

Vendor Lock-In

What happens if they go out of business?

This question embodies one of the biggest criticisms of software sold as a service (SaaS), and is a valid question that needs to be satisfactorily answered for anyone considering the use of a SaaS solution.

Increasingly the technology industry is delivering cloud based solutions. Many software applications, suites and systems are now delivered primarily as a service. Adobe, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are a few of the more prominent examples of companies that have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning to SaaS delivery models.

What is Vendor Lock-In?

"Vendor lock-in" is the expression used to describe any scenario where you are somehow compelled to continually engage [and usually pay] a service provider in order to receive the benefit of the provided solution(s). This is in contrast to vendor independence, where you obtain a solution, then are independent of the service provider with no further need to pay or otherwise rely on the provider to realize the benefit of the acquired solution(s). 

Worst Case Scenario: The Vendor Disappears

In the worst case scenario, a vendor goes offline permanently and with no notice.

If you haven’t taken reasonable precautions to safeguard your data or other aspects of your investment, then all is lost.

The Important Trade-Off (Why Anyone Would Willingly Choose Vendor Lock-In)

SaaS models of software delivery and cloud-based services are always subject to the criticism of vendor lock-in. But there are usually good reasons the consumers of SaaS and cloud-based offerings proceed to engage the service. The primary trade-offs that SaaS consumers gain in exchange for vendor lock-in include significantly reduced pricing while receiving better service.

The significantly reduced pricing is made possible in that SaaS and cloud-based solutions are significantly less expensive to create and support. Consequently, the consumer benefits in significantly reduced pricing and/or significantly improved services. And in many cases some solutions are possible only when delivered from the cloud or when offered as part of a greater service.

What is Technology Lock-In?

"Technology lock-in" refers to the same concept as vendor lock-in, but instead of depending on a vendor, your solution is dependent (or “locked in”) on some technical solution.

For example, WordPress-based websites are inherently locked into WordPress. If you want to move your website from WordPress to some other system (or even to a newer version of WordPress), then a difficult and likely expensive migration process must be undertaken. The extent of the migration effort would be determined substantially by the technical differences between your current WordPress website and the replacement system.

WordPress advocates frequently point to the vendor independence benefits of WordPress (e.g,. you can move your website to a new hosting provider at any time). But they usually fail to mention technology lock-in and how expensive and difficult it will be to migrate away from WordPress itself, if that becomes desired.

The Myth of Vendor or Technology Independence

Unless you have the necessary expertise to craft your own website, you will need to rely on and pay a technology professional to build, update and manage your website on an ongoing basis. Your dependence on your technology professional is a form of “lock-in.” Yes, you can always find another professional, but that is not always quick, easy or economical.

Unless you have the budget to commission a completely custom website, your website will need to be built on some existing framework or content management system ("CMS"). In this case, your website will be “locked in” or otherwise dependent on that framework or CMS; and moving away will be neither quick nor easy, even if the solution is based on WordPress.

Your website will also need to be hosted somewhere, with dependencies on a variety of supporting services, like DNS hosting (required for every website), e-mail hosting (if you have email), database hosting and website hosting. If your service provider for any of these services goes out of business, you will need to deal with it.

Protect Your Investment

As described above, there are a number of important and inescapable dependencies you will have on a variety of vendors, consultants and service providers to create and manage your website. You are always at risk of someone or some service provider failing to deliver as expected. And even if the failure is not malicious, accidents happen.

It is for these reasons that you should always have a recent copy of your entire website, if possible.

You should also have the current account credentials (username and password) for your service providers. Your service providers or employees may need to access your accounts in order to perform professional services on your behalf. In these cases you should provide access only on as-needed basis, with each person having their own credentials (username and password). And you should be able to quickly and easly lock them out if necessary or desired.

And in the case of cloud-based or SaaS offerings, you can usually download or otherwise obtain a copy of your most valuable content. You should do this on a regular basis. Even if you believe your service provider will not disappear any time soon, and even if they provide robust data backup services, any number of things can still go wrong (e.g., credit card expires, your account is hacked, etc.) to prevent you from accessing your website or other information.

Bottom Line

Independence is a myth. Unless you can do everything yourself, you will need to rely on reputable vendors and consultants for everything from website creation, through hosting and support.

Any of the necessary vendors and consultants can become unavailable for any number of reasons. Those asserting vendor lock-in is the biggest type of dependency problem to be avoided usually fail to acknowledge the other types and degrees of vendor, technology or service provider lock-in that are present in virtually all scenarios. Their usual recommendation is to go with WordPress because you will not be locked in to any particular vendor. But if you go with WordPress, then your website is bound to WordPress, and migrating away someday would not necessarily be quick or easy. And satisfying the vendor lock-in concern by using WordPress creates a false sense of security if the other dependencies are ignored. So, in addition to asking, "what if the vendor goes out of business," one should also have good answers to these questions:

  • "What happens if I want to migrate my website out of WordPress to some more suitable system?"
  • "What if my consultant becomes unavailable?"
  • "What if my current website hosting company is purchased by a competitor and the price sky-rockets?"

These are all valid questions for which you should have a good answer.

Because you can never be truly independent, you would do well to routinely make backup copies of your most important assets. Having a spare copy of everything at least enables you to restore or rebuild your website on another service without needing to re-invent everything.

With Smart Access Media, and our proprietary Blue Core CMS™ website hosting system, the concern over vendor lock-in is relevant. However, we have been in business since 1997, and Blue Core CMS™ first went live in early 2005. Our company and technology have withstood the test of time, and we have no intentions of disappearing or selling out to a competitor.