Fact check: with containerization, vendor lock-in is a thing of the past 

Although speed, scalability and increased autonomy are the main reasons Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) and developers use containers, many name the lack of vendor lock-in as another advantage. However, is it quite that clear cut? Time for a fact-check by our experts! 

Although the concept of vendor lock-in is mainly associated with IT, it is actually everywhere you look: from vouchers that are only valid at certain stores to coffee pods that only fit certain machines. Interestingly enough, it is mostly in the IT and electronics world that vendor lock-in has sparked controversy. While the hermetically closed Apple ecosystem spawned the sport of jailbreaking, a more serious complaint is that of vendor lock-in being used to reduce competition in government-awarded IT contracts. 

For ISVs in particular, vendor lock-in has long been a headache. Migrating apps and data to a different environment involves great complexity – in most cases, custom apps need to be reconfigured from scratch. That is why Docker was received with great enthusiasm in 2013. The platform allows users to develop, deploy and run apps based on container technology, and seemed to herald the end of vendor lock-in for software developers. But as is so often the case, some nuance is required. Time to evaluate one often-heard statement: ‘With containerization, vendor lock-in is a thing of the past’. 

Vendor lock-in and Kubernetes: the real deal 

It is a tempting proposition: with containerization being a vendor agnostic technology, vendor lock-in has run its course. And yes, Docker is open source. So is Kubernetes, the solution many developers use to manage and deploy containerized applications or service clusters.  

Given all that, it would seem like a logical choice to go full open source for your containerization. But while many ISVs choose not to use vendor-specific cloud services like Amazon ECS, ignoring them could leave you at a disadvantage. After all, container orchestration is a lot easier through these so-called cloud service provider (CSP) native container solutions than having to reinvent the wheel through Kubernetes.  

Not fully portable 

Many ISVs associate Kubernetes with increased autonomy, but not all is as it seems. In 2022, McKinsey Digital ran an experiment to test whether open-source software like Kubernetes makes it easier to switch vendors than when using a CSP-native container solution. They concluded the following: 

All in all, deploying to a managed Kubernetes can’t be considered fully portable (or the silver bullet for portability), as there are add-ons or services that you would need to install and manage to ensure the application is deployed and configured as it is supposed to be. You are spending less time on the core components of the deployment topology, and most of the cloud-dependent configurations come into play when you wish to have critical capabilities such as: 

  • Automated DNS record management 
  • Automated managed certs 
  • Monitoring 
  • Load balancer management 
  • Secrets Integration 
  • Scaling

Other vendor lock-in considerations 

Furthermore, basing your decision entirely on vendor lock-in criteria would not be the ideal approach. Based on our own best practices, we would recommend the following: 

  • If you are a multi-tenant ISV, pick the container solution that works best with your cloud vendor. Kubernetes does very well with Google in their managed service called Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE); not entirely surprising, since it was originally developed by them. But if you’re already using AWS cloud services, it makes more sense to go with AWS ECS and Fargate. Solynta is a customer for which the application containers are being managed by the Fargate container management service at AWS. 
  • If you are a single-tenant ISV, your customers may wish to select their cloud provider. In that case, open-source software orchestration through Kubernetes would be the more logical choice, since it can be run anywhere and is widely accepted by enterprise IT departments. Even in this case, Amazon ECS Anywhere is another interesting solution. 

So, to sum up: according to the Cambrian Fact-Checking Team, the statement “With containerization being a vendor agnostic technology, vendor lock-in is a thing of the past” is: 

Partly true. Though it can be convenient for a developer to go all-out open source, the choice for a specific container solution has its upsides too. 

Read our white paper on containerization 

Now that we’ve done away with the most common myth about containers, it’s time to get to work! By now, a decade after Docker’s launch, many IT professionals will know the what en over how of containerization, but may be left with questions about its more difficult aspects. In our brand-new white paper, we will zoom in on the nitty gritty of this way of work. Download your copy of The Containerization Playbook here. 

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