Is Amazon the Hotel California of Web services?


Amazon CTO Werner Vogels had some words of wisdom Thursday for IT customers: “You should keep your providers on their toes every day. If we’re not delivering the right services you should walk away.”

No one watching the AWS Summit would disagree with that sentiment. But many questioned exactly how easy it will be for customers to walk away if they are fully engaged with higher-value-add Amazon services– the stuff that runs up the stack from the basic Amazon EC2 compute and S3 storage subsystems. And there are more higher value-add Amazon services seemingly every day (see chart.)

Vogels’ statement “has a good mouthfeel to it, but [walking away]  is sometimes easier said than done,” said Fred Holahan, CMO of VoltDB, a database provider that uses AWS. “Depending on the level at which you’re building software, you might be quite insulated from the details of the underlying infrastructure, but part of the objective of a platform vendor is to provide you with tantalizing services that lock you in.”

Holahan isn’t singling Amazon out — the same words apply to Microsoft, Google, Facebook — you name it. But Amazon, by virtue of its dominant position in public cloud infrastructure is worthy of special scrutiny.

As GigaOM has reported before, many of the newer AWS services including the AWS Storage Gateway, the Simple Workflow Services —  seem designed to tighten ties between the Amazon cloud and customer data centers.

Gavin Uhna, co-founder and CTO of, a maker of co-browsing software, agreed that the higher the level of integration, the tougher it is to move off of AWS.

“We started to notice this and began to make choices that would prevent us from getting stuck if we were to move to another provider (as we did). For example, we were deploying by storing a new release on an [Amazon Machine Image] and then launching new machines from it; We started to launch bare machines and run deploy scripts on them instead. Also, we stopped using the [Amazon Elastic Load Balancing] and started using a load balancer that we could deploy anywhere (we decided on HAProxy),” Uhna said via email. But, there was no problem at all moving off basic EC2 and S3 infrastructure, he added.

The overriding message to companies using any cloud infrastructure is: Be prepared. If you’re careful and smart,  you can stay ahead of the game.

“It’s not difficult to switch clouds if you plan appropriately,” said Marc Campbell, founder and CTO of, a maker of support plug-ins for mobile apps.  “If I was doing it today, I would get the new cloud up and running in parallel with AWS, writing data to both databases simultaneously.  When ready, it’s pretty straightforward to transition the new cloud to become the active data center,” he said.

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