Do you have a cloud exit strategy?

There is no debate about the importance of cloud solutions and services in the modern IT world. Most large organisations will end up with a combination of on-premise and cloud solutions as their application stack, whereas smaller organisations may opt to rely on an all cloud approach for their application needs.

Considering current economic conditions, where budgets are tight and the ever increasing pressure to reduce operational costs, the business cases to implement cloud solutions almost write themselves. However, has there been any planning, cost estimation and business impact analysis done to understand what is involved in gracefully exiting and retiring a cloud solution, in essence:

Do you have a cloud exit strategy?

One of the main drawbacks of a cloud solution is the fact that the consumer of the solution does not have complete control of the service. The service provider can go bankrupt or get bought out by a company which may not see the service as part of their strategic direction. This was the case with StackMob, a cloud based Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) provider that was bought out by PayPal. StackMob service users were given 3 months to find an alternative before the service was retired ( There have been a number of such examples where the customers have had a short time frame to react. Therefore, it is essential to have an exit plan to ensure your organisation does not get caught up in a similar situation.

Another consideration is the unpredictable nature of the service cost. Even though most cloud service providers try to avoid increasing their prices to be competitive, there is no guarantee it will not happen. If the providers pricing model changes, the business case, which supported going down the cloud solution path, may need to be re-visited. Having an exit plan gives you the ability to switch vendors more easily when the market presents you the option to shop around.

Some organisations utilise cloud implementations as a tactical solution until the organisation is ready to implement its strategic solution. In situations like this, having an exit plan will help you control how the business capabilities get transitioned between the old and the new. Thus, helping your organisation plan its enterprise application roadmaps and life cycles much better.

Some additional points to think about when forming an exit strategy include:

  1. Using open technologies and avoid getting locked into proprietary technologies by the vendor – Exiting from proprietary technologies can be a very difficult and an expensive exercise. Some cloud solutions provide plugins and API’s to allow easy integration into their product. This can be great, but if these are embedded in your organisations internal application code, exiting the service can require expensive re-work. Therefore, using a middleware layer with open technologies can safeguard against getting locked-in.
  2. Having the exit discussion with the vendor upfront – Ensure they have the capability to deliver your data in a usable format when you exit. Also, make sure the vendor has industry standard methods to dispose of the data securely when you finally exit. The exit approach should be covered as part of the commercial agreement. Be sure you have read the fine print, understand the service contract and what is involved in breaking it.
  3. Ensuring the cloud solution has a good governance framework to control how it is used across the organisation – If the solution is used by the business in a capacity other than what it was originally scoped and planned for, exiting can be complex. For example, assume your organisation introduces a document portal solution for a specific need, such as sharing documents with clients. Two years later, the solution has slowly grown into becoming the organisation wide repository for all its documents. Moving away from this service now will be a difficult task.

Overall, it is essential you have an exit strategy as part of the planning process for any new or existing cloud solutions used within your organisation. Failing to do so can expose your organisation to risks and potentially outweigh the benefits of implementing the cloud solution in the first place. Being prepared always pays off.