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Gogo's migration to AWS doesn't mean lock-in

In-flight broadband service provider Gogo has joined other companies with an all-in cloud push toward AWS, while keeping an eye on portability and its long-term options.

Gogo's commitment to place the bulk of its IT operations on AWS echoes the upside to go deep with a single provider, and it shows that traditional vendor lock-in problems take on a new shape in a buyer's market.

Gogo, an in-flight broadband service provider, has been an AWS customer for more than three years, but the business relationship intensified during the past 12 months with the introduction of Gogo's next-generation 2Ku service, which takes advantage of Ku-band satellite technology, said Ravi Balwada, senior vice president of software development at the Chicago-based company.

Gogo received high demand for the 2Ku service across its airline partners and realized it needed a more scalable platform to ensure good customer experience, Balwada said. Three years ago, Gogo's IT assets were mostly in co-located data centers; two weeks ago, the company shut down its data center operations in connection with its all-in cloud migration to AWS, he said.

Gogo has several applications that support its in-flight services, from e-commerce and in-flight entertainment to customer loyalty and experience. Other applications provide functionality for airline crew members, and some are for airline OEMs with equipment that requires internet connectivity. The company also uses third-party SaaS applications to run its corporate processes.

This isn't merely a lift-and-shift strategy. Gogo has rearchitected about 80% of the apps it's moved to AWS to take advantage of AWS' elasticity and, in some cases, serverless functions, Balwada said.

Ravi Balwada, senior vice president of software development, GogoRavi Balwada

The company also moved its legacy database workloads to Amazon Aurora to gain elasticity and consumption-based costs. It continues to use MySQL via AWS' Relational Database Service, but has moved entirely off its Oracle databases, Balwada said. That cloud database migration is part of Gogo's general shift to NoSQL architectures, although Oracle's database is still a top option for relational database workloads, he added.

Gogo's migration to AWS has also cut down on operational overhead.

"We have moved into a world where we have no DBAs [database administrators]," Balwada said. "We are already a very mature DevOps environment, and we're moving now more to a NoOps kind of world."

Gogo's core consumption of AWS centers on infrastructure components such as EC2, S3 and containers. And the company has looked at the relatively new AWS Fargate service for container management.

"We happen to be at a point where we are looking at ways to further mature our DevOps toolchain," Balwada said.

Gogo built some degree of cloud portability into the assets in its migration to AWS, but plans to maximize its consumption of AWS' best features, he said.

"If all we were doing [with AWS] is just running a data center in the cloud, then what's the point of that?" Balwada said. "Whatever cloud we go into, we want to make sure we get the full value."

Cloud era adds pragmatism to the lock-in debate

Lock-in is a perennial concern within enterprise IT shops, but the cloud era has altered the stakes, said Dave Bartoletti, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Some companies adopt a multi-cloud strategy to hedge their financial bets, cherry-pick the best capabilities from each player or for compliance issues. Others map an all-in cloud move to a specific platform to accelerate innovation and improve customer experience, he said.

If all we were doing [with AWS] is just running a data center in the cloud, then what's the point of that? Whatever cloud we go into, we want to make sure we get the full value.
Ravi Balwadasenior vice president of software development, Gogo

A single-provider approach also can sharpen enterprise IT teams' focus, he said: VMware experts concentrate on what makes sense to move to AWS, and database admins specifically target migrations to Amazon Aurora.

The classic definition of lock-in -- a deeply, almost intractable investment in a vendor or specific technologies that don't deliver enough value for their cost -- doesn't necessarily apply to IaaS and PaaS. The relative stability of cloud services pricing and the rise of open source tools and platforms have given enterprise IT shops a different perspective.

"If I have a containerized app in Kubernetes, I can run it anywhere," Bartoletti said. "I may have to modify it, but it's not like in the past where I have to rewrite everything."

For some customers, all-in doesn't actually mean full standardization on one platform, said Duncan Jones, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"You can preserve some portability for most of your workloads, so the worst case is you're only locked in for a few, where you've decided the benefits of using AWS' unique services outweighs the risk," he said.

Enterprises must still ensure they are treated fairly on pricing and stay ahead of the market technology-wise, Jones said. For public IaaS and PaaS, market forces will keep vendors competitive on price, but the stakes are different with SaaS applications.

"In SaaS, the friction to move can be much higher, which makes the trust question far more important," he said. "It's bad enough with one application area such as CRM [customer relationship management], but if you also choose the same vendor for finance, supply chain, HR, etc., then you really are all-in on a single vendor."

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