Apple, Microsoft, the wireless carrier and your razor blade supplier: They all lock you in – in a walled garden. Now, how dependent are you from your web-host? Lucas Carlson, founder of AppFog claimed that he has escaped vendor prison. His new platform runs on multiple cloud infrastructures. So the customer can choose on which infrastructure his project should be hosted on. Other PaaS providers also have a "No locked-in" icon and copy-text on their homepage. But what does that mean? You are unsatisfied with your web-hosting provider. So you want to leave. What are the real obstacles to overcome?
The contract with your old web-host says you can get out by the end of the period – usually a year. A letter on a dead tree with your original signature sent at least two months before is expected. New cloud platforms are all made by very nice people. Of course they would never lock you in with their terms. You can get out ad-hoc or at least at the end of the current month.
Imagine a host or cloud provider with a proprietary deployment method. Your app life cycle management totally relies on a special solution only offered by this vendor. To move over to another provider you need to adjust your whole work-flow. Google App Engine is a service with a custom own API. Some people don't like that. See this question on Hacker News.
Let's say you have a social photo community with a few hundred thousand photos online. Or you are a small company with 10 employees. Each employee has an IMAP mailbox. Or you are an agency maintaining some hundred wordpress installations. How can you actually move this data?
Cloud Vendor Lock-In is a buzz word nowadays. I totally agree with the folks on the Gigaom panel, the technical limitation to one specific API is not the only problem. Compared to old school web hosts cloud IaaS and Paas providers are better: At least the terms of service allow a customer to leave. I think in reality customers don't want to change their Host, or PaaS, or underlying Infrastructure that often. Our Hosting experience shows us that customers just stick to what they got. They often forget about websites and projects and just pay for it. Sometimes I even help our clients to clean up their hosting stuff. I guess that's the fitness studio effect: You pay for membership, but you never show up. Technology might change quickly, will people change as well?