What TikTok teaches enterprises about tech entanglement


The flurry of interest in acquiring TikTok shows the value of a popular social network with vast troves of consumer data. The deal also holds an important lesson about technology use that other businesses can learn from: the need to design applications in a flexible, portable way. 

One challenge for any company that buys TikTok will be outside of China without destroying its value in the process. The is that the US doesn’t want China “spying” on its citizens through the app. That will require untangling the data and application code on the back end. 

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TikTok owner ByteDance also runs a similar app called Douyin, available only in China, and the apps including user data, server code, and the algorithms that determine which content and ads a user sees. ByteDance needs to separate those elements in the narrow timeframe it’s been given, and its ability to do that effectively will be a factor in how much a suitor is willing to pay — and perhaps .

There are lessons here for other businesses. It’s not uncommon to sell or spin off a product or company division for strategic reasons, and how those assets are architected can impact their value and the ease with which they can be sold. 

The days of building giant monolithic applications are long gone. Most new apps are built in the cloud using that can be scaled up and down as needed and updated independently. That’s good for introducing new features quickly but it can be hard to disentangle apps if they’re not designed carefully using open standards and technologies.

There are three main areas to consider: the cloud infrastructure, the application code, and the data. Here’s how to design each in a way that makes them portable and flexible enough that they can be separated cleanly if needed. 

to run the app in Google’s cloud. Certainly, Microsoft or Oracle would want to move the app to their own cloud as soon as possible to collect the revenue. 

One way to get locked into a cloud is using high-level managed services, like Amazon Redshift or Google Cloud Big Table. These services are alluringly simple to deploy but notorious for locking customers into proprietary formats. Even the managed versions of popular open source products like MongoDB and Elasticsearch can have subtle differences depending on the cloud provider, making it hard to port apps when you need to.

but the deal could be a lucrative one. Facebook paid and the service generated last year. TikTok has about in the US and it is still growing fast. But these deals can be complex when data and applications have to be disentangled on the back end. How you architect your infrastructure can have a big impact when it comes to a sale.

So let this deal serve as a lesson. Design for maximum flexibility, because you never know what the future holds.

Murli Thirumale is co-founder and CEO of , provider of cloud-native storage and data management solutions for Kubernetes. 

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