Editorial note: This article was authored by Scott Jeschonek, Director of Cloud Solutions, Avere Systems. The opinions expressed below are those of the author, Scott Jeschonek.
Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu once wrote that battles are won or lost before they are ever fought, but can the same be said for the cloud wars? Though many industry thought leaders have made projections, the future of how the battle between public cloud providers will unfold remains hazy. Despite projections that global IT spending will fall in 2016, investment in public cloud services is expected to grow 16% this year, fueling the fire of the on-going war. Most industry experts would agree that AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and IBM Cloud Services are the key players to watch, however many CIOs still struggle with determining which cloud service provider is right for them.
The table stakes for becoming the top public cloud provider are only getting higher with each passing quarter, and at the same time, the rise of a multi-cloud strategy is shaking things up. So, how will the cloud wars play out and how can enterprises that want to embrace the cloud choose the right CSP (or combination of CSPs) for their organizations?
Choosing a Side
When the technical features of the four hottest CSPs put them on relatively even playing field, it is the brand personalities and customer experience that can help organizations evaluate which cloud provider is most suitable for their needs. Below is a breakdown of how each CSP’s culture and decades-long experience with their respective specialties has influenced their approach to building and selling cloud offerings.
Launched officially in 2006, AWS is the oldest among the major CSPs and draws strongly from its foundations as an online marketplace to provide ease-of-use and a seamless on-demand experience. In the cloud wars landscape, AWS is like the U.S. military of the public cloud – bigger than all the others combined. AWS is very streamlined in how it offers its products, how they can be purchased and how fulfillment is handled. AWS’s ability to provide a user-friendly e-commerce experience isn’t a surprise, because, after all, AWS is Amazon. Just like you can buy a book or a suitcase from Amazon.com, you can buy compute time or storage. AWS also boasts sophisticated large-scale data base products, APIs and control structures, including AWS Lambda, which lets customers run code without provisioning or managing servers. Given Amazon’s core value of customer service, the rapid growth of AWS and its ease of use make sense.
Google Cloud Platform
While Google’s cloud offering is newer on the scene, its recent enterprise investment makes it one to watch. The company’s history of being forward-thinking and cutting edge is carried throughout its cloud platform value prop. At its NEXT conference in March, Google focused its keynotes on the sophistication of its technology, and how savvy developers could take advantage of Google Cloud Platform’s dynamic point-to-point networking, artificial intelligence and machine learning offerings. Google arguably has the most sophisticated developer cloud on the market, which makes sense as one of the large-scale inventors of web scale, or scale-out computing.
IBM, which combined its July 2013 acquisition of SoftLayer Technologies with its IBM SmartCloud to form the IBM Cloud Services Division, is building on its historical strength as a provider of consulting and computer services. Professional services and consulting is not necessarily top of mind for AWS or GCP, so IBM’s global cloud platform appeals to those customers looking for a stronger engagement model. Professional services is part and parcel to IBM, and it can combine its cloud offerings and consulting capabilities with other technologies such as Watson.
Rounding out the four, Microsoft’s Azure has a strong and steady history in the CSP market. Though it offers many of the same features as the other three “big guns,” it has stood out by intelligently leveraging its long-standing strength in the enterprise and bridging its existing enterprise capabilities with its newer cloud offerings. Customers can run other Microsoft software offerings such as Exchange, SQL Server or Active Directory both in the cloud or on premises. Microsoft also offers licensing incentives for existing enterprises customers as an option to help them embrace Azure.
If your organization is, for example, a next-generation application outfit and has been in the cloud from the get-go, then AWS or GCP will suit you just fine. If you’re generating an Internet-of-Things-based application with a mobile front end, for instance, that will run on Android and iOS and you’re storing a lot of data, any one of the four will handle the job admirably.
But here’s where it gets a little tricky: if you’re an enterprise customer with your own (or leased) data center(s) and Microsoft applications and backoffice applications processing lots of data (a bank, for example), it’s a much bigger proposition to move to the public cloud. This type of customer is currently a challenge for all four of the major CSPs. For organizations with a more traditional IT infrastructure, it’s not a matter of simply copying and pasting their applications and technology into the cloud and calling it a day.
A Demilitarized Zone: The Rise of the Multi-cloud Strategy
Partly in response to these complexities, we’ve seen the rise of hybrid cloud and multi-cloud architectures and approaches. Multicloud, in particular, has been an unexpected twist in enterprise cloud adoption. CSPs catalyzed enterprise cloud adoption by driving prices lower and enhancing the sophistication of their offerings, yet now this very same competitive dynamic is allowing businesses to choose different clouds for different workloads based on the strength of each CSP.
There’s also the age-old concern about having a single supplier and being subject to vendor lock-in. By adopting a multi-cloud approach, enterprises can avoid the “data gravity” problem: as data accumulates there is a greater likelihood that more and more additional services and applications will be attracted to this data. By keeping data in different clouds, enterprises can avoid arduous and difficult data migration while taking advantage of differing pricing structures among the CSPs.
In the end, yes, we’re going to see an intensification of the cloud wars among the four big public cloud providers – Amazon, Google, IBM and Microsoft – and that’s a good thing for enterprises moving to the cloud. This competition is at once driving down prices, increasing buyer options and inspiring innovations in IT architecture that will ultimately lead to more freedom of choice and the ability to purpose-build cloud environments for enterprises who are looking to the cloud(s).