Microsoft Azure has recovered from a service disruption related to Azure DNS that affected customers in all regions on September 15. The outage affected a subset of customers and additionally impacted Azure’s SQL Database, Virtual Machines, Visual Studio Team Services, Service Bus, API Management, and App Service\Web Apps. Available in preview, Azure DNS allows customers to host their DNS domains in Azure. The September 15 Azure DNS outage follows upon an Azure outage that affected customers in Europe on September 9 for several hours. Both outages are notable because they span multiple regions. Even though the Azure DNS outage is resolved as of the evening of September 15, customer concerns are beginning to proliferate about the reliability of Azure’s global architecture, particularly given that recent outages featured spillover effects to other services and products in conjunction with impacts that spanned multiple regions.
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?
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).
This week, Boeing Corporation announced plans to transition its cloud-based applications for aviation analytics to Microsoft Azure. Boeing plans to host all of its aviation analytics applications on the Microsoft Azure platform instead of using Azure as one of many cloud platforms. Boeing’s aviation analytics applications are used to optimize fuel consumption, obtain data about flight trajectories and proactively manage aircraft maintenance for planes that are used by over 300 airlines. Notably, Boeing’s decision to leverage Azure represents another important enterprise customer for Azure and further reinforces Microsoft’s competitive advantage in the cloud-based internet of things space given the surfeit of aviation-related devices that are likely to stream data to Azure in the wake of the deepening of the relationship between Boeing and Microsoft. Meanwhile, in related news, Microsoft elaborated how dairy company Land O’Lakes will transition its Winfield R7 application to Microsoft Azure. Winfield R7 delivers business intelligence that enhances the ability of farmers to make more informed agricultural decisions using data delivered via a mobile device. Land O’Lakes will also use Azure’s Cortana analytics applications to understand sensor data related to agriculture. Land O’Lakes had already announced a partnership with the Google Cloud Platform but the decision to additionally collaborate with Microsoft Azure underscores Azure’s growing traction amongst enterprise customers.
On July 11, Microsoft Corporation announced a partnership with GE that will render GE’s Predix platform for the internet of things available on the Microsoft Azure public cloud platform. The announcement represents a notable coup for Microsoft Azure given that GE’s Predix is already hosted on Amazon Web Services, one of its principal competitors in the Infrastructure as a Service space. Built on Cloud Foundry, GE’s Predix platform is designed for the industrial internet and is subsequently optimized for data aggregation from a multitude of devices in addition to capabilities to deploy and build scalable applications that run analytics on IoT data. The partnership reinforces Microsoft’s leadership in the IoT space as exemplified by the Azure IoT suite and positions Microsoft to sharpen its competitive differentiation from AWS and the Google Cloud Platform with advanced capabilities for internet of things data capture, analytics and actionable business intelligence. Predix is expected to be generally available on Microsoft Azure by Q2 2017, with a developer preview in place by November 2016.
The Azure Container Service from Microsoft is now generally available for deploying and scheduling cloud-based containers after emerging in preview in December 2015. Built on “100% open source software to maximize portability of workloads,” the Azure Container Service offers a choice of Mesosphere’s Data Center Operating System (DC/OS) or Docker Swarm for container orchestration. The Azure Container Service allows customers to deploy and manage cloud-based containers at scale in ways that are optimized for the Azure cloud but concomitantly enable portability across any infrastructure that supports Mesosphere or Docker Swarm. The platform refrains from prescribing a specific orchestration framework for a customer’s various use cases and workloads and currently does not support the Google’s Kubernetes container management infrastructure. Today’s news tightens the partnership between Microsoft and Mesosphere, the latter of which just announced its decision to open source its DC/OS software in collaboration with over 60 partners including Microsoft. Meanwhile, the Azure Container Service continues to testify to Microsoft’s transformation under Satya Nadella as evinced by its embrace of open source technologies such as Docker and DC/OS and a broader vision about the place of open source technologies in contemporary cloud computing per its November 2015 selection of Red Hat at the preferred vendor for enterprise Linux on Azure.
This week, Microsoft Azure announced that Azure Government was awarded High Impact Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO), the highest level of accreditation for the Federal government’s FedRAMP certification for cloud providers. The high impact level certification allows Azure to handle workloads that, if breached, could have a severely adverse effect on “organizational operations or, assets, or individuals.” In addition, Microsoft Azure is on track to obtain DISA Impact Level 4 Authorization in the near future and also announced the opening of two new regions for the Department of Defense, namely, U.S. DoD East and U.S. DoD West. Azure also revealed details of its support for requirements elaborated by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) with respect to database security and encryption. Taken together, this week’s announcements illustrate the depth of Microsoft’s investments in meeting rigorous Federal government cloud computing requirements and standards and its continued interest in expanding its footprint in the government cloud computing space. Read more about Azure’s support for Federal government cloud computing here.