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Examine leading IaaS vendors to find your cloud match

The Big Four continue to lead the public IaaS market, but they aren't alone. Use this roundup of cloud vendors and their key strengths to find the one that's best for you.

The public infrastructure-as-a-service market is dominated by four major providers: Amazon Web Services, Google, IBM and Microsoft. And while it's unlikely we'll see serious competition from outside that group, some smaller and more niche vendors have staked out their territory.

It's important to compare infrastructure as a service (IaaS) vendors before you select one. The list below offers some comparison points, but note that there are some IaaS vendors missing from this list, including those who focus more on platform as a service (PaaS) and SaaS.

Public IaaS vendors

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

AWS leads the pack of cloud IaaS vendors, with 34% market share in the second quarter of this year, according to research firm Synergy Research Group. The company continues to focus heavily on public infrastructure but has built private clouds for the CIA and other sectors of the U.S. government. In 2016, AWS also inked a partnership deal with VMware that provides a way for users to more easily deploy hybrid clouds.

Strengths:

  1. For AWS, the size of its business is valuable during negotiations with all its hardware vendors. AWS can essentially dictate hardware platform designs, while enjoying good pricing from low-margin original design manufacturers.
  2. AWS has driven many of the standards for interfaces and APIs. This is less of an edge than in the early days of public cloud, but it does give AWS some control compared to Google or Azure. For example, many vendors strive to make their interfaces compatible with Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3).
  3. AWS has a presence in over 190 countries, which gives users many disaster recovery and globalization options.
  4. With the combined benefit of the retailing revenue stream, software R&D at AWS is very strong and has resulted in a rich ecosystem of services that should continue to raise the barrier to competition. AWS is largely considered the most service-rich IaaS provider in the current market.

Weaknesses:

  1. AWS rivals, such as Google, have rolled out aggressive pricing models to turn up the competition.
  2. AWS buys all its solid-state drives (SSDs) from third-party vendors. This could be an issue as the market for flash drives evolves, especially since Google makes at least part of its own flash drive needs.
  3. The AWS-VMware service is late to the hybrid cloud market and could face tough competition from platforms like Azure Stack.

Licensing/pricing:
IaaS pricing is a complex issue, with a range of instance sizes and purchasing options that vary from per-second billing to multiyear commitments. AWS also has variations based on the dynamic RAM (DRAM) available to an instance. The following is a sample of on-demand prices for a month of usage in Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud:

t2.small

1 vCPU

2 GB

$16.50/month

t2.xlarge

4 vCPU

16 GB

$133.60/month

m4.4xlarge

16 vCPU

160 GB

$1,440/month

Google

Google has always aimed for innovation in any market segment it enters. Operating timelines at Google are typically tight, pushing on both internal resources and vendors to respond rapidly. One result is that Google's infrastructure equipment portfolio is very up to date. Google cloud infrastructure accounts for approximately 5% of the market, according to Synergy.

Google, of course, is famous for its search engine and, collaterally, for advertisement placement. The technology for these product lines has spun over into Google Compute Engine (GCE) in the form of high-end instances; graphics processing unit and field-programmable gate array acceleration; the use of flash memory; and, lately, AI and machine learning.

Strengths:

  1. Google has a broad AI and machine learning portfolio.
  2. Google's collateral efforts in autonomous vehicles could open up new service opportunities around its cloud platform.

Weaknesses:

  1. Amazon has stronger brand name recognition around cloud.
  2. Google's focus on analytics platforms could move R&D away from core IaaS offerings, leaving room for the other mega cloud providers to undercut prices for low-end instances.
  3. Through its Red Hat partnership, Google aims to offer a hybrid cloud platform using OpenStack-based private clouds. OpenStack is a work in progress, however, which could slow Google's hybrid cloud efforts compared to Azure (with Azure Stack) and AWS (with VMware Cloud on AWS).

Licensing/pricing:

As mentioned above, IaaS pricing varies based on instance type, payment model, workload and other factors. Google does offer some use case comparisons on its pricing page that suggest its cloud platform can be a lower-cost option than AWS in some cases -- but they are difficult to verify.

Quoted GCE pricing for basic instances are:

n1-standard-1

1 vCPU

3.75 GB

$24.275/month

n1-standard-4

4 vCPU

15 GB

$97/month

n1-standard-32

32 vCPU

150 GB

$776/month

IBM
The launch of IBM SmartCloud in 2011 effectively was the starting point for IBM's cloud efforts. The company now offers deployment in a number of models, including hybrid clouds. IBM's cloud business is structured as platforms -- under the Bluemix brand -- as well as SaaS and tools, reflecting the emphasis on richer sales propositions.

Strengths:

  1. IBM Watson is a powerful tool in niche markets. It's one of the most mature AI platforms, and there are already many apps built around it, which helps organizations overcome the major hurdle of building an AI development team.
  2. IBM has a large, loyal customer base.

Weaknesses:

  1. IBM is a hardware company that continues to transform itself into a software and services company. As its evolution continues, the company carries a lot of baggage compared with Google and AWS.

Licensing/pricing:

As with Azure, instances have temporary disk storage, making price comparisons inexact, but these are the lowest-cost instances IBM offers.

u1c.2x4

2 vCPU

4 GB

$115/month

b1c.4x16

4 vCPU

16 GB

$269/month

b1c.56x242

56 vCPU

242 GB

$2,239/month

Microsoft Azure

As part of the Microsoft empire, Azure has always been Windows-focused, with many tie-ins to Windows Server and other enterprise products. As a result, it's one of the top-choice IaaS vendors for many Windows-based IT operations teams. In the second quarter of 2017, Azure accounted for 11% of global cloud infrastructure market share, according to Synergy.

Azure's operating concepts are similar to AWS, but terminology and usage models differ considerably.  This is very noticeable in storage, where Microsoft uses the term blobs to describe a chunk of storage, versus Amazon S3 buckets. AWS supports BitTorrent access, has mechanisms to handle extremely large data imports, supports server-side encryption and has a timestamp autodelete function. None of these are available in Azure Blob storage.

Strengths:

  1. As mentioned above, Azure's affinities to Windows make it easier to capture cloud business among Windows IT operations teams. Code images and data move easily back and forth in a Windows model. This is a major selling point for Azure.
  2. Through Azure Stack, admins can manage both public and private cloud segments from a single management interface, share common semantics for scripts and services and use the same storage interfaces. For IT teams with Azure experience, Azure Stack adoption should be fairly straightforward.

Weaknesses:

  1. Microsoft tends to build a barrier to outside technologies with its products. That meant its support for Linux was belated. Microsoft did, however, create a Linux hosting environment in 2015, and now, more than one-third of Azure VMs run Linux, according to the company.
  2. Overall, Microsoft's focus on Windows tie-ins for Azure seems to have delayed release for a services ecosystem comparable to that of AWS and Google. Azure didn't support containers, for example, as quickly as Google. Microsoft seems to have caught up in that space, although it's difficult to compare service maturities at this time.

Licensing/pricing:

Azure varies its basic instance pricing with both disk and memory options.

A1

1 vCPU

1.75 GB

$12.96/month

A3

4 vCPU

7 GB

$126/month

D64 v3

64 vCPU

256 GB

$2,304/month

Oracle

Oracle is most notable as a database service provider. With solid performance and feature gains in the last half-decade, Oracle could use its cloud to consolidate dominance in the structured database market.

But like IBM, Oracle is among the second-wave IaaS vendors. Today, Oracle offers a cloud environment that focuses on databases, offering IaaS as a necessity. It seems likely that databases as a service (DBaaS) will be the endpoint of this evolution, as Oracle offloads its proprietary hardware business. Adding a rich ecosystem of Oracle-based applications to its cloud platform also makes sense.

Strengths:

  1. Oracle has a strong position in structured databases, a technology not likely to be supplanted for decades.
  2. Oracle also has a modern code base with demonstrated performance, flexibility and cloud readiness.
  3. Oracle's ability to create databases that span the segments of a hybrid cloud continues to evolve, with subscription software delivery on Oracle-owned cloud platforms now extending into in-house data centers.

Weaknesses:

  1. The cost of supporting multiple business models makes it difficult for Oracle to transition fully to a cloud subscription model.
  2. Unstructured data and the open source tools used to manage Oracle pose a challenge, since these tools need very powerful IaaS instances to run. The vendor has created some constructs in its database to handle this, but future usage is likely to be a hybrid of structured and unstructured data, the latter requiring IaaS or PaaS platforms for tools such as Hadoop. With a focus on Oracle's own database, this could open up competition for the database market as a whole, likely from Google.
  3. SAP also provides strong cloud competition to Oracle.

Licensing/pricing:

VM.Standard1.1

1 vCPU

7 GB

$46/month

VM.Standard1.4

2 vCPU

14 GB

$92/month

VM.Standard1.16

16 vCPU

112 GB

$368/month

Smaller, or more niche, IaaS vendors

Niche or smaller IaaS vendors face a maturing cloud market. To succeed in this space long term, they each have to find, or continue to emphasize, a special focus -- either with a particular service, high performance or aggressive pricing.

1&1
A German company, 1&1 started as a hosting operation, entering the cloud market in 2010. Its web hosting business is substantial. It operates in the U.S., Europe and Mexico.

Strengths:

  1. Solid price/performance ratio, according to a Cloud Spectator study

Weaknesses:

  1. Small operation, few data centers.

Licensing/pricing:

There is no detailed configuration available in price list.

Alibaba Cloud
Owned by Alibaba Group, this company has the finances to continue to invest in cloud growth and has built out an impressive set of software services and data centers, with seven outside of China. The projection is that Alibaba Cloud will become a notable player in Asia.

Strengths:

  1. Financial means
  2. Strong presence in Chinese market

Weaknesses:

  1. Limited global presence

Licensing/pricing:

Model A

1 vCPU

2 GB

$19/month

Model B (largest listed)

2 vCPU

8 GB

$79/month

All models are worldwide pricing and include SSD storage.

CenturyLink

CenturyLink sold its data centers in late 2016 and now focuses mainly on network services. It still offers public IaaS services, however.

Strengths:

  1. Reputation for quality service
  2. Presence in communications market

Weaknesses:

  1. CenturyLink primarily brokers third-party cloud services, which might not be a winning IaaS strategy long term.
  2. It is changing its business model away from owning data centers.

Licensing/pricing:

CenturyLink prices by component, such as 1 GB of DRAM used. The following are based on typical configurations:

Model A

1 vCPU

4 GB

$45/month

Model B

4 vCPU

14 GB

$162/month

Model C (largest instance)

16 vCPU

128 GB

$1,348/month

DigitalOcean
With nine data centers in Europe, the U.S. and Singapore, DigitalOcean has enjoyed substantial growth in recent years. Its focus is on using high-performance infrastructure, with all-SSD storage and fast networking.

The company also prides itself on offering barebones IaaS, reflected in a simple pricing structure.

Strengths:

  1. Focus on "pure" IaaS
  2. Performance
  3. Very developer-focused

Weaknesses:

  1. May prove too barebones for maturing user base

Licensing/pricing:

DigitalOcean has a simple pricing structure.

Model A

1 vCPU

1 GB

$10/month

Model B

4 vCPU

8 GB

$80/month

Model C

20 vCPU

64 GB

$640/month

Huawei

Huawei said in September 2017 that it intended to expand into the cloud. As a major IT hardware provider in China, the company has the finances and technology to enter the game as a major player.

Strengths:

  1. Platform expertise
  2. Financial strength
  3. Strong presence in Chinese market

Weaknesses:

  1. Relatively new to the public cloud market

Licensing/pricing:

Detailed pricing is not available.

OVH

OVH is a French cloud service provider that operates some 20 data centers with annual revenues around $350 million. The company operates in the EU, U.S. and Africa and raised $250 million in 2016 for expansion.

Strengths:

  1. Regional presence

Weaknesses:

  1. Small global operation

Licensing/pricing:

There is no detailed configuration available in price list.

Rackspace
While flourishing as a public IaaS vendor for a while, Rackspace, amid a highly competitive market, has evolved into primarily a managed service provider for user's cloud environments, both third-party public clouds and in-house private clouds. With its track record of OpenStack expertise, this could be a viable niche for Rackspace, given the difficulty of setting up a private or hybrid cloud and the large investment it requires. For enterprises, it could be easier and less expensive to obtain that expertise on a subscription basis from a provider like Rackspace.

Strengths:

  1. Cloud knowledge and management skills are a strong plus for Rackspace, particularly around OpenStack, and will provide a good basis for its new managed services mission.
  2. The company has brand recognition.

Weaknesses:

  1. The company has largely transitioned away from providing its own IaaS public cloud.

Licensing/pricing:

A detailed pricing list is not available.

Editor's note

With extensive research into public IaaS, TechTarget editors focused this series of articles on vendors that provided the following functionalities: user management, enterprise integration, automation and access to emerging technology, as well as capabilities around scaling, security, uptime and resilience. Our research included Gartner and TechTarget surveys.

Next Steps

Build a business case to adopt a public IaaS

Assess providers based on these essential public IaaS features

Seek resiliency, hybrid support in an IaaS provider

This was last published in November 2017

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