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Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google Capture Cloud Market

Synergy Research says Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM hold 54% of the cloud market and are growing at a faster rate than the market as a whole.

With AWS, IBM, Microsoft, and Google growing faster than the market, where does that leave regional and smaller suppliers? "The good news for the plethora of small-to-medium-sized cloud providers is that there does remain a wealth of opportunity for those that are focused on specific market niches or local geographic areas," Dinsdale wrote.

That's faintly reassuring to VMware, which aspires to be a major public cloud service provider, but is still not making it into the top five or even the top ten rankings. Dinsdale said it can be found in the top 20 suppliers, but VMware finds most of its cloud revenues "in selling technology used to build clouds, rather than in selling infrastructure services to cloud users."

That leaves developer-focused suppliers, such as Linode, Atlantic.net, and Digital Ocean with room to grow, but situated in a difficult position when it comes to graduating to the front ranks of cloud suppliers. Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM keep expanding the depth and breadth of infrastructure services that they're offering to enterprises while expanding their chains of data centers. One reason IBM acquired Softlayer in 2013 was that the young company had the foresight to link its data centers on a high-speed fiber-optic network, which meant its cloud users could easily tap an alternative site for backup or disaster recovery.

An Atlantic.net or Digital Ocean can provide lots of solid-state-disk-based service and a quick launch of instances, "but cannot hope to get anywhere near the scope and scale of the big four," Dinsdale noted in his email.

The cloud market continues to reshape itself as the pace of usage quickens. It's not enough to provide self-provisioning systems from a cluster of servers on the Internet and proclaim yourself a new cloud supplier. Customer instances need a set of surrounding services, including load balancing, elastic scaling, development services, monitoring, self-healing, and high availability, and they need them in multiple locations around the world. Timid and undercapitalized providers need not apply.