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How to Spot an Alternative Cloud Provider

What exactly is an alternative cloud provider? And why are so many enterprises embracing the idea of these alternatives to hyperscalers?

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The term “alternative cloud provider” has gained visibility in the past year, and for good reason. Developers have grown increasingly frustrated with the technical and business challenges of working with the largest hyperscale cloud providers like AWS, Google, and Microsoft. Those frustrations stem from issues like perceived value for money, unpredictable billing, technical complexity, and a labyrinth-like customer support model.

But what exactly is an alternative cloud provider? And how are they different from the largest cloud providers that many developers are trying to reduce their dependence upon?

Last year, Techstrong Research (formerly Accelerated Strategies Group) weighed in on the alternative cloud provider category and the trends that are driving it. Its report, “DevOps and the Alternative Cloud,” found that the alternative cloud category as a group is the fourth largest cloud provider, behind the big three hyperscalers. It also found that enterprises are looking at using multiple infrastructure cloud providers, and that even in 2021 “more than 50% were considering adding one or more cloud infrastructure providers. It’s anticipated the additional vendor will be drawn from the alternative cloud vendors.”

451 Research, in its report titled, “Demand and opportunity in the alternative cloud provider market,” gets more specific about the criteria that identify alternative cloud providers. It says that they should offer the core technical functions a customer is likely to expect from any cloud infrastructure platform: distinct compute and storage functions; object and block storage; load balancing; DNS; programmatic provisioning and operation via API, etc.

The report goes on to identify other capabilities, including compliance with key regulatory standards and a footprint that makes it more than a regional offering. The report states that “this bar will continue to rise over time as functions such as effective tools for container management become more standard,” so you can expect the definition of alternative cloud providers to become harder to meet over time as customer needs grow.

In addition, a just-released report by Techstrong Research of more than 500 DevOps professionals cites competitive concerns and a need to avoid paying for expensive and complex services as reasons why more enterprises are embracing the idea of alternative cloud providers. The report shows that 70% of respondents are now using more than one cloud, and that 22% are using alternative cloud providers. And perhaps most notably, more than half of DevOps professionals and leaders say their cloud service provider is already a competitor to their B2B or B2C business, or they’re expected to become one.

Spotting the Alternative Cloud Providers

As noted above, the rise of alternative cloud providers is driven by a number of factors. The goal is to provide global reach and basic infrastructure services with lower cost and more personal service. Alternative cloud providers are especially attuned to the needs of developers and supporting DevOps environments. They can serve as a sole provider, but their service portfolio also positions them to serve as another option in a multicloud setting.

While alternative cloud providers like Linode (now Akamai), DigitalOcean, and OVH Cloud, don’t offer all the complexity of Amazon, Google, or Microsoft, they deliver the core services and performance for most workloads. Here’s a list of requirements that help define what it means to be an alternative cloud provider:

Price-Performance Advantage

Same or better performance at a much lower price. Alternative providers deliver simple, predictable, and often bundled services at half the cost of hyperscalers.

Global Footprint, Massive Scale

“Alternative” does not mean “small.” Ubiquitous network infrastructure is available via world-class data centers placed strategically around the world, at a massive scale that mimics what mega scale providers can offer.

Core Cloud Functions

Core functions (primitives) to satisfy most workloads, including virtual machines (dedicated and shared), Kubernetes, DDoS protection, object storage, and other key infrastructure services.

Industry-Comparative Hardware

Enterprise server-grade hardware means that you can move workloads from hyperscalers to alternative providers and expect similar or better performance.

Easy-to-Consume Support

Whether you're a startup, SMB, or enterprise business, you need high-quality 24/7/365 support. Alternative cloud providers must have a support organization to meet global customer expectations.

Full-Featured API, CLI, UI

Alternative cloud providers must provide the necessary interfaces developers expect, such as full-featured APIs, CLIs, and a web-based cloud manager.

Extensive Technical Documentation & Guides

Developers expect comprehensive documentation and helpful guides from providers like AWS and GCP. For alternative cloud companies, it's no different. Extensive product documentation is a must.

99.99% Uptime SLA

Reliability is critical to any workload, but it's mandatory when looking at alternatives to providers like AWS.

App Marketplace

Ready-to-run apps and services save developers time and make it easier to scale their infrastructure. One-click app marketplaces are seen as an important cloud provider prerequisite.

Security and Compliance

Enterprise security requirements for data centers, networking, and security-focused products are critical checkboxes for considering alternative cloud providers.

Whether you are new to the cloud or looking to expand from a previous cloud configuration, it pays to look at all your options. Think carefully about what you need and seek a provider who can meet those needs now and still maximize your flexibility for future contracts and configurations.

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Blair Lyon is head of cloud experience for Akamai. In his role, Lyon helps accelerate innovation by making cloud computing simple, accessible, and affordable to all. He has over 25 years of experience building businesses and delivering award-winning solutions, and previously served in executive leadership roles with Capgemini and Dynamic Yield.