Today, an organization wishing to expand its computing capabilities by tapping into the cloud will find a wide range of choices. There are many IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) hosts, who simply configure a virtual machine and charge for the time resources with which it is configured and the time it's used. The two biggest by far are Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. In addition, there are a wide variety of PaaS vendors who offer specially preconfigured instances of machines that address specific needs (Web server, git host, and so on). The big action is still in IaaS, though, and Microsoft's presence in the #2 spot is curious, but not altogether unexpected.
As I've noted in previous editorials, Microsoft is in the midst of a remarkable corporate turnaround that is affecting almost every IT-oriented product it offers. Microsoft Azure has been the crown jewel in that turnaround and the recent quarterly results show that the company's strategy has been highly successful. The company's revenue is at an all-time high — as would have been its income, were it not for one-time charges. Its stock price is near record highs. Compare this with its competitors: Amazon, IBM, and HP, who are all struggling. Amazon lost money again last quarter, IBM's revenue continues to miss expectations, and HP is addressing its slow growth by splitting the company into two parts. IBM and HP are both trying to gain traction for their cloud offerings. Competing with them for what is now third place are Oracle and Google.
Around these principal players are a constellation of niche vendors who either overlap or complement the main offerings: Rackspace, Skytap, Red Hat OpenShift, and VMware/Pivotal's Cloud Foundry.
The problem all these vendors have is attracting business. There is no doubt that as enterprises become more comfortable with the concept of cloud, they will begin moving more of their apps and data to clouds outside the data center. The cloud's ease of use, the quick expansion of computing power, and the ability to push content-download traffic off the data center (among other advantages) are far too attractive to be passed over. But which cloud host to use?
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