In the IT business, as in most businesses, options are always good. Hybrid cloud systems, which combine elements of both public and private clouds, are now the standard choice for enterprises seeking cloud providers, and they offer plenty of options. Data management systems that can combine control of public cloud services and on-premises applications on a single screen is the nirvana that all IT administrators want to achieve. It’s all about choices and having the ability to make them on demand, if necessary.
Enterprise IT administrators make buying decisions on which cloud vendor is best for his/her particular system based on how they best match specific use cases. Does your company deal in personalized customer information or classified scientific data? Is it regulated by such laws as GDPR or CCPA? Does it do global business, or is it mostly local or regional?
Here are five questions to ask when selecting a cloud service provider:
- Does this provider’s service-level agreement fit my needs?
- Are my applications and systems compatible?
- Do the service provider’s security and resilience standards hold up to mine?
- What compliance standards are in place?
- How are migrations handled?
As for general guidelines on comparing pros and cons of cloud providers, a rule of thumb is this: The larger the cloud computing provider, the more tools and applications will be made available for subscribers. Consequently, the smaller the provider, the fewer features will be available, but the smaller vendors virtually all provide more personalized services (such as helping customize configurations).
Some hybrid and public cloud vendors are better at some applications than others. Some are set up for localized/regionalized business, rather than global trade. All of the companies on this list offer tools for compliance guidelines for the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the upcoming California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA), which went into effect Jan. 1, 2020; no cloud computing provider worth its salt wouldn't make them available.
Here is a listing of the largest and most currently successful cloud services companies in the world.
Amazon Web Services
Value proposition for potential buyers: Amazon Web Services has always been ahead of the cloud computing curve. It went online with its Simple Storage Service (S3) in 2005, offered impressive and relatively inexpensive secondary services, and now owns about 33 percent of the cloud services market, led by its storage and other application services. It owns 45 percent of the IaaS (infrastructure as a service) global market, with sales at about $20 billion in 2019. This is a full 2-to-1 lead over No. 2 Microsoft Azure, which is gaining market share but is still in the low double digits (about 16 percent) neighborhood.
AWS simply has a huge head start in the market, the widest array of services and the largest data center presence in the world. CEO Jeff Bezos continues to plow billions of dollars into data center expansions, storage and people to run it all. AWS is known as a public cloud solution but it also offers numerous services to connect on-premises installations to the cloud. It serves as everything from burst capacity to disaster recovery and much in between.
- Use cases: Most IT storage and cloud computing needs can be handled by AWS. Mainstays: general enterprise storage, servers, data backup, archiving (cold data storage).
- Scope: Largest public or hybrid cloud services provider in the world, economies of scale can be made to work in favor of users.
- Security: Amazon has its own in-house security solutions for all types of use cases. Plenty of choices of customers.
- Computing stack/databases: Also a plus for customers, who can basically name their configurations and let AWS do all the grunt work. Again, choice is a good thing here.
To Take Under Advisement:
- Uploading data to AWS storage is simple to do, but beware when you try and retrieve it. Read all the fine print, because it may cost you more than you think.
Who uses it: SMBs to large enterprises
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-premises services
Read user reviews of Amazon Web Services
Value proposition for potential buyers: Microsoft, the largest software maker in the world for more than a generation, is one of the few vendors that can offer a fully contained hybrid cloud solution because of its massive on-premises legacy through the Windows, .Net and MS Office franchises.
The company has been intentional from the beginning in tying all of its assets into the same infrastructure. Azure services are built on Windows Server, the .Net framework and Visual Studio, making lift and shift of on-premises apps to the service relatively painless.
Azure has been the fast-growing cloud service provider the last few years and now owns nearly 17 percent of the global market.
Since the replacement of CEO Steve Ballmer by Satya Nadella six years ago, Microsoft has opened itself and its software to outside development. It has embraced Linux, containers and Kubernetes with a strong seet of tools and now supplies considerable support for those open source products. Microsoft also provides Azure Stack for cloud developers, which essentially enables users to replicate an entire Azure environment on premises.
- Use cases: Like AWS, most IT storage and cloud computing needs can be handled by Azure, which was designed to be a direct competitor. Mainstays include enterprise storage, servers, data backup, deduplication services.
- Azure Storage: Can manage keys of an Azure Storage account for you. Internally, Key Vault can list (sync) keys with an Azure Storage Account, and regenerate (rotate) the keys periodically.
- Enterprise Security: Azure Key Vault enables Microsoft Azure applications and users to store and use several types of secret/key data:
- Cryptographic keys: Supports multiple key types and algorithms, and enables the use of Hardware Security Modules (HSM) for high-value keys.
- Secrets: Provides secure storage of secrets, such as passwords and database connection strings.
- Certificates: Supports certificates, which are built on top of keys and secrets and add an automated renewal feature.
Who uses it: SMBs to large enterprises
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem services; enterprise support at every level.
Read user reviews of Microsoft Azure
Value proposition for potential buyers: Three years ago, IBM realized it was confusing the market with its various branded cloud options, whose purposes weren’t completely clear to the buying public. So it made a key decision to merge all of them—from its Softlayer acquisition to Bluemix to Watson—into one umbrella business simply called IBM Cloud. IBM Cloud now offers more than 180 services for both on-premises and public cloud systems. These services include virtualized and bare metal hosting, DevOps tools, container deployments and serverless computing, blockchain, AI/ML and HPC. Using its bare-metal server offering, it’s possible to lift and shift on-premises workloads running on IBM platforms to the cloud with little to no modification.
- While both AWS and Microsoft Azure are aimed at all enterprise IT customers, IBM has a much longer history in serving and maintaining systems belonging to midrange to large enterprise customers.
- IBM’s reputation: It’s fairly easy to defend buying decisions of products and services from the original IT company (which started up during the First World War in 1916) to CFOs and boards of directors. IBM has invested a lot of capital and people-hours into keeping its offerings current.
- Use cases: IBM Cloud is aimed mostly at large enterprises for scale-out purposes. Most commonly requested IT storage and cloud computing needs can be handled by IBM Cloud, which operates more than a dozen high-end data centers globally. Chief tasks include test and dev, enterprise storage, database protection, servers, data backup and archiving.
- Full-service options: IBM has a wider range of products and services than any other cloud provider, bar none.
- You get what you pay for: IBM is going to cost more than almost everybody else, so don’t expect anything cut-rate.
Who uses it: SMBs, midrange, large enterprises
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem services; high-end support at all levels.
Read user reviews of IBM Cloud
Google Cloud Platform
Mountain View, Calif.
Value proposition for potential buyers: Google Cloud Platform is designed for use by cloud developers. Overall, GCP still has had some catching up to do with AWS and IBM over the last half-dozen years when it comes to market share of enterprise usage, but it has slowly but surely become a player globally. GCP, which brought in $11 billion last year and owns 8 percent of the global market, originally wanted to be a pure cloud play but realized that it had painted itself into a corner; it now works with on-premises systems to provide elastic infrastructure, disaster recovery, DevOps and big data. But it also has a lot of cloud-based services, most notably its AI efforts, which are bolstered by its custom AI processor, TensorFlow. You can’t buy a TensorFlow system; you can only run your AI and machine learning apps on them on the Google Cloud.
- Cloud expertise: Users won’t find better or more detailed cloud-computing application and development expertise than at Google.
- Aimed at developers: If you’re an enterprise cloud developer, and you’re continually creating and/or maintaining high-end cloud-based services and applications, you’re likely to have more surrounding support and tools on GCP than the three larger-market players.
- Innovation galore: Google is where Kubernetes, TensorFlow and dozens of other key cloud and storage technologies were invented, so there’s a lot of residual intellectual property inherent in GCP.
- Use cases: If you're a retail business or a midrange cloud computing user, chances are Google Cloud and all its attributes might be IT overkill for your use case. If you are company with an active IT and development team that is constantly creating, maintaining and updating applications in real time (or even in near-real time), then you would be well-served using GCP. Test and dev is a huge use cases here.
- Pricing is competitive: Google knows that in order to move up in marketshare, it has to be price-competitive, and it is, offering generous “get-started” programs and corporate discounts.
Who uses it: Midrange to large enterprises; cloud developers are a target
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem services, plenty of good support
Read user reviews of Google Cloud Platform
Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China
Value proposition for potential buyers: Alibaba is primarily a retail sales distributor, competing in the same international market as Amazon, Walmart.com, Target.com, eBay, Craigslist and other online product and services clearinghouses. It describes itself as having thousands of verified suppliers, China distributors and exporters. Its application is downloadable.
- The company has opened seven research labs in China (Beijing and Hangzhou), the U.S. (San Mateo, Calif. and Bellevue, Wash.), Russia (Moscow), Israel (Tel Aviv) and Singapore in the last couple of years. The labs focus on both foundational and disruptive technology research, including data intelligence, internet of things, fintech, quantum computing and human-machine interaction.
- Within those research areas, the labs will focus on topics such as machine learning, network security, visual computing, natural language processing (NLP) and others.
- Alibaba said its goal is to serve 2 billion customers and create 100 million job opportunities in 20 years. The company said it has about 25,000 engineers and scientists on its staff.
Who uses it: retail consumers
How it works: free downloadable mobile app
Palo Alto, Calif.
Value proposition for potential buyers: VMware started out with its own cloud service operation 11 years ago; then it realized it needed to become more focused on certain portions of the market, rather than the market in general: AWS and Microsoft own that sector. While VMware is relatively new to the cloud space, its 20-year-long experience—it’s been estimated that 95 percent of the world’s data centers have at least one VMware component—in vendor-agnostic virtualization has blossomed into some significant global partnerships. VMware knows what it does best—on-premises virtualization—and partners with cloud veterans for the hybrid aspects.
Go here to read Charles King's assessment of the impact of VMware in the IT market since 2000.
- Public roadmap: VMware has always been good about laying out its plans for developers and IT managers to follow. This is a great help in assisting decision-makers about future investments (one of the big reasons why VMware is ubiquitous in IT systems).
- Use cases: Like IBM and Google Cloud Platform, VMware is designed for IT specialists and cloud app developers. Mainstays of service include test and development, application creation, enterprise storage, servers and deduplication services.
- vSphere: Heart of VMware’s cloud franchise: The vSphere hypervisor is a versatile and dependable operating system. Customers can run in their own data centers or leading public/hybrid clouds, such as the company’s own VMware Cloud on AWS service, IBM Cloud or one of 4,000 VMware Cloud Provider partners. The ability to run vSphere on-premises and in the cloud enables a consistent hybrid cloud infrastructure.
- Cool features abound: Developers say they like the “add hosts” button, hybrid cloud extension, the option to run a hybrid cloud on bare metal hardware, integrated chat support, the sophisticated Developer Center, long distance vMotion, firewall rules accelerator and others.
Who uses it: SMBs to large enterprises
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem services
Read user reviews of VMware
San Jose, Calif.
Value proposition for potential buyers: HP Enterprise has gone through some big changes in the last five or six years—including changes in leadership, HQ location and its enterprise businesses. But changing with market trends and doing it successfully is a major reason why HPE has been a Silicon Valley survivor since its founding in 1939. In late 2015, HPE made a major announcement that it was throttling back on public cloud and instead focusing on hybrid cloud offerings. HPE's front-door Helion offering is focused on what it calls the Right Mix, where businesses can choose how much of their hybrid strategy will be public and how much will be private.
HPE's private cloud solutions have a strong basis in open technologies, including major support for OpenStack. HPE uses its OpenStack implementation to partner with other cloud providers, such as Rackspace and others. However, the company also uses partnerships with AWS and Microsoft Azure to provide some of the public cloud aspects of its hybrid cloud offering.
- If HPE doesn’t have it, one of its partners will: HPE’s enterprise global reach and expertise is surpassed only by IBM’s.
- Long-held good reputation for quality products and services: Like IBM, HPE relies heavily on current and longtime customers to keep buying from them, because they have long and fruitful relationships with so many multinational customers.
- Use cases: Like IBM, Google Cloud Platform and VMware, HPE Cloud is designed expressly for IT administrators and cloud application developers. Key selling points include computing clusters, storage, servers, databases, application creation and deduplication services.
Who uses it: SMBs midrange and large enterprises;government agencies, highly regulated companies
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem hardware and services
Read user reviews of HP Enterprise
Redwood Shores, Calif.
Value proposition for potential buyers: Oracle has been busy moving all of its tools and databases to the cloud for the last six years. The company is often considered as being late to the cloud, but the fact is, the company spun off NetSuite 21 years ago, which was the first full-service enterprise cloud application management platform. This was six years before AWS launched S3. Larry Ellison’s database and enterprise app software giant has reinvented itself to re-provision 95 percent of its ground-based software as on-demand services, at least on its own growing cloud. It does not allow its software to run in virtualized instances the way AWS, Azure and GCP operate, but it can be run on bare metal servers, which Oracle still offers (as a result of the 2010 acquisition of Sun Microsystems).
- Speed is of the essence: Ellison has long bragged that Oracle’s database servers—whether in a data center or in a cloud—are the fastest in the world, and they probably are. But you get what you pay for, and Oracle’s products are not to be found at Walmart.
- Variety of offerings: Oracle now competes in many ways with Salesforce for the cloud business application buyer, and it steadily adds to its repertoire of features for a long list of vertical sectors. Plowing profit back into the business is a mainstay of the Oracle approach, and it produces dividends.
- One throat to choke: Once you buy into Oracle, you’re in for the long haul, and the company will basically run it all for you. This will entail some long-term hardware and software costs, but that’s the business Oracle is in, and a big reason why it gets so much government and military business.
- Use cases: Similar to IBM, VMware and Google Cloud Platform, Oracle Cloud is designed for IT admins and cloud app developers. Chief services sold include enterprise applications (far and away No. 1), enterprise storage, server and database services. Oracle will provide service help as needed.
Who uses it: SMBs to large enterprises; government agencies, highly regulated companies
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem hardware, software and services
Read user reviews of Oracle Cloud
Round Rock, Texas
Value proposition for potential buyers: Dell Technologies continues to get its footing in enterprise cloud service offerings. This hardware-based company is another relative newcomer to the cloud wars, having entered through the acquisition of several companies, such as cloud and on-prem storage giant EMC, integration specialist Boomi and others. Having built its reputation as a major provider of PCs and data center equipment, Dell EMC now has some major-league cloud software products to offer, starting with VMware and Virtustream, a private cloud provider.
- DIY clouds: Dell built its reputation with PCs and servers the way Burger King did it: “Have it your way.” Customers can order servers, storage, cloud services and applications in any configuration they wish, and the support will back it all up.
- No. 1 in storage: In addition to being the world’s top data storage provider (since 2006), Dell EMC also has strength in the hyperconverged and converged data center equipment markets by offering on-prem cloud solutions like VxRail, VxBlock and VBlock solutions.
- Use cases: Similar to IBM, Google Cloud Platform and VMware, Dell EMC is aimed at IT administrators and cloud application developers at this time. The company is reaching out to sell this to more AWS/Azure-type customers, such as retail enterprises and midsize businesses with data centers. Key features include storage, servers, databases, application creation and deduplication services.
- Strength inside the company: Dell Technologies is also the owner of Pivotal Software, which runs the Cloud Foundry open-source PaaS service for building highly scalable apps. Lots of innovation where that comes from.
Who uses it: SMBs, midrange, large enterprises; some apps can be run by line of business employees
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem hardware, software and services
Read user reviews of Dell Technologies
Redwood City, Calif.
Value proposition for potential buyers: Equinix remains one of the fastest-growing and most well-respected new-gen data center and interconnection services providers in the business. Its primary focus is connecting the world's leading businesses to their customers, employees and partners inside the most-interconnected data centers. Equinix has invested more than $22 billion to create Platform Equinix, a colocation and interconnection platform that extends across some 200 global data centers.
The Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric directly, securely and dynamically connects distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems on Platform Equinix via global, software-defined interconnection. ECX Fabric is designed for scalability, agility and connectivity over a self-service portal or API. Security of data in motion for highly regulated enterprises, such as financial services, health care, scientific projects and government agencies, is something the company takes pride in. Their cloud density (2,900+ cloud providers) ensures superior interconnection, which powers collaboration among their customers and ecosystems.
- Feature offerings: Equinix offers about 1,500 different applications that can be run inside data centers or in public or hybrid clouds. It’s all up to the user.
- Ecosystems: With the recently announced inter-regional connectivity, customers can interconnect to dense ecosystems of cloud, networks, financial services, content and digital media, and entertainment companies across the work. Equinix provides access to the highest concentration of major providers, including AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud and IBM Cloud.
- Scalability: Geographically scalable connectivity to 35+ markets, enabling global interconnection between 200 data centers.
- Flexibility: Customers pay only for what they use, without restrictive contract terms or a lengthy procurement process.
- On-demand connections: Customers can quickly create connections to top cloud, network and security providers, or between their own Platform Equinix data centers in just minutes via self-service portal or APIs.
- Security: Equinix’s security scheme is second to none in reputation around the world. It knows how to keep secrets, because it won’t divulge anything about it. At the same time, you won’t hear about Equinix data centers getting compromised very often, if at all.
- Use cases: Like Rackspace, Equinix is building its toolset up to handle most general IT storage and cloud computing needs and can connect with all other public and hybrid cloud providers. Main services offered are enterprise storage, test and development, servers, data backup, archiving.
Who uses it: Midrange to large enterprises, government agencies, highly regulated companies
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical and virtual interconnection services, colocation, on-prem services
Read user reviews of Equinix
San Antonio, Texas
Value proposition for potential buyers: Rackspace is a serious alternative hybrid cloud provider, generally designed for those users who prefer a more personalized vendor. Rackspace works with a list of other cloud servicers (including all the major ones noted above) to offer a variety of features, all of which backed by high-end support teams. Rackspace's hybrid cloud solution is powered by its own creation, RackConnect, which links an enterprise's private cloud to the Rackspace cloud. The company recently launched Private Cloud as a Service (PCaaS), its brand for on-demand provisioning of virtualized servers available at most colocation facilities and data centers (such as Equinix). It also has a deal with HPE to offer pay-as-you-go services based on open source OpenStack, which is similar to a public cloud but is located in private data centers.
- Open source connections: There is a great deal of value and power in the open source community through its HPE OpenStack service, with new ideas coming regularly from all over the globe and shared with dedicated professionals.
- Use cases: Like AWS and Azure, most general IT storage and cloud computing needs can be handled by Rackspace, which is designed to be "Switzerland" for IT managers—thanks to its many partnerships. Main services offered are enterprise storage, test and development, bare-metal servers, data backup, archiving.
- “Fanatical” support: Rackspace describes its hosted exchange service as offering “fanatical support” with a 100% uptime guarantee and an “industry-leading SLA (service-level agreement).”
- Connections everywhere: Rackspace has agreements with AWS, IBM, Google, Microsoft and others, so it is serves as a viable conduit for features and applications any one of them cannot supply.
Who uses it: SMBs, midrange, large enterprises; developers and IT managers
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem services
Read user reviews of Rackspace
This is an update of an article previously published in May 2019.