Cloud computing providers play a foundational role for businesses. Virtually every enterprise uses cloud computing in some manner, whether it’s to deliver key infrastructure and services, host applications or a content delivery network (CDN), or handle machine learning and software development.
The convenience and economics of cloud providers make them increasingly appealing. Cloud deployments are:
- Typically fast and easy to provision
- Deliver enormous flexibility and are always-on
- Boost speed and performance
- Move organizations away from a cash-intensive CAPEX model toward a more budget-friendly OPEX framework
Cloud frameworks also support an array of emerging digital technologies, mobility, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and the Internet of Things (IoT). As networks expand, the edge becomes more important, and a greater need to manage data in an agile way takes shapes, clouds delivery evolutionary and sometimes revolutionary gains.
According to Gartner, the worldwide public cloud services market grew 40.7% in 2020. “Hyperscale providers are continuing to build distributed cloud and edge solutions that extend the public cloud’s reach into private and on-premises locations, addressing the needs of organizations relating to data sovereignty, workload portability and network latency,” noted Sid Nag, research vice president at Gartner.
How to Select the Best Cloud Provider
With so many vendors and choices, selecting a cloud computing provider can prove daunting. There are numerous factors to consider, including the type of services to use, how to integrate Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and/or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and whether to use public or hybrid clouds – or both.
Understanding cloud features and options, performance, availability, pricing, security and compatibility with other software and systems is also vital. Your organization may need to use a more complex multi-cloud framework.
As a result, it’s crucial to understand your organization’s needs, what cloud frameworks make sense, and which vendors are the best fit for your business model and specific requirements. It’s also wise to understand the cloud provider’s vision, its roadmap and its commitment to service and support.
Here are some key things to focus on if you’re in the market for cloud infrastructure and platform software:
- What does your organization require? Different cloud platforms are better suited to different organizational requirements—and geographic footprints vary greatly. Similarly, different platforms focus on different services. A few of the factors to consider include your dependency on legacy systems currently in place, the type of cloud services needed, the applications and services they support, security and compliance requirements, and overall scalability and flexibility.
- What does the pricing model look like? Not surprisingly, pricing varies greatly among vendors. A cloud provider may be a more economical fit, based on the specific needs of your organization. However, it’s critical to look beyond the basic price tag and understand the total cost of integrating the cloud into existing services and applications, and what overall value it delivers.
- What is the vendor’s commitment to performance and availability? All cloud providers promise high availability, but not all availability is the same. You may need 2 nines (99.99 percent) or up to 5 nines (99.999), depending on the use case and the level of resiliency required. No less important: make sure you understand the service level agreement (SLA) before signing on the dotted line. How does it ensure availability after a natural disaster or system failure? What will the vendor do if it fails to meet promised standards?
- What is the vendor’s commitment to security? This includes several critical areas: physical protections for data centers, cybersecurity standards and protections the vendor has in place, accreditations, compliance, SLAs, legal protections and compensation if something goes astray. In addition, it’s essential to know how and where data is stored.
- What is the vendor’s roadmap and what is its commitment to support? Although a vendor may offer products and services you need today, there’s no sure bet that this will be the case next year. Or that it will be the best platform for your needs. You can reduce the turbulence of any future changes by understanding the vendor’s roadmap, its commitment to support, but also how easy it is to change cloud providers, if this becomes necessary.
Leading Cloud Providers
Amazon Web Services is generally viewed as the number one global vendor for cloud services. It offers more than 200 IaaS, PaaS and SaaS cloud services, including public and hybrid offerings. These include high performance computing, edge compute, e-commerce, containers, Internet of Things, machine learning, virtual reality/augmented reality, and serverless compute. AWS has a presence in 245 countries, with 81 availability zones.
- Extensive global infrastructure.
- Simple sign-up process with fast deployments.
- Offers an extensive collection of APIs, tools and resources.
- Broad partner network.
- Essentially limitless capacity with high scalability and flexibility.
- Provides centralized and flexible billing for numerous cloud services.
- Can present challenges for organizations looking to keep some services on premises.
- Can become expensive as services accumulate.
- No trial to test AWS and various components prior to signing up.
- Some users complain that customer support and documentation are sometimes lacking.
- Some users find the interface difficult.
At top contender in the cloud market, the Microsoft Azure cloud platform delivers more than 200 services and features, including compute, storage, containers, blockchain, IoT, and AI/ML in public, hybrid and multi-cloud environments. It supports Kubernetes, virtual desktops and numerous open-source resources. Microsoft operates datacenters in more than 200 global locations around the world. This includes 10 in the US.
- Broad global footprint of datacenters.
- Offers an extensive array of cloud services and applications.
- Powerful management portal.
- Highly scalable and flexible.
- Users give the user interface high marks.
- Some users complain that they are unable to customize apps and features as much as they would like.
- Certain features are complicated and difficult to set up and use compared to other cloud providers.
- Some user complaints about slow and sometimes inadequate customer support.
- Pricing and contract flexibility can be difficult.
Considered the third vendor in the “top three” (along with AWS and Azure), Google cloud is available globally. It delivers cloud CDN, storage, Kubernetes, streaming analytics, AI/ML, IoT, application modernization, infrastructure modernization, analytics, security and much more. In particular, AI and analytics are strong offerings. Google cloud delivers industry specific solutions for retail, healthcare, media and entertainment, financial services and others. Google operates in more than 200 countries across 27 core regions.
- Offers an extensive global infrastructure.
- Vast portfolio of cloud solutions and products.
- Excellent interface.
- Offers an extensive set of APIs and developer tools.
- Broad partner network.
- Offers options low carbon infrastructure options.
- Migrations to and from Google Cloud can at times be difficult.
- The vendor’s extensive catalog of service offerings can overlap and be confusing.
- Some users find the pricing model inflexible and complain that Google cloud is too expensive.
- Users report that customer support and documentation are sometimes subpar.
- Can be difficult to integrate with other cloud services and some on-premises systems.
With an extensive array of offerings and features, IBM is among the leaders in the cloud space. It offers public, multi-cloud and hybrid clouds that are designed to tackle an array of functions, including storage, networking, AI/ML, analytics, automation, blockchain, compute, containers, security, the IoT and even Quantum computing. IBM has 60 data centers operating on 5 continents.
- Offers more than 170 products that run in the cloud.
- Extensive partner network.
- Highly refined industry-specific applications and services.
- Extensive set of APIs.
- Powerful security and compliance features.
- Some users give IBM low marks for the user interface and overall usability.
- Reports of stability and compatibility problems.
- Users report some confusion over licensing arrangements.
- Can be pricey.
- Some complaints about slow and inadequate customer support.
Oracle Cloud offers a broad array of integrated public cloud services and applications, including IaaS, PaaS and SaaS on-premises cloud capabilities. This includes compute, storage, networking, analytics, application development, content management and security. In addition, Oracle focuses on services designed specifically for tasks such as ERP, EPM, SCM, marketing and sales. Oracle supports Kubernetes, AI/ML, IoT and other digital technologies. It operates data centers on 6 continents.
- Large global footprint, with a dominant legacy in the database market.
- Highly scalable and flexible. Supports diverse workloads.
- Operates separate commercial and government datacenters globally.
- Strong focus on hybrid architectures.
- Strong support for advanced features such as AI and ML.
- Offers free training and certification programs.
- The focus is heavily on large enterprise and government agencies.
- Some users report that the platform is challenging to set up and use.
- Can be expensive. Users report that pricing and contract flexibility can be rigid.
- Some users object to vendor lock-in issues and the lack of integration with third party services, tools and reporting.
Dell, leveraging a brand name known for both consumer and B2B solutions, offers more than a half dozen major cloud solutions, including public, private and multi-cloud data service options. These services integrate compute, storage, networking and virtualization resources. Dell has over 400 cloud partners and offers solutions specifically designed for Google Cloud and VMware.
- Robust ecosystem of cloud solutions.
- Strong support for multi-cloud environments.
- Flexible framework, including the ability to manage public cloud features directly from an enterprise datacenter with its APEX Cloud Services.
- Large portfolio of services available through APEX.
- Strong support for advanced capabilities, including containers, AI and ML.
- Some complaints about difficult-to-use interfaces.
- Best suited to companies using Dell products and solutions.
- Potential vendor lock-in issues.
- Users say that Dell’s support portal can be difficult to use.
HPE’s GreenLake edge-to-cloud platform transforms IT into a service consumed on demand. It’s designed around a flexible pay-per-use managed model that’s highly scalable. The cloud platform is designed to support application modernization and data transformation. It supports a broad ecosystem of tools and technologies, including private clouds, virtual machines, containers, AI, machine learning and IoT.
- Completely preconfigured environment with customizations available.
- Highly flexible framework that supports a wide array of compute, storage and networking configurations, including AWS, Azure and Google Cloud.
- Delivers leading-edge security features, including Silicon Root of Trust, which builds protection in at the firmware/boot level.
- Consumption-based pricing model.
- Reliance on a single vendor for IT services and potential vendor lock-in issues.
- API framework can be challenging to integrate.
- Users rate the quality of end-user training lower than competitors.
- Some find the pricing model too inflexible.
The pioneer in virtualization technology offers VMware Cloud on AWS. The partnership lets organizations deploy hybrid vSphere cloud workloads through the Amazon Web Services platform. This enterprise-class Software-Defined Data Center software framework powers virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and allows businesses to run secure cloud services at scale on premises or in the cloud.
- Allows organizations to integrate public cloud infrastructure with on-premises systems.
- Integrates with more than 165 AWS services.
- Supports bi-directional application migration with no downtime.
- High ratings from users for a powerful but intuitive interface and features, including common APIs and tools.
- Highly scalable and flexible.
- Can be expensive.
- Availability of 3rd party resources is sometimes limited.
- Can’t virtualize all types of workloads.
- In some cases, a direct migration to a public cloud may prove simpler and less expensive.
A major player in the gaming industry, Asian-based Tencent delivers compute, storage, database, CDN, IoT, networking and many other services and applications. These are aimed primarily for video, gaming, online education, websites and other computing frameworks. It supports cloud virtual machines, batch compute, Kubernetes and GPU cloud computing. Tencent has datacenters located across 27 regions in six continents, including 1,100 cache nodes distributed in China.
- High user ratings for reliability, scalability and flexibility.
- Offers a high level of security.
- Ease of deployment rated high among users.
- Highly rated speed and performance.
- Excellent customer service and support.
- Services and resources are heavily tilted toward Asia. This may present challenges for some organizations.
- Can be challenging to learn and use the interface.
- Price structure is better suited to larger organizations.
- Availability of 3rd party resources is sometimes limited.
A leader in the China market, this fast-growing cloud provider operates in more than 70 countries with over 500 international nodes (plus 2,300 in China), including North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. Alibaba delivers a wide array of cloud services, including elastic compute, ECS bare metal, elastic GPU, dedicated hosting, container service (Kubernetes) and resource orchestration.
- Offers a broad array of cloud services and features.
- High user ratings for reliability.
- Delivers strong security and compliance features.
- Powerful enterprise integration capabilities.
- Users report that the services are easy to manage.
- May be less expensive than other providers.
- Lacks flexibility for running some services and applications, particularly for edge configurations.
- Users say that the initial configuration process can be complex and confusing.
- Some users report that the company’s customer service and documentation are subpar.
Huawei Cloud International offers a global cloud footprint with more than 180 cloud services in functional area such as financial service, e-commerce, CRM, project management, IoT and business intelligence. These cloud services include compute, storage, database, networking, bare metal, virtual private clouds and CDNs. Huawei has a presence in more than 170 countries, and it has over 6,000 partners.
- Large global footprint.
- Highly rated user interface.
- Has more than 70 global security certifications.
- Robust support for AI and ML technologies.
- Strong compliance standards.
- Customization is limited with certain services.
- Some complaints about customer support.
- Can be expensive.
- User complaints about limited flexibility in certain services and modules.