Data Delivery

Taking Stock of AWS and Its Cloud Competitors

AWS may be the leader in the cloud market, but organizations should understand the overall competitive landscape and how it affects their cloud use.

Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS) is a leader in public cloud services; it has taken the lead in many areas of the cloud business. The maturity of AWS services and operations was apparent as our team researched it and its competitors. In the past two years of working with AWS, we have seen explosive growth and falling costs -- but also some growing pains.

There's no guarantee that AWS will stay in the lead. Other vendors have entered the market and are creating great services that are competitive in functionality and price to AWS. 

Competitive Pressures: The Good and the Bad
While this can be seen as a danger to AWS' cloud leadership status, it is a great thing for us as consumers. Why? First, prices have remained stable, if not decreased, for many service offerings from AWS. In 2014, we saw our monthly bill go down by about 40 percent, and that was because AWS cut its EC2, S3 and Glacier pricing. It was the company's 42nd round of price cuts to at least one of their services since 2008. Imagine if we were talking about gas prices? If not for strong competition, I doubt that AWS would make such large and repetitive cost cuts. 

Second, the added competition puts pressure on AWS to constantly add and enhance its current services offerings. To the credit of AWS, it is constantly adding new services. For example, at its November 2014 re:Invent conference, AWS announced 11 new or updated services, including new services for security and compliance, new lifecycle management tools, its new Aurora database and new instance types for its EC2 service.  AWS' "new services" Web page has an extensive list of the history changes. It's quite impressive. 

However, this also creates growing pains. For AWS to hire and keep staff trained on all the new services has to be challenging. We have seen certain gaps in support with these services. We have also experienced some lag in support and knowledge from the technical support staff. However, once we find the correct person and documentation, we have tend to find our answers quickly.    

Differences Across Competitors
Because there are so many cloud providers, it would be tough to make comparisons with all of them, or to do it at any level of detail beyond some key differences. Like AWS, many of the other cloud providers change their services quickly, so a detailed comparison would go stale quickly. Generally, however, there are some key differences in what we are seeing from the larger cloud providers. 

First, the pricing models for cloud providers can be quite different. For example, Google and Microsoft Azure price by their services by the minute (rounded), which is different than AWS, which bills by the hour (rounded). This can make a difference if you're building compute and storage services quickly and then shutting them down. One of the key benefits of the cloud is the "elastic" pay-per-resource concept that it offers.

Second, some cloud providers are finding niche or specialized services for specific verticals or a subset of a user base. An example is Windows users and Azure. Azure has the benefit of offering services with integration with the established Microsoft Office suite and certain core Windows servers and operating systems. This acts as a gateway for new users and offers a smoother transition for Windows users to cloud for those who already use Microsoft software on premises.

Another example is Google's genomics API, which is targeted at a specific use case. Google has built a team to leverage its cloud services and offer it to those in the genomics community. This is great for users who want to store and use genomics data, and who otherwise would not be able to get access to that type of data and tools. 

There are other examples of this across other cloud vendors (IBM, Rackspace, et cetera). As these niche markets grow, it slowly eats into the user bases of larger, more generalized cloud offerings.  

Obviously, the variation in cloud services helps consumers like my institute, but it also warrants a thorough evaluation of your use case for cloud services. When considering your current and future cloud services use, it would be wise to evaluate some of the key players in the market. For those new to the cloud or just using cloud services for specific use cases in their organizations, I would recommend an upfront and periodic review of cloud services to see what fits into your current set of services or projects.

Competition is good for consumers when they can take advantage of the cost savings and use the technology that is the best fit for their businesses. 

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About the Author

Aaron Black is the director of informatics for the Inova Translational Medicine Institute (ITMI), where he and his team are creating a hybrid IT architecture of cloud and on-premises technologies to support the ever-changing data types being collected in ITMI studies. Aaron is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified Scrum Master (CSM), and has dozens of technical certifications from Microsoft and accounting software vendors. He can be reached at @TheDataGuru or via LinkedIn.


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