According to IDC the public cloud computing market is on pace to double over the next four years, climbing from around $70 billion in 2015 to more than $141 billion by 2019. That huge market offers a tremendous opportunity for those companies that establish themselves as leaders in the cloud computing space.
So clearly, the top cloud computing companies are addressing a large and growing market. In turn, they work in concert – or actually provide – a wide array of cloud-related products and services, including infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software-as-a-service solutions.
Given the enormity of the infrastructure needed, it’s no surprise that leadership in the public cloud market has coalesced in the hands of a few winners. To compete in the public cloud it takes an investment in the tens of billions of dollars, including the legions of tech talent to support that infrastructure.
Consequently, if a public cloud provider is not already in the race by 2017, it’s going to be a very steep uphill climb to be a player in the future. There are, to be sure, a few dark horses. Alibaba clearly has ambitions, and possibly some smaller players will merge and offer some kind of high service option – a public cloud boutique, of sorts – and be a contender. But it’s generally understood that leadership in the public cloud market is a closed club.
Some backstory: Amazon set up its Amazon Web Services division to be a public cloud provider in 2006 (though the division itself pre-dated that). For several years, legacy technology companies resisted the move to cloud. They had a vest investment in the classic model of packaged software – a model that the cloud helped to disrupt.
As the enterprise transitioned to the cloud, there was a period where many thought private cloud would be the dominant model. This view worked in the favor VMware, whose virtualization software is a default choice for in-house data centers. But with time – surely by 2010 or so – most vendors realized the inevitability of public cloud computing. More and more businesses saw the advantage of renting out an external computing infrastructure. It was easier and offered fewer headaches.
Most important, as it developed, public cloud offered competitive tools that few businesses could afford to develop in-house. For instance, as of 2017, one of these competitive tools is artificial intelligence, delivered as a service though the cloud. Very few enterprises can develop the sophisticated AI tools that the public cloud vendors now offer as part of their tool set. So the public cloud has morphed from a way to offload your computing to a rich source of advanced competitive advantage. In short, if a business is not leveraging the public cloud, it is falling behind.
What all this means is that the public cloud providers you see listed below play a very vital role in shaping today’s enterprise IT landscape. The way they develop new tools, the prices they post, the level of service they offer – each of these factors influences the services that their many customers can in turn offer their customers.
Bottom line: the race for leadership among the leading public cloud companies is the race to dominate enterprise IT itself. There is no doubt it will be fought with the deepest investment possible in the years ahead.
Here are the cloud leaders we will profile:
- Amazon Web Services
- Microsoft Azure
- IBM Cloud
- Google Cloud Platform
Best Public Cloud Providers
Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the undisputed market leader in cloud computing. According to Amazon's most recent quarterly financial report, AWS generated $2.9 billion in revenue for the quarter ending June 30, 2016, up from $1.8 billion during the same quarter last year.
The company offers a complete range of IaaS and PaaS services. Among the best known are its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Elastic Beanstalk, Simple Storage Service (S3), Elastic Block Store (EBS), Glacier storage, Relational Database Service (RDS), and DynamoDB NoSQL database. It also offers cloud services related to networking, analytics and machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile services, development, cloud management, cloud security and more.
Get an in-depth look at AWS.
It's a little more difficult to figure out how much revenue Microsoft generates from cloud computing. In its fiscal 2016 Q4 report, the company said that its "Intelligent Cloud" revenue increased 5 percent to reach $6.7 billion. That makes it seem like Microsoft does more cloud business than Amazon, except that Microsoft includes its very substantial server revenues along with its Azure cloud computing service in the Intelligent Cloud category. The company has previously said that its Azure business is on a $10 billion annual run rate, or around $2.5 billion in revenue per quarter. Most market analysts put it in the number two spot behind Amazon.
In addition to its Azure IaaS and PaaS offerings, Microsoft also has several SaaS offerings, including its Office 365 products, the online versions of its Dynamics line of enterprise software and its online developer tools.
Get an in-depth look at Azure.
Although it hasn't always been considered one of the "big three" cloud computing vendors, IBM's cloud business has been coming on strong. In its most recent quarterly report, IBM said that its "cloud-as-a-service revenue was up 50 percent," and had an annual run rate of $6.7 billion.
IBM's most visible cloud service is its Bluemix PaaS, which is aimed primarily at enterprise development teams. The company also a lot of enterprise software on a SaaS basis, and it sells cloud infrastructure, cloud management tools and cloud managed services.
Get an in-depth look at IBM Cloud.
Google Cloud Platform
Google doesn't break out its cloud computing numbers, so it's very difficult to tell how much revenue its Cloud Platform generates. In a recent report, Synergy estimated that Google is fourth in the IaaS and PaaS market with a 4 percent share of the market. The report also noted that Google's cloud revenue is climbing rapidly, surging 108 percent year-over-year in 2015.
Like Amazon and Microsoft, Google offers a very full range of IaaS and PaaS services that span compute, storage, networking, big data, machine learning, developer tools and security. Some of its best-known cloud offerings include Compute Engine, App Engine, Container Engine, Cloud Storage and BigQuery.
Get an in-depth look at Google Cloud.
Public Cloud Providers Comparison Chart
Please be aware when looking at this comparison of the leading public cloud providers: few of the services truly line up in an “apples-to-apples” similar style. Whether it’s storage or container or analytic technologies the differences between the top public cloud vendors are distinct enough to not fit completely in a chart. Still, the chart below should help you get started.
Read our Comprehensive Guide to Cloud Computing for an in-depth look at your cloud computing options.