Microsoft this week told attendees of its Convergence 2015 conference in Atlanta that it sees Google and Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its chief rivals in the cloud computing arena, as reported here on V3.
However, this is just the usual hyperbole you would expect from vendors, who take every opportunity to aggrandise themselves and their own technology while downplaying that of rivals, and Microsoft's scornful categorisation of everyone else but itself, Google and AWS as being "second tier" providers is no different.
The reality is that the cloud marketplace is as diverse as any other area of IT, and which cloud provider or platform a customer ends up choosing as the right solution for their needs will depend on a range of factors, such as what infrastructure they have already invested in, and what their expected compute requirements are.
Microsoft's lumping of itself with Google and AWS also seems to consider only public cloud services, but even here any unbiased observer would have to divide the market into AWS and everybody else, at least in terms of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). The scale and global reach of Amazon's platform, plus the range of services and pricing tiers it offers, put everybody else into the shade, Microsoft included.
This has led to AWS being seen as the default platform of choice for many, especially developers and businesses that are "born in the cloud", and looking to offer online services, such as games, video streaming or software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. In fact, more than a few high-profile software firms have migrated their products onto AWS over the past few years, with Software AG becoming the latest example earlier this week.
But what happens if you are an organisation that is looking to extend the IT infrastructure it already has, perhaps to meet seasonal peaks in demand or because you want to downsize the amount of infrastructure you operate yourself by moving less critical applications and workloads out to a service provider's infrastructure? This is called hybrid cloud, and brings its own set of issues and concerns.
In a situation such as this, a public cloud that is compatible with your existing infrastructure may trump other considerations. This is what VMware is counting on with its vCloud Air public cloud service, which was expanded with a new data centre presence opening in Germany this week.
Because vCloud Air is based on the same vSphere platform that is already in place inside the private cloud infrastructure operated by VMware customers, the system makes it much easier for these customers to access public cloud resources and manage them as if they were an integral part of their own network, moving workloads seamlessly from one to the other.
Some industry experts are of the opinion that on-premise IT will ultimately be phased out in favour of the convenience and cost savings of using public cloud infrastructure, and in this context vCloud Air could be seen as a move by VMware to make this transition. However, it arguably still represents a better option for VMware's existing enterprise customers than managing two completely separate infrastructure pools.
Of course, Microsoft has a huge opportunity here too, as Windows servers are in virtually every large organisation in the world, and so it should be able to capitalise on this by offering compatibility between its on-premise and public cloud environments.
The firm is looking to do exactly this with developments such as the Windows Azure Pack, which delivers cloud-like orchestration and scalability across on-premise infrastructure based on Windows Server and System Center. In effect, this does the reverse of vCloud Air, by providing customers with an on-premise version of what is already running in its Azure data centres.
And let's not forget other cloud platforms and vendors. While Microsoft dismisses HP as second tier, it is still a huge IT provider with a global presence, and is now building out its own Helion cloud portfolio, mostly based on the open source OpenStack framework.
Helion is being offered as both a private cloud version for customers to deploy themselves, and as public cloud services from HP data centres. If you are an existing HP customer, Helion probably looks like a good choice for any cloud strategy you are developing.
In summary, cloud computing isn't just about being the biggest or the cheapest or having the broadest global presence. Like so much of technology, it comes down to whatever best fits the customer's requirements.
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