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The Four Major Cloud Players: Pros and Cons

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Author Todd D. Lyle compares today's top four cloud services: Alibaba, Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft Azure.

It is an exciting time to be watching the growth of the public cloud, also known as utility computing. The public cloud is gaining momentum as enterprise–level CIOs scurry to corral this “disruptive technology” and figure out how to best integrate it into their current IT infrastructure.

Technology industry players large and small have emerged to prosper in this 21st century gold rush, and we are seeing both “born in the cloud” companies and the giants in the tech world experience their share of growing pains. Fundamentally, I believe that all of these companies suffer from the same affliction: their original stance and hence corporate culture regarding client-facing (or forward-facing) customer service. Customer service is as expensive as it is labor intensive, yet it’s a necessary component in transitioning to the public cloud. The first public cloud organization to acknowledge this reality by bundling client-facing customer service as a part of their standard cloud services offerings will quickly dominate the field.

Growth of Fierce Competition

Rackspace, a managed cloud company and once well out front of the marketplace, has seen their fanatical support promise overshadowed by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Microsoft and now Alibaba, all of whom offer raw computing power for pennies on the traditional IT dollar, comparatively speaking. Managed cloud services companies are essential to the public cloud’s growth, yet suffer as the cost of sheer computing power is, each month, less expensive than the month before.

With their indigenous IT staffs, enterprises are able to absorb related migration pains. Fine-tuning currently is a result of their internal efforts, not that of the cloud services provider. Seamless service must prevail for small- and medium-sized entities to enter the fray.

In a few short years utilization of the public cloud and related ecosystem will become commonplace with the world’s small- and medium-sized organizations. Utility computing with no immediate capitalization, lower infrastructure costs and better risk management will be the best and easiest choice. But even today there’s no shortage of cloud services being offered, and billions are in play.

So as the public cloud model continues its slow but eventual rise to dominance over private and hybrid models, the current giants in the cloud industry are likely to only get bigger while their margins get smaller, and what customer service they have will further evaporate. Enter the cloud services broker, your middleman to decipher, bundle and manage complete IT packages for one monthly rate.


Below are the four major cloud players as of this writing:

Alibaba – Aliyun Computing

Alibaba is a Chinese company that seemed to blow in from out of nowhere in 2014. It is a top competitor to Amazon that has recently and ferociously gotten into the cloud game.

Pros: pros

  • Growing rapidly and strongly
  • Has the funding to become a powerhouse
  • Partnered with seven well-known IT companies, including Intel and data center company Equinix to help grow their international cloud presence

Cons: cons

  • Potential compliance issues – not an American company, so runs the risk of having sensitive data on servers completely outside of the US or loss of data entirely
  • New into US cloud market
  • Customer service lacking

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

One of the first to get into the cloud game with their well-known AWS cloud services, Amazon is currently the giant and the one to beat. Even the US government has turned to them to as their trusted cloud services provider.


  • AWS currently has the highest number of services and options available, lending itself to the most opportunities and satisfying most needs.
  • Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) allows you to increase or decrease storage as needed; between this and the pay-as-you-go plans you only pay for what you use with AWS.
  • AWS allows you to choose the operating system, programming language, web application platform, database and other services.

Cons: cons

  • AWS elastic load balancer (ELB) is not equipped to handle as many requests as it receives. However, you can purchase another service, ELB with AutoScaling, to counteract.
  • AWS lacks customer support, gearing toward a more technically savvy group of consumers and/or those with access to tech support.
  • The number of choices can be confusing to those who may not speak the language of technology.


Google has recently gotten in the game, and they are came on hard and fast. In 2014 they made it their mission to bring the cloud to everyone by dropping prices, which prompted a price war that again brought down Amazon’s prices. Keep in mind, while Google offers many free options, you need to beware because while free sounds good, it also means commoditization of your data.

Pros: pros

  • Strong Infrastructure (IaaS) and Platform (PaaS) options. BigQuery capabilities allowing massive data to be analyzed in a short period of time, excellent for big data applications.
  • Pay-per-use option taken to the extreme: billing minute by minute
  • Google Compute Engine’s load balancers don’t need pre-warming.

Cons: cons

  • Not as many options as AWS (at least for the moment)
  • Lacks widespread geographical distribution, just three regions (US, Europe and Asia)
  • Google’s App Engine is limited to Java, Python, PHP and Google Go.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft is one of the industry leaders in accessibility innovation and in building products that are safe and easy to use. However, Microsoft has not been an innovator when it comes to the cloud – in fact they’ve been pretty passive about cloud storage and infrastructure right from in the beginning. Not surprisingly, despite its slow start, Microsoft Azure has recently proven to be one of the strongest players in the cloud industry.

Pros: pros

  • Has the capability for developers and users to easily create, maintain and deploy applications
  • Fully scalable, offers open access across multiple frameworks, languages and tools
  • Comprised of many different infrastructures and service modules: big data, backup and recover, web, mobile, development and testing, media, storage, identity and access management

Cons: cons

  • Customer service is confusing and data is hosted globally. If you have data restrictions where it must be housed in a certain country, you must verify/specify with Microsoft.
  • Comparatively expensive
  • You are charged extra for paying as you go (versus paying in blocks of $100.00).

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Todd Lyle
Todd Lyle

Todd D. Lyle is a leader. Currently his focus is on educating organizations about the potential for harnessing the human element through use of the cloud via a cloud services brokerage. His fascination with the possibilities of information technologies began when he was issued his first “laptop” while serving as a young lieutenant in a U.S. Army aviation regiment in South Korea. In 1988, a bulky Zenith SuperSport 286 portable computer was his first brush with “mobile” computing. Years later, having served with IFOR in Bosnia as a Force Protection Officer, Lyle returned home and obtained a Master of Science…