I wanted to write a follow-up commentary to Chris’ recent excellent post about the competition in the cloud between Microsoft and Google.
I agree that it is vitally important to have a framework from which to analyze the different offerings. It is also necessary to be able to separate fact from hype. In any endeavor that involves change you really need to take a hard look at what problems you are trying to address and what the various choices offer in terms of functionality, price, performance, security, etc.
Consider the various productivity tools offered as SaaS. It would be difficult to convince a hard-core, number-crunching Marketing Analyst that he should give up his locally installed copy of Excel 2010 with PowerPivot, for example, in favor of the spreadsheet in Google docs. The functionality is just not there and it doesn’t really matter if there is a cost benefit, anywhere access or document sharing. On the other hand an administrative worker who only uses a spreadsheet to maintain simple lists might be perfectly well served with a basic application. Having locally installed high-powered analytical software on that user’s desktop is an underutilization of resources.
At the PaaS level, again you need to look at what problem you are trying to solve. Google seems to give developers more “for free” than Microsoft. Is that appealing? Or does it depend on other factors too? Obviously it depends on whether you are moving an existing application or doing greenfield work. You also need to consider storage requirements, existing skill-sets and degree of control and flexibility you need. With greater control and flexibility comes greater responsibility. For example Google App Engine offers some monitoring and diagnostics right out of the box. Currently Azure requires the developer to “roll her own” (using the API) or purchase a third party solution.
At the IaaS level there is no question that the Public Cloud is currently dominated by Amazon. There are, however, many other players who seek to offer slightly different value-propositions to their customers. It is not a one-size-fits-all market. It is similar to hotels, perhaps, where some prefer the large chains and some prefer a bed-and-breakfast. When thinking IaaS, you really have to consider whether or not a Public Cloud is even the right approach. Organizations with stringent security and regulatory requirements may not even have that choice. Most Private Clouds are IaaS and there are many options to choose from.
We spend a good deal of time in our introductory cloud computing course really looking at and discussing these issues. It is our intention to provide an overview of the offerings of the major players. We do this in a vendor-neutral way. At the end of the course our attendees have a good understanding of the basics of cloud computing and are armed with the knowledge they need to consider if, what and how it may fit into their own organizations.