Cloud services have revolutionized computing, not least through IaaS, PaaS, and especially SaaS, which have allowed businesses to develop virtualized IT infrastructure and deliver software through the cloud, independent of a user's operating system.
Even better still, businesses can also mix and match cloud services from different providers through cloud brokers in order to ensure these services work to maximum efficiency and cost effectiveness, but also to reduce the chances of vendor lock-in while also improving redundancy. This may require additional cloud management software, but for larger businesses the economic effects can be significant.
Because everything is run through software platforms and virtualized networks, it means that it's easy to access and analyse data for the purposes of analytics as well as for business intelligence purposes. It also makes it easier to simplify all aspects of monitoring through cloud orchestration and the easy processing of log files through cloud logging services. The result is IT infrastructure that allows for better maintenance and patching, while providing for insights that would have previously been much more difficult to access.
Cloud computing services also offer the advantage of being scalable, which means not only can you access additional resources exactly as you need them, but you are also charged only for the services you use so there's no need to buy in extra hardware for additional redundancy.
This especially applies to when storing data, as online cloud storage can be treated as effectively limitless. Even though you might be using cloud databases for your structured data, you can also archive everything else into massive data lakes for additional processing using AI and machine learning for greater insights.
Altogether, cloud services offer unparalleled potential for improving business performance and increasing profits, and here we'll look at the leading cloud computing service providers, along with some additional recommendations to consider.
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Best cloud computing services - at a glance
- Amazon Web Services
- Microsoft Azure
- Google Cloud
- IBM Cloud
- Oracle Cloud
Creative cloud computing from one of the big names
AWS was founded in 2006. It provides on demand cloud computing to individuals and organizations.
Amazon Web Services is a cloud-based program for building business solutions using integrated web services. AWS offers an extensive range of IaaS and PaaS services. These include Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2), Elastic Beanstalk, Simple Storage Service (S3) and Relational Database Service (RDS)
AWS offers extensive admin controls available via their secure Web client. Users can access a number of features from here including encryption key creation and auditing.
Aws lets you customize infrastructure requirements. This costs far less than if you were set up in your own premises.
Users can also access EC2 we services. This permits you to run and acquire servers as necessary.
AWS has three different pricing models; ‘Pay as you Go’, ‘Save when you reserve’ and ‘Pay less using more’. For more information about these, users must contact sale directly.
AWS also offers a free 12-month tier. Once your trial period has expired, you must either choose a paid plan or cancel your AWS subscription.
Some online commenters have complained about difficulties with contacting customer support.
A wide array of services from a tech giant
Microsoft Azure was released nearly a decade ago, in 2010. Users can run any service on the cloud or combine it with any existing applications, data centre or infrastructure.
Microsoft Azure provides a wide array of solutions suitable for all types of industry. All your business needs will be taken into consideration. This results in a package better suited for needs.
Azure means there is no need to have physical servers on site. This reduces the usual costs, such as an onsite server support team.
The Azure Migration Centre makes cloud transfers faster and easier. The solution is also compatible with Linux.
Microsoft Azure offers a 12-month free tier which includes access to all popular services, $200 (£153.74) credit and over 25 ‘Always Free’ services. All of Microsoft Azure’s prices and plans are laid out in great detail on their site. The page includes a cost calculator and a ‘Pay as you go’ service. Each plan can be tailored to your specific needs.
Some users have noted that the price can be quite high relative to other services.
Elastic and inexpensive cloud computing from the genii of Google
Google Cloud Platform is Google’s cloud service provider. The platform enables users to create business solutions using Google-provided, modular web services. It offers a wide array of services including IaaS and PaaS solutions.
With Google Cloud’s multi layered secure infrastructure, users can rest assured that anything you build, create, code or store will be protected. This is done through a commitment to transparency and a highly trained team of engineers.
Google Cloud has a variety of tools to ensure consistent performance and management. These include Compute Engine, App Engine, Container Engine, Cloud Storage and Big Query. Google also offers smooth migration to virtual machines with flexible pricing.
There is a free 12-month trial, which includes $300 (£230.62) towards all services and products offered by Google Cloud Platform.
Some online commenters have mentioned that setup can be difficult for beginners.
Reasonably priced cloud services from one of the tech masters
IBM Cloud is a set of cloud computing services offered by the eponymous tech giant IBM. The solution offers platform as a service, software as a service and infrastructure as a service.
IBM Cloud offers a wide range of services. Not all of them are cloud based: it covers both virtual and hardware –based servers, composed of public, private and management networks.
As hardware and virtual-based servers are combined into one on demand cloud-platform, you have complete infrastructure control. IBM refer to their hardware servers as ‘bare metal’. These provide clients with sole access to their entire server. This reduces the ‘noisy neighbor’ effect and greatly improves performance.
IBM Cloud is integrated and managed by a single system that can be controlled via web portal, API (Application Programming Interface) or mobile apps.
IBM Cloud’s Bluemix developing solution has a wide range of cloud SaaS management tools.
IBM Cloud also offers full server customization. This means that everything that is included in the server is handpicked by you. This way you do not have to pay for features that you might never use.
IBM also offer a ‘Lite’ tier. This has no time limit, will not ask for credit card details and includes 256MB of Cloud Foundry Memory. After this you have the option of the ‘Pay as you Go’ Tier where you only pay for what you use. The website has a calculator which you can use to estimate costs. If neither of these are suitable, you can contact IBM for a subscription package tailored to suit your needs.
Another IT behemoth cloud service
Oracle Cloud is another cloud service from a computing behemoth, and as you'd expect it's both a powerful and feature-packed platform. A recent Forrester review noted that Oracle's services were especially strong at supporting different workloads, especially for IoT, OLTP, microservices, along with applications dependent on AI and machine learning. There are two main service provisions available: cloud architecture, and storage data.
Cloud architecture includes data management, databases, and applications, while the Oracle Data Cloud is primarily for driving big data analytics for business intelligence insights. Oracle also provides a range of SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms such as HCM, EPM, SCM, and social media tools.
As expected, there are a vast range of potential involved in using Oracle's cloud services, but they are really designed to accommodate enterprise needs rather than small businesses or individuals.
For those who do sign up, aside from a 30-day free trial, Oracle Cloud also offers a free service tier which includes unlimited access to two autonomous databases which comes with Oracle Application Express (APEX) and Oracle SQL
Developer, as well as two compute VMs, block, object, and archive storage, as well as load balancing, monitoring, and notifications.
Other cloud computing services to consider
We've covered the biggest names in cloud computing services, not least AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and IBM Cloud – and of course Rackspace Cloud which works with each of them. However, there are a number of other major cloud computing providers worth considering, which we'll highlight here.
Alibaba Cloud is another significant player in the market and one everyone overlooks. However, Alibaba boasts a truly comprehensive range of services via its elastic computing, database services, networking, and CDN solutions. It also offers a free trial covering 16 products, while advertising another 20 or more as "always free". In addition to that, the company also gives you a $300 (£230) credit for trying out its services.
Digital Realty runs one of the world's biggest independent data center networks, which makes it ideally placed as a cloud provider. More than this, its Service Exchange can deliver hybrid cloud solutions which means you can integrate features from AWS, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle into a single portal. This enables you to get the best of all worlds in a simplified way that's easier to self-manage.
Rackspace Managed Cloud allows you to choose a cloud provider with which you can then interact via Rackspace’s platform. The service has partnered with major cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and VMware. The advantage of this system is that you have the scalability of some of the biggest cloud providers around while being able to mix and match their services, while enjoying the support of third-party management so you don't have to worry about the IT side of things.
Cloud Linux isn't so much a cloud computing provider, but rather a cloud platform you can build across your own servers. This means that if you'd prefer to have tight control over your cloud network rather than going with third-parties, you can host it yourself. While this presents a different set of challenges, it also offers a range of benefits, especially for those companies already heavily invested in their own IT infrastructure.