Clash of the public cloud Titans: AWS vs Microsoft vs Google vs IBM

What about Google Cloud Platform?

When it comes to performance and networks, nobody can compete with Google Cloud Platform, so the pay-as-you-go trend ought to allow them to dominate the public cloud business. So why is it struggling?

"Google can compete at a price point that is hard to beat, and has created a lot of downward price pressure on the market," says McFadin, who thinks the web search giant is slipping up on its go-to-market plans. "It still treats cloud computing like a retail experience and hasn't quite understood the enterprise market," he says on the subject of why the big companies are so far staying away.

Google Cloud Platform, which integrates perfectly with Google Compute Engine, Google Cloud Storage, Google App Engine and Google Cloud SQL, is used by Snapchat, TiVo, Citrix, Ubisoft and Costco. It's behind AWS on features, but is expected to catch up in the next few years. Google mostly has its eye on the banking industry, which is yet to embrace the public cloud.

IBM's Watson adds a cognitive dimension to the public cloud

IBM's Watson adds a cognitive dimension to the public cloud

What about IBM Bluemix?

Meanwhile, data centre giant IBM is pushing a hybrid and private cloud via Bluemix (for developers, and growing fast) and Watson (a dash of cognitive and artificial intelligence that gives a unique appeal), though it is IBM's less radical approach that gives it a unique appeal to companies who still aren't sure whether to totally commit to the public cloud. Customers include Ethiad, EVRY, Finnair, ANZ, Columbia Pipeline and Hootsuite, though Bluemix is aimed squarely at developers and startups.

There are other challengers out there in the public cloud business – most notably Salesforce as well as Oracle, Rackspace and others – but one challenger is particularly scary to the incumbents. Chinese internet giant Alibaba has just opened a vast data centre in the US through its cloud computing arm Aliyun – it wants a chunk of the massive and fast-growing global public cloud market.

Is there a common problem with all of them?

Lock-in, security and data migration are the big three worries for business. "A lot of companies do worry about lock-in," says Dave Hrycyszyn, Director of Strategy & Technology at Head. "When you start to use all the extra services of a given cloud provider, you tie your system architecture to that provider pretty irrevocably." However, Hrycyszyn thinks that many companies – especially startups – should stop worrying and learn to love the architectures they get; the extra development speed is a worthwhile trade-off for most.

"Migrations are never easy and all too often the daunting task ahead stops businesses from making the right choices for their future," says Ian Masters, VP of Cloud and Alliances at Vision Solutions, who states that although most cloud providers offer solutions that can do the work around migration rather than requiring manual intervention, they tend to be quite niche and only support one platform, application or cloud.

"However, there are solutions available today which can work across multiple platforms, applications and cloud offerings, such as Amazon AWS and Azure, or between public and private clouds," he says.

Google Cloud Platform is targeting banks

Google Cloud Platform is targeting banks

Speed and security

The speed of migrating is also a fear, though AWS came up with a novel solution recently. Security is being addressed primarily by promises to locate new data centres within various national borders. Microsoft's recent announcement of UK-based data centres comes soon after AWS revealed it was to open a new region in the UK by the end of 2016 or early 2017.

That will allay the fear of some UK-based companies worried about depending on foreign data centres, but generally the wind is blowing in the other direction. "I'm seeing a big change in the past 12 months," says Hrycyszyn. "Companies that were previously worried about the data security implications of cloud providers are starting to seriously consider moving production data into the cloud … but it's still far from universal."

Keeping data within borders

However, the 'national card' is a powerful one given recent security breaches, especially considering the commoditisation of the cloud services market. "There is nothing unique about the services that the large US companies offer …[they] merely resell VMware these days, or use Openstack, Hyper-V or Xen to power their own cloud offerings," says Nathan Johnston, Head of Sales at UK cloud hosting company Memset.

Johnston believes that the UK government should be mandated to use UK data centres, and that keeping data within national borders should be considered best practice for private sector companies, too. It doesn't help that big US corporates, including Google, which books all UK sales in Ireland, aren't seen to be paying their way.

That's moot for US companies after a cloud solution, but as commoditisation and uniformity of the public cloud increases, the rest of the world will wonder why the cloud services industry even needs a Big Four.

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and He also edits two of his own websites, and that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),