Why they're a leader today: Gmail. Thats right, Gmail. There are plenty of other web-based (or I should probably now say, cloud-based) email services out there, but the functionality of Gmail and its integration with other cloud-based apps, such as Google Docs, Calendar, Wave, etc. make it a force to be reckoned with.
In fact, I had a conversation the other day with a startup that uses Gmail and Google Docs simply for collaboration purposes. The company still relies on Office, but its easier to share, store and collaborate with Google.
I went through a similar thing myself. Ive layered so many third-party apps onto my own version of Outlook that Im reluctant to abandon it. Yet, when it came time to figure out how to synch Outlook with my Android smartphone, what was the easiest option? You guessed it, Gmail.
According to Google, more than two million companies now run their businesses on Google Apps.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Dont be surprised if Google Apps continues to serve as a way to add functionality to other applications, such as Microsoft Office. With Office 2010 just out, plenty of organizations are doing Google Apps versus Office 2010 comparisons.
While many companies simply have too much invested in Office or are too tethered to, say, the advanced functionality of Excel, others may decide to skip a 2010 upgrade. Instead, theyll keep their old versions of Office, while adding collaboration and cloud-storage features via Google.
Google already allows you to store any file, including Word documents, in the Google cloud. You can then share it in its original format. Moreover, Google says that it will enable real-time collaboration directly into Office 2003 and 2007.
Clearly, Google sees soft migrations as a way to eat into Microsofts market share.
Key Executive: Dave Girouard, President, Enterprise, heads up Googles enterprise-centric cloud efforts. Prior to joining Google, Girouard was SVP of marketing and business development at Virage, a provider of multimedia search and content management software.
Customers: Jaguar LandRover, Genentech, Seagate, Motorola, the City of Los Angeles.
Why they're a leader today: While the popular perception has it that Microsoft entered the cloud game late when it rolled out Azure, Microsoft argues otherwise.
Cloud computing is not new for Microsoft, a spokesperson said. From Hotmail to Windows Update and Xbox Live, Microsoft has almost 15 years experience in cloud computing, hosting some of the worlds largest cloud services.
They have a point.
When touting its advantages over competitors, Microsoft focuses on its track record (15+ years of delivering massive services, such as Windows Update and Hotmail, at scale) and reach (the company claims that twenty million businesses and over a billion people use Microsoft cloud services).
Why they could be on top in years to come: While its tempting to predict that Microsoft wont be on top in years to come after all, the tech market is constantly in a state of upheaval the companys continued success is hard to argue against.
As competitors such as Google and Salesforce.com have set their sights on Microsoft customers, the behemoth has started pushing back. On a company blog, Andrew Kisslo, Sr. Product Manager, Microsoft Online, lists a number of companies abandoning Google Apps in favor of Microsoft.
Ive also heard a few rumors about large enterprises getting ready to pull the trigger on a switch, only to be visited by Microsoft reps who work hard to find a way to retain the business. These rumors stem from off-the-record conversations with industry insiders, so take them with a grain of salt. Still, even if this isnt true, these rumors have the feel of truth about them, which is often more powerful than the truth itself.
Despite struggling with government regulators in the past, Microsoft advocates new legislation to regulate the cloud. Im not sure how to read this other than the fact that Microsoft is working all the angles as it moves further into the cloud.
Key Executive: A diverse team, though Brad Smith, SVP and general counsel, gets a nod since he was the executive who unveiled Microsofts cloud regulation push earlier this year.
Customers: 3M, Associated Press, Outback Steakhouse, Siemens and VeriSign.
CA is positioning itself as the go-to choice to manage the IT supply chains that are resulting as companies increasingly utilize external services to meet their business computing needs. IT supply chain management includes monitoring the technical performance of cloud services, automating deployment of applications across cloud infrastructures and ensuring that the use of cloud resources at any given time is optimally aligned with actual business requirements.
Once CA gets its new cloud new toys working well together, the company will arguably be the leading Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) player.
Why they could be on top in years to come: With the cloud computing space relatively new and untested, cloud management is even less of a mainstream offering. Clearly, cloud management will be critical, and CA entered the space at the perfect time.
Key Executive: Chris O'Malley, EVP, Cloud Products & Solutions Business Line, previously served as EVP and GM of CAs Mainframe Business Unit. Before that, he served as SVP of Sales Strategy and Execution.
Customers: Rackspace, 1&1, SoftLayer, Cadence Design, Logicalis, Jewelry.com, Layered Technologies, Scale Up Technologies, Radix Technologies.