Sunday, May 16, 2021

Top Cloud Service Providers & Companies of 2021

Surveying the top cloud computing companies in 2021 goes way beyond AWS vs. Azure vs. Google. While those three are inarguable cloud leaders, the cloud service providers market is churning with exciting new developments and new iterations of existing technologies, from multi-cloud to hybrid cloud to cloud and 5G.

Indeed, when you consider how cloud computing has dramatically changed the world in the last decade, it’s been a dizzying period of growth. We’ve seen the data center transformed into a private cloud and the rise of cloud native. Technologies like IaaS and PaaS and SaaS have now established themselves as the foundation of IT. Container technology has vaulted from emerging technology to mainstream adoption across several top industries. Cloud and artificial intelligence are now deeply intertwined.

More than anything, the way companies now see the benefits of cloud has shifted from “optional upgrade” to “absolute business necessity.” Meanwhile, the confusion around cloud costs and cloud security remains – and cloud startups are springing up all the time to address these cloud concerns. To help companies address their cloud confusion and concerns, many cloud management platforms have sprung up and offered solutions. This list is only a snapshot of a sector undergoing rapid change, so please check back – we expect the group known as “top cloud companies” to shift soon  – and constantly.

Top Cloud Computing Companies

One of the difficulties in listing the top cloud companies comes in answering this complex question: top cloud companies for what? Now in 2021, there are many essentially integral corporate uses for the cloud, from accessing HR software to hosting the core of your infrastructure.

Still, in an effort to create a more revealing portrait of this hotbed of technological evolution, we’ve divided the list into two areas: Leader and Key Players. The line between them (if there is one) is blurry and open to opinion.

Top Cloud Companies and Cloud Growth by Industry.

Cloud computing companies operate in a profitable sector: the cloud market continues to grow rapidly.

Top Cloud Service Providers: LEADERS

Amazon Web ServicesAmazon Web Services Logo

Widely considered the top cloud company – truly the company that pulled the world into the cloud – AWS continues to grow and innovate at a pace that shows no sign of complacency.

In Q4 2020, AWS reported that it expected revenue at an annualized rate of $45.3 billion – and that it enjoyed a 28% growth rate over that quarter – a stunningly high figure given the already massive size of its cloud business. This is the third quarter in a row with a slight decline in percent growth rate, with all previous quarters hitting 30% or higher growth rates since the cloud pioneer began breaking out figures. (Indeed, a hefty chunk of Amazon’s profit flows from AWS.)

The challenge for AWS in its rivalry with the other top cloud vendor, Microsoft Azure, is that Microsoft has historically had a closer relationship with the enterprise. Yet AWS has largely overcome this advantage by the sheer depth and quality of its cloud-based toolset.

VMware Cloud on AWS is a virtualization technology that allows companies (especially larger, slower-moving companies) to build a bridge from the traditional data center to the public cloud, which is an AWS specialty.

Microsoft AzureMicrosoft Azure Logo

In terms of revenue, Microsoft’s Azure is number two, but Azure is essentially a head-to-head competitor with the big dog Amazon Web Services. Its greatest strength is its legacy strength in the enterprise; the long dominance of the Windows OS and the many Microsoft productivity applications mean that corporate clients were long married to Microsoft before cloud was even a factor.

In keeping with this close enterprise relationship, Azure is strong in hybrid cloud – a critically important offering for companies with a large data center investment, or an expensive facility they need to pair with a remote public cloud. Microsoft’s other key strength is in software as a service, SaaS. It offers a long menu of enterprise SaaS tools, most notably Office 365. Azure has a top-notch PaaS offering that integrates with its public cloud.

Azure is well-positioned to serve cloud customers as automation and AI become dominant. Azure MachineLearning is a full-featured production platform, enabling the creation of all manner of customized algorithms and ML solutions.

Google Cloud PlatformGoogle Cloud Logo

Holding the number three spot behind AWS and Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) has a robust IaaS offering with a deep technical strength from its dominance in the search market. Starting with strength in networking and automation, GCP offers arguably the sector’s greatest strength in AI, machine learning, and – particularly – data analytics.

GCP is a top contender for applications and mix deployments that are cloud native, a growing sector and one that will surely be dominant at some point – probably sooner than it now appears. The cloud vendor is entrenched in open source and open systems.

Historically, GCP has not been closely aligned with enterprise customers, a situation the company is working to correct. As such, the move toward multi-cloud is good news for GCP; if it can’t be a company’s primary cloud platform, it will certainly be “one of” a company’s cloud providers. GCP can then use this foothold to gain greater market share.

IBM CloudIBM Cloud Logo

With one of the most in-depth and highly developed portfolios of enterprise solutions of any provider across the tech sector, the IBM cloud is one favored by the company’s base of mid and large enterprise clients. As a cloud provider, IBM has a global footprint, offering its IaaS and PaaS solutions from data centers from Brazil to India to Germany to Korea.

The company’s acquisition of Red Hat in 2019 confirms IBM’s deep commitment to building out its cloud infrastructure, with an open, hybrid approach. Indeed, IBM is well-positioned to be a player in the emerging multi-cloud landscape.

Also highly significant is IBM’s focus on AI with its Watson initiative; while not strictly a cloud-based offering, today’s companies often buy (or at least shop for) their AI services from their cloud providers. Additionally, IBM offers major strength in data analytics and machine learning, which interoperates with its cloud platform.

OracleOracle Logo

Entering the cloud market later than other competitors, Oracle launched Oracle Cloud Infrastructure in 2016. Despite its late start, Oracle has played catch-up aggressively and has gained credibility as a cloud platform.

Oracle is not seen as a full-featured public cloud provider as are, say AWS and Azure. This, despite the company’s clear commitment to building out IaaS and PaaS offerings. Yet its focus is on offering its legacy strength in database and other core enterprise offerings on a flexible, advanced cloud platform. In essence, it’s Oracle software on the Oracle cloud.

Still, the company is growing its market share at a significant pace – and its cloud platform generally garners positive reviews.

VMwareVMWare Logo

VMware’s first heyday was back before the cloud, back when the datacenter ruled IT. As the undisputed top provider of virtualization to the enterprise, VMware minted money and gained a foundational presence in corporate IT. As the data center began to migrate to the cloud, some industry observers wondered how VMware would fare in this new landscape.

Now in 2021, the answer is: quite well. VMware serves as an effective and much-needed “bridge” between the dinosaur datacenter and the many complications of the cloud. Given that there are so many companies (particularly large ones) that have invested so heavily in their on-premise, but now see a nonnegotiable need to migrate ever more workloads to the cloud, VMware is perfectly positioned.

In the VMware portfolio, the virtual machine now lives side by side with containers.

In keeping with the times, VM has alliances with AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Owned by Dell, VMware has the deep-pocketed resources – and is so key to Dell’s cloud strategy – that it will likely be a hybrid cloud leader for years to come.

SalesforceSalesforce logo

Sure, it’s the titan of software as a service, but SaaS format does not fully describe the Salesforce empire. From its early days as the top purveyor of CRM software, Salesforce has kept expanding, now with an essentially complete menu of cloud-based enterprise software, from marketing to commerce to integration.

It snapped up leading data analytics player Tableau in 2019, enabling it to offer in-depth metrics in a world that now depends on data mining. This was just a year after Salesforce bought Mulesoft, an IT integrator that connects applications, data, and devices.

To top it off, Salesforce continues to perfect its Einstein AI platform, which it touts as the “smart CRM assistant.” In sum, Salesforce is positioning itself at the very center of a hyper-connected, cloud-based world.

AlibabaAlibaba Cloud Logo

A strong player in Asia, Singapore-based Alibaba is the cloud leader in China, and also is succeeding with its sales pitch to clients across the globe. To put it in perspective, Alibaba claims about $6 billion a year in cloud revenue (in contrast to AWS’s $40 billion yearly). The company does not have significant cloud market share in North America.

In 2020, Alibaba boldly announced that it will spend some $28 billion on its cloud infrastructure over the next three years, adding an array of server, networking, and operating system build-outs. This additional investment will bulk up what is already a robust platform of IaaS and PaaS, a container service, a private cloud offering that’s geared for enterprise customers, and a machine learning platform for AI.

In short, while Alibaba doesn’t have quite the full-featured offering to rival that of the US-based cloud leaders, it is the leader in China and could compete aggressively in many global markets in the years ahead.

Top Cloud Service Providers: KEY PLAYERS

Hewlett Packard EnterpriseHewlett Packard Enterprise Logo

The concept of edge computing continues to fly under the radar; while cloud computing gets the headlines, edge computing remains nascent. Expect that to change. From IoT to computing everywhere to an entire universe of embedded real-time applications, edge computing is emerging rapidly in a growing 5G landscape. To take a leadership position in this emerging technology, HPE offers Aruba, a provider of network access technology; HPE in 2020 acquired SD-WAN vendor Silver Peak.

HashiCorpHashiCorp Logo

Think of HashiCorp as the toolbox for the cloud. The company provides a wide array of tools – many of them open-source, but plenty of proprietary tools – that allow developers and IT professionals to deploy cloud infrastructure. To make it simpler, some of the applications are plug-ins.

SAPSAP Logo

SAP is a good example of a legacy vendor that is now making a home for itself – and its customers – in the cloud. The company’s HANA is a high-powered in-memory database with a significant enterprise following, a following that pre-dates the cloud. To enable this migration, SAP offers the same reference architectures as used by the leading public cloud providers. This approach is working: SAP has seen major growth in cloud revenues.

Cisco SystemsCisco Systems Logo

The vast networking needs of cloud computing and the Internet already provided a fertile market for Cisco to address, given that the company is synonymous with networking. Now, as multi-cloud emerges as a dominant cloud model – probably the dominant cloud model – Cisco is likely to be not only a dominant player, but also to shape the development of both cloud and edge computing. Keep an eye on the company’s Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) offering, which helps monitor-manage applications in heterogeneous cloud environments.

NutanixNutanix Logo

Along with software-defined storage, Nutanix offers a cloud platform that clients use for computing and virtualization. It’s also a leading player in hyper-converged infrastructure, and it also has a DRaaS (disaster recovery as a service) offering. Founded in 2009, the company is a good example – among many – of firms that aren’t leading IaaS providers, but still find a useful and revenue-generating niche in the cloud sector.

ServiceNowServiceNow Logo

Solidly aimed at the mid-to-large enterprise sector, ServiceNow provides a SaaS solution that facilitates – and automates – a wide array of technical management, including IT services management (ITSM) and IT operations and business management. To expand its reach, the ServiceNow platform allows clients to manage and monitor third-party applications. Based solidly in the cloud era, ServiceNow’s employee workflow management solutions are clearly on the rise.

AdobeAdobe Logo

Users weren’t thrilled when Adobe – the maker of leading creative software like Photoshop and Premiere Pro – adopted a SaaS model in 2013. Many users like the “one-time purchase” model. Yet in pushing its market to SaaS, Adobe could more carefully control the version of its users, not to mention boost its revenue. With its success, Adobe is expanding its cloud-based market considerably, to data, analytics, and commerce. It even has its own AI platform, Sensei, the goal of which is to help creators work faster and more efficiently.

WorkdayWorkday Logo

Building on a well-regarded SaaS offering in human capital management – think HR, payroll, benefits – Workday is building out its cloud-based portfolio in a natural direction: cloud-based financial management software, along with planning and procurement. In short, Salesforce’s success is an inspiration for Workday. The company is growing rapidly: Workday has acquired more than a dozen companies in the last several years, greatly bulking up its SaaS management offerings.

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