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What are the benefits of a private cloud versus public cloud? How do you manage identities in the cloud? Should the collision of cloud computing and smartphones scare the pants off of our IT staff?
The ten cloud computing leaders listed here hope to help the industry make sense of this trend. Of course, whoever comes out on top will reap massive rewards, influencing how the cloud takes shape in the coming years.
The companies below were chosen based on such relatively objective measures as customer traction and length of experience with the cloud model, as well as plenty of subjective consideration, including ability to innovate, how well cloud computing ties in with the rest of the companys product portfolio and ease of use.
1. AmazonWhy they're a leader today: Amazon spent years optimizing the back-end infrastructure of its retail service, building it into what is widely recognized as one of the most reliable, scalable, and cost-efficient web infrastructures.
[Amazon Web Services (AWS)] gives any software developer the keys to this infrastructure, which they can use to build and grow any business, an Amazon spokesperson wrote me. This makes it possible for any business to reach the scale of major internet players like Amazon.com, but without the expensive price tag they would have to pay to build and maintain such an . . . infrastructure.
Examples of the services offered by AWS are Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon SimpleDB, Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), Amazon CloudFront and Amazon Elastic MapReduce.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Were I a betting man, Id wager that Amazon will be leading the cloud space for years to come. Why is this such a safe bet? Four factors stand out: track record, cost, flexibility and pace of innovation.
Amazon entered the cloud game early and has a ton of goodwill built up, while also having one of the few established cloud brand names with AWS and Amazon EC2. As the AWS technology platform has become more tested and proven, Amazon has been able to squeeze increasing operational efficiency out of the platform, allowing them to drive down prices.
Were very comfortable with running high volume, low margin businesses, which is very different than traditional IT vendors, Amazons spokesperson noted.
Flexibility, which is one of the clouds great selling points, is also a trait that Amazon believes distinguishes it from other cloud providers. Developers are free to use whatever program languages and operating systems they please, while also having the flexibility to pick and choose services without getting lured into vendor-lock.
Finally, Amazons pace of innovation has been impressive. Their early forays into the cloud, while cutting-edge at the time, would seem outdated today. However, theres nothing outdated about Amazons current lineup of cloud services, and Amazon has shown no signs of slowing down.
This month, for instance, Amazon improved the streaming media capabilities of CloudFront by adding the ability to get detailed activity records on every stream. For businesses, information on who is watching what and when, as well as when they get bored and abandon the stream, is incredibly valuable.
Key Executive: Andy Jassy, SVP, Amazon Web Services and Amazon Infrastructure, joined Amazon in 1997. During his tenure at the company, Jassy authored the business plan for Amazons entry into the music business and served as both its Director of Product Management and GM; started and built the CRM management team; and most recently, started and continues to lead the Amazon Web Services business.
Customers: We have hundreds of thousands of registered developers to date and this includes a broad spectrum of companies around the world, ranging from smaller companies like Playfish to larger companies such as Eli Lily, Netflix, National Geographic, The New York Times Company, NASDAQ, ESPN and NASA, Amazons spokesperson said.
The company claims that its Sales Cloud 2 currently owns 50 percent of the SFA market share. Service Cloud 2 pushes Salesforce.coms cloud reach into customer-service contact centers, giving customers the ability to merge various cloud computing platforms with traditional contact-center channels.
According to a company spokesperson, Salesforce.com became the first enterprise cloud computing company to achieve $1 billion in revenue in 2009.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Salesforce.com has been in the space a long time, long enough to have been called everything from an ASP to a SaaS company to, now, a cloud provider.
The companys latest cloud innovation, Chatter, gives business apps many of the same features as social-networking applications. As the Salesforce credo explains: We are in the era of Cloud 2, where social networking use has surpassed e-mail; Facebook and YouTube use have outpaced search and new mobile devices like the iPad are creating entirely new ways to interact with information.
Chatter leverages profiles, status updates and real-time feeds to enable deep collaboration. Users can follow people, applications and data in a similar manner to how they would engage with friends on Facebook or follow people on Twitter.
Key Executive: Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff is a fervent cloud advocate. His recent book, Behind the Cloud, tells the story of how Salesforce.com went from an idea to a billion-dollar company.
Customers: Marquee customers include Dell, Kaiser Permanente, NBC Universal, Qualcomm, Siemens and Starbucks.
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.
5. CAWhy they're a leader today: If I had written this lineup a few months ago, before CA went on a cloud shopping binge, grabbing startups 3tera, Cassatt, NetQoS and Oblicore, the company wouldnt have even been considered for the top ten.
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.
6. RackspaceWhy they're a leader today: Rackspace started out in 1998 offering data center services, such as dedicated server hosting and storage. As with many other hosting providers, Rackspace is now calling itself a cloud provider more often than not. Unlike the herd rushing into this space, though, Rackspace was an early mover. The Rackspace Cloud suite offers access to virtual servers, an application and website building service and a storage service. To broaden its appeal to the developer community, the company released an open source Cloud Servers API, which allows users to create, configure and control Rackspace Cloud Servers from within their own applications.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Rackspace is already considered one of the main rivals to Amazon, and its Cloud Tools quickly grew into a top cloud ecosystem. Moreover, Rackspace has been aggressively rolling out new features, such as Database-as-a-Service (DaaS) tools; and it has been doing the hard work to support popular third-party platforms, such as Oracle.
Key Executive: Emil Sayegh, GM of the Rackspace Cloud, was formerly Director of Services Marketing at Dell.
Customers: Radio Flyer, Razorfish, TV Guide Magazine, Carlsberg, Wendys, Boston Celtics.
The company is backed by $5.5 million in Series A VC funding from Benchmark Capital and BV Capital.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Cloud adoption will move slowly if too much emphasis is placed on public clouds. Many large organizations simply have too much invested in their in-house applications and infrastructures to abandon those investments. Eucalyptuss positioning as a private- and hybrid-cloud software provider should serve the company well.
Moreover, any new proprietary computing technology eventually attracts open source competitors. Eucalyptus is an early advocate and provider of open-source cloud tools. When NASA built its Nebula Cloud Computing Platform, arguably one of the most advanced cloud platforms, the space agency relied on various open-source technologies, including Eucalyptus, Django, Xen, and the Lustre file system.
Eucalyptus is also pushing for cloud standards, presumably hoping, of course, that its own technology will be one of those standards.
Key Executive: In March, Eucalyptus appointed former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos as the companys new CEO. Former CEO and co-founder Woody Rollins now serves as CFO.
Customers: NASA and Eli Lilly.
8. TerremarkWhy they're a leader today? Terremark is another hosting/colocation company embracing the cloud. With a market cap of $504 million (as of February 2010), the company has the resources to compete with the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and Google.
According to its February 2010 earnings report, Terremarks total revenue for Q3 fiscal year 2010 totaled $74.3 million, up 13 percent over the prior year. Not bad coming out of a deep recession.
Before you think this is a reflection of how bad the recession actually was, Terremark reported that it had a record bookings quarter with $37.6 million of new annual contract value booked in the quarter ended December 31, 2009.
In terms of the cloud, the company increased the annualized cloud computing run rate to $17.2 million during the third quarter, a 30 percent increase from the previous quarter.
Terremarks Enterprise Cloud is a managed cloud platform for deploying mission-critical applications. Enterprise Clouds Infinicenter web portal allows users to configure and provision virtual servers and server groups. It also has features for organizing servers according to role and dynamically extending them according to utilization.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Already considered a leading provider of collocation and VMware-based infrastructure services, Terremark has carved out a sizable cloud niche by landing a number of government customers.
Terremark is investing heavily in its Network Access Point (NAP) of the Capital Region, a data center complex located outside of Washington, D.C. in Culpepper, VA. Obviously, NAP of the Capital region is intended to serve the federal government. Getting an early foothold with the Fed should pay off both near- and long-term.
Key Executive: Randy Rowland joined the company in 2007 and served as VP of Product Development and GM of Managed Hosting before attaining his current position as SVP of Product Development.
Customers: Agora Games, USA.gov, Library of Congress, SUBWAY Restaurants.
9. GoGridWhy they're a leader today: GoGrid (formerly ServePath) provides a multi-tier, cloud computing platform that allows you to manage your cloud hosting infrastructure completely on demand through an intuitive, web interface. The platform integrates storage, load balancing, hourly billing and a number of other features.
GoGrid is directly positioned against Amazon EC2. It differentiates itself through broader support of various Windows and Linux operating systems, lower pricing and a 100% uptime SLA.
Im not sure how much of a competitive advantage that extra .01% of uptime is, but as you can probably guess, GoGrid cites its customer service quality and reliability as key differentiators.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Like other hosting companies on this list, GoGrid offers a range of other services collocation, managed hosting, CDN services to keep the lights on as its cloud computing services ramp up. The company is pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy, which makes perfect sense in the early days of cloud adoption.
Even more promising, GoGrid has focused on interoperability as a competitive differentiator. With others trying to throw walls around their platforms and sneak vendor-lock in through the cloud, GoGrids efforts to integrate with a range of operating systems and its acceptance of tools from vendors that, at first glance, could be considered competitors (RightScale, Tap in Systems) means that when GoGrid mentions interoperability, its not an empty promise.
Key Executive: John Keagy, CEO and co-founder, previously founded and sold several ISPs.
Customers: GoGrid claims nearly 10,000 customers, including Novell, Macys and SAP.
10. RightScaleWhy they're a leader today? Many organizations will adopt cloud apps and services in a hodge-podge fashion. The finance department will commit to one application on a certain cloud, while developers will be off in a different, more arcane cloud.
RightScale promises to deliver control and portability back to IT as cloud sprawl threatens to become just as bad as data-center sprawl. The RightScale Cloud Management platform allows organizations to deploy and manage applications across multiple clouds. A SaaS product, the platform sets up server clones, load balances them, monitors for and reports errors, performs automated backups, etc.
The company is backed by $17.5 million in VC funding from Index Ventures and Benchmark Capital.
Why they could be on top in years to come: Theres no guarantee they will be. As with other startups on this list, they have their work cut out for them to maintain success. That said, RightScale is focused on a specific IT pain point and is early to the cloud-management game. The company has already scored a couple of major customer wins with ESPN, Eli Lilly and Sony Music.
Key Executive: Thorsten von Eicken, CTO and founder, previously founded and served as Chief Architect of Expertcity (which was acquired by Citrix Online), where he directed the architecture of GoToMeeting.
Customers: ESPN, PBS, Eli Lilly, Sony Music, Harvard University, Zynga, Sling Media, CrowdStar, StarCut, Animoto.