Cloud clout: Who are the real powers in the cloud?

Summary:Cloud computing looks like it will reshape the IT landscape, but which vendors are the real powerhouses behind that change. We pick out the Big Five — plus one to watch

It is hardly surprising that vendors of every hue want a piece of cloud computing. Investment in cloud services is set to grow at a compound annual rate of 27 percent, rising from $16.2bn in 2008 to $42bn in 2012, according to research firm IDC.

That growth translates into an almost threefold jump in usage and will lead to cloud computing accounting for nine percent of total customer expenditure by 2012, compared with only four percent last year. IDC reckons the adoption of cloud is increasing more than five times faster than the traditional on-premise IT and in three years will account for 25 percent of the industry's year-on-year growth. Uptake will be fastest among small to medium-sized businesses and in developing countries.

So in a market where every supplier with even the humblest of services is now claiming to be in the cloud game, who are the five biggest market influencers — the cloud vendors with clout?

CLOUD'S BIG FIVE: Amazon

Amazon is one of the early pioneers of cloud computing. After the dot-com bust, the vendor revamped the datacentres behind its e-commerce operation and decided to recoup the investment by selling its internal web-based services to third-party developers.

The launch of the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) under the Amazon Web Services banner in August 2006 was one of the first times the term 'cloud' had been attached to a commercially available, pay-as-you-go online service, although the term itself had been used generically to refer to the internet for at least a decade. The vendor is still considered to be a leader in cloud computing and its moves are watched closely by the rest of the market.

How long has Amazon operated in cloud computing?
Amazon Web Services launched its first cloud service, the Simple Storage Service (S3), in March 2006.

What cloud services does it provide and what is the pricing model?
Amazon Web Services is aimed at developers and has 49,000 registered individuals. It offers the following services:

  • EC2 provides developers with access to server capacity as required, enabling them to use either a pre-configured Amazon Machine Image or to create their own, containing their applications, libraries, data and configuration settings. Pricing is on a per-instance, per-hour basis for server capacity and per-GB, per-month for storage. Charges are also made for accessing data held in that storage and for transferring data between Amazon services in different regions.
  • S3 enables users to store and retrieve data. Pricing is on a per-GB, per-month basis. Fees are also charged for accessing and removing data.
  • Simple Queue Services (SQS) enable customers to move data between the different distributed components of their workflow-based applications without losing messages and without each component having to be constantly available. Charges are made for messages sent, for data transfer in and out of SQS and for SQS requests.
  • SimpleDB is in beta and enables users to undertake indexing and querying of data held in S3 and EC2. No charge for the first 25 machine hours, 1GB of data transfer and 1GB of storage, but there are per-month charges for subsequent additional use.
  • CloudFront is in beta and enables developers to distribute content and files stored in S3 to end users. Charging is based on GB of data transferred per month.
  • Flexible Payments Service provides developers with a means of making and accepting payments on their website for the sale of goods or services. Fees are charged per transaction depending on size of transaction and payment method.

What back-end cloud infrastructure does Amazon have in place?
Amazon declined to provide any details.

What service-level agreements (SLAs) or security controls does it provide?
SLAs are available for S3 and EC2. With S3, customers are provided with service credits if their monthly uptime falls below 99.9 percent in a given billing cycle. With EC2, service credits are provided if availability falls below 99.95 percent within a rolling 12-month period.

The company follows a three-tier security model focusing on physical security, which includes the location of its datacentres; operational security, which means that only a limited number of staff have access to datacentre facilities; and programmatic security.

Programmatic security involves customers being provided with control of their own virtual instances at a root level, with Amazon not delving "into what you do inside them" as "a matter of policy", according to a spokeswoman.

The vendor is also working towards compliance with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) 70 Type 2 standard. This standard looks at organisations' objectives and activities in relation to controls in areas such as IT and financial reporting.

What procedures does Amazon operate if customers should decide to switch vendors or bring services back in-house?
Amazon told ZDNet UK that developers are not "locked in to a particular programming model, language or operating system".

How does it position itself in terms of cloud computing?
The Amazon spokeswoman said: "We've been at this for three years now. The platform of infrastructure services that Amazon Web Services offers are based on Amazon's own back-end technology infrastructure that we've spent over a decade building into one of the world's most reliable, scalable and cost-efficient web infrastructures.

"Flexibility is key. Our customers tell us that they want the flexibility to build their applications in the way they want to — and they don't want to be locked into a particular programming model, language or operating system."

Topics: Cloud, IT Employment

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