After comparing apples to oranges, Skytap declares itself the winner

Fruit salad rather than a useful comparison

What would you think when a PR firm sends an Email that says "Which cloud is easier to use for business users like you and me – Amazon EC2, Microsoft Azure, Google Apps, or Skytap? The answer will surprise you." The message went on to call this a "Pepsi Challenge."

This list goes a bit beyond comparing apples to oranges. It's a compete fruit salad composed of Server Infrastructure as a Service, Desktop Infrastructure as a Service and Software as a Service products. So, it is not at all surprising that I would contest the conclusion that Skytap wins.

I won't even consider if they went to the effort of getting permission to use the marketing catch phrase "Pepsi Challenge."

Here's what their come-on piece had to say

Which cloud is easier to use for business users like you and me – Amazon EC2, Microsoft Azure, Google Apps, or Skytap? The answer will surprise you. Until now, usability of the cloud has been an afterthought for most tech-savvy customers. But, as we move into an era of mainstream adoption by business users, customers are demanding shorter time to value. It is becoming abundantly clear that the cloud is no longer about cheap computing - it is about usable computing and delivering results in the shortest possible time.

Usability is especially critical for business users accessing ERP applications, online demos and classroom training. Almost all of these users don’t have the time or skill set to write new code to make the cloud work for them. These users need an intuitive, self-service cloud that is available on-demand.

If you’ve never experienced the difference, we want to show you a "Pepsi Challenge" style demo. In this hands-on experience, we’ll:

  • Run through a few scenarios to compare/contrast the difference between running a business app in several different clouds
  • Show you why usability will make or break the adoption of cloud services for business users
  • Demonstrate how a usable cloud delivers productivity gains, in addition to tremendous cost savings

When you take the "Pepsi challenge," you can test drive how usability is becoming a "must have" requirement for cloud solutions, understand the key criteria for defining a usable cloud, and gain crucial data points for creating a new market debate on this topic.

Snapshot analysis

Skytap is a service that was designed from the ground up to make the creation and deployment of virtual desktops easy. While it has had features that would be useful for cloud-based server virtualization, that, until very recently, was not the stated goal for the company. So, of course, the company developed tools that were easy-to-use for the original purpose.

So, the provisioning, administration and updating procedures were designed to look like a simple "drag and drop" operation. While very simple, this approach may not offer an IT administrator the depth and granularity of control that would be needed for a sophisticated server virtualization environment for which two of the other "competitors" were designed. The focus of the third competitor is something else completely.

In other words, Skytap appears to be trying to castigate the others for the sophisticated environment they support. Excuse me? I thought that was one of their key benefits not a problem. I guess that they're not seeing the rapid adoption of their technology that they'd like, so they're trying to enter an adjacent market.

What about the demo?
Skytap's demo is very pretty. The company does make the creation and provisioning of a cloud-based virtual desktop look easy. The demonstration then turned to showing that it was easier to provision a Skytap desktop than an EC2 or Azure server.

That, of course, is an irrelevant comparison.

Installing a desktop should be simple. As staff comes and goes, desktops are installed and torn down all of the time.

Installing a multi-tier, multi-node distributed workload, on the other hand, must be done carefully to assure the highest levels of performance and reliability. This means making it possible for the IT administrator to select the type of processing power needed, the amount of memory and storage required and many other configuration settings. This, of course, means that the task is a bit harder, but it should be only necessary once or a small number of times.

Final thoughts
I guess the whole experience left me cold. It also left me wondering what other irrelevant comparisons are in this company's marketing portfolio.

If your organization is looking into projecting a virtualized desktop into the clouds, Skytap should be one of the companies you examine. If you're looking for a place for a complex, distributed, multi-tier server workload to be hosted, I'd suggest looking elsewhere.