We compare five options for cloud service providers in 2021

In cloud computing, there are several major players, each of which proclaiming themselves to be “the best” or “the most advanced.” With AWS holding a major market share threatened by Azure and Google Cloud, these claims are continually being tested. Today, we’re going to take a look at a few of the options for cloud computing service providers (CSPs) and identify some of the significant features of each. We’ll see how each stands up from the viewpoint of SaaS and API providers comparing elastic cloud hosting options.

Microsoft Azure

Azure benefits from its tie-in with one of the most well-known tech brands in the world — Microsoft. This association is not just in name only, as Microsoft has done everything it can to bring its specific concept of cloud computing, its design ethos, and its general functional approach in line with Microsoft as a corporate identity. Because of this, if you’re familiar with Microsoft products, chances are you will find much of Azure to be very familiar indeed.

This close tie-in to Microsoft reaps other benefits than just familiarity. Microsoft offers reduced rates when using your existing licenses for Server and SQL Server, meaning that for many enterprise groups who’ve already tied much of their local compute model into the Microsoft ecosystem, a move to Azure for cloud SaaS functionality means not only familiarity but familiarity at a discounted rate. Additional benefits include three extra years of security updates when moving from Windows Server or SQL Server 2008/2008 r2 to Azure. Ultimately, if you are already heavily built into the Microsoft ecosystem, moving to any other provider may be a tough sell.

One big benefit to going with Microsoft is its pure breadth of regions. Microsoft Azure supports the most global regions of anyone on this list, with 60+ regions over 140 countries. In terms of real deployment of SaaS, what this means is that your offerings will be closer to your users, resulting in potentially better response times, better user experience, and an all-around better product.

Microsoft does carry with it some drawbacks. One of Microsoft’s most criticized elements is that its pricing model can have some hidden costs. Because Microsoft is principally concerned with business-to-business, additional functions like integrating Visual Studio can increase the overall cost with each addition. Add on to that the fact that outbound data transfers are typically quite pricey, and in particular use cases, Microsoft can be a more expensive offering with more limitations than others on this list.

In terms of API management, Azure offers what it calls a “unified API management” system. This system leverages Azure to deploy APIs in a wide variety of circumstances, including hybrid cloud environments where different APIs might live across different domains. Security and compliance seem to be a heavy focus for Azure, which makes sense given its business-centric approach. Azure also offers the ability to create customizable developer portals for API providers, allowing for collaborative sharing of API resources and documentation across various internal and external stakeholders.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon is nothing if not concerned with user experience and product development. As a corporate entity, Amazon has devoted a lot of time to developing user-facing products with easy-to-use interfaces and streamline workflows. This is definitely reflected in their core cloud offerings, especially in the PaaS and SaaS spaces.

A big reason for this is the fact that Amazon did not start as a business-to-business company, unlike many on this list. Whereas Microsoft started selling computer software, and IBM focused on business tabulation, Amazon, on the other hand, started as a product-oriented business from day one, with a heavy focus on consumer experience. This is reflected heavily in its offerings, with AWS providing a wide variety of features to create a complex toolset.

However, for some, this could become a pitfall. AWS can seem to be overcomplicated, with far too many options to implement. While this isn’t necessarily a blocker, it can add additional complexity.

Another point is that Amazon tends to break out into other business verticals quite often, with significant development in a wide range of fields, including healthcare, home security systems, video streaming, etc. For a business, supporting critical functions with the servers your competitor (or potential competitor) owns can be somewhat of a quandary.

A major benefit to AWS is the fact that it has a very flexible pricing model, especially compared to the more traditional enterprise offerings in this space. AWS adopted cloud very early compared to its competitors, and because of that, it has a relatively mature and robust system with proven reliability, availability, and stability. Most importantly, however, AWS offers excellent scalability. This scalability delivers a very flexible pricing model for a wide variety of use cases.

One thing to note is that many of the SLAs that Amazon offers come with exclusions, which has been a complaint for some users. Given that Amazon is not focused only on enterprise plug-and-play solutions, this is not surprising, but SLAs that aren’t as broad as they first seem can be problematic for some providers.

Amazon offers API management through its API Gateway, a product that provides a unified platform to launch various tasks and functions. It supports building and deploying APIs through the gateway, access management tools for fine-tuned API key control, and scaling controls integrated with Amazon CloudWatch, a metrics performance tracking system. All this means that the gateway provides a “one-stop shop” for most API functions.

Google Cloud Platform

Google is an interesting provider in that it has at times struggled to secure major market share for enterprise provision, but nonetheless has powered some of the most innovative projects and sub-organizations within those enterprise partners. While Google has many innovative products with pretty decent variable pricing, it’s still a relatively new entrant into the market as a whole, which is reflected in its process and procedure maturity.

Google also has the smallest presence in terms of global instances amongst its major player counterparts, with both Microsoft and Amazon achieving a wider global instance spread. That being said, Google has dedicated significant resources to improving this and has continually developed innovative delivery methods that make up for its more limited geographic footprint.

Additionally, Google has, like Amazon, always been very product-centric. This has resulted in a very productized offering for its core SaaS offerings, with a defined set of compute, transit, and hybrid cloud methods and products. As Google doubles down on its enterprise investments, this will likely improve.

Perhaps the biggest pro that Google Cloud has is that its pricing is relatively modest compared to its competitors. While not every use case will be cheaper, it is largely true that Google will be more cost-effective for most implementations. That being said, their support is generally more expensive.

Google takes the same approach that AWS does in terms of API management, offering an API Gateway. The main difference here, however, is that Google has a relatively narrower set of offerings that are more focused than its chief competitor — the API gateway provides specific tie-ins to its Cloud Functions, Cloud Run, App Engine, Compute Engine, and Google Kubernetes Engine through the gateway in an effort to unify all API functionality in one place.

IBM Cloud

In terms of the names on this list, it doesn’t get much more traditional than IBM. IBM is, and has always been, very business-focused, and as such, you’ll find a lot of the business-to-business mindset reflected in both the IBM cloud offerings and their pricing models. IBM does hourly charges, monthly charges, and various other charging schemes to fit the business logic of its partners, which may be useful for enterprise instances tracking costs at a projectized level.

IBM Cloud has been a long-term “middle-of-the-pack” cloud computing provider — it has never been the absolute top of the pack in all categories, but it has also never been at the very bottom in all categories. At one point, IBM did outperform Amazon in total cloud compute revenue; that said, it still lagged behind most of its competitors in terms of IaaS revenue.

Interestingly, this unique market position has had IBM focus down on developing a stronger enterprise offering. IBM has almost productized the entire idea of the cloud (and more specifically, the hybrid cloud), positioning itself as a well-known and trusted business provider who can provide additional cloud services, rather than a cloud provider who can also offer business services.

Whether or not this position is the right one to take still needs to bore out with time, however. It should be noted that, as part of this strategy, IBM has also heavily invested in adjacent tech sectors, most publicly with AI projects like IBM Watson. While these flashy projects might seem like IBM showing off their cool tech, what they really are is IBM showing that they are investing heavily in a human-like AI paradigm which can then be leveraged within their core offerings. For adoptees of the IBM system, AI could affect every integration level, including security, transit pathing, error correction, and more.

Oracle Cloud Infrastructure

Oracle came into the cloud market relatively recently. While this is certainly a drawback in forcing Oracle to play catch-up with the rest of the market, it also meant that Oracle could build its offering from the ground up rather than taking their existing infrastructure and building an offering around it. That has meant that Oracle’s offerings have been somewhat more focused, with each element feeding into the next. Its IaaS offerings support both their PaaS and SaaS offerings, and each is modular enough to provide support to whatever segment is incorporating Oracle into their workflow.

Despite entering late, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) entered with a particular goal in mind — top-level enterprise integration. Because of this, Oracle tends to focus quite heavily on security and governance. While they have made great products for multiple strata of use, they are definitely focused on clients that need this granular control and high-stakes security systems, and as such, have fewer options and features than something like AWS. Whether this is a positive depends entirely on what you are trying to do with Oracle. For some, this is a negative as more features might equate to more agile movement, but for others, a more focused feature-set for a specific set of functions might support a business use case more effectively.

Generally speaking, Oracle also performs very well in its price-to-performance ratio. Assuming you measure based upon computing power, Oracle’s raw price does look better in general. Still, this price variance also assumes the use of consistent chunks rather than variable pricing. When variable pricing is considered, Oracle can be slightly more expensive.

Ultimately, Oracle is relatively new, which means they’ve yet to prove that they are reliable or can support uptime in the same way that AWS or Google Cloud can. Nevertheless, Oracle has strong SLAs compared to others on this list, and with the right use paradigm equating to the right pricing model, they may be a great option at the enterprise level.

A Comparison of Needs

Ultimately, the question of which provider to use has become less significant in recent years with the popularity of multicloud increasing. In this paradigm, the idea is that multiple different clouds are used depending on what the specific purpose and function are. For example, a company may want to use something more ongoing and feature-heavy like AWS to provide their core functions while utilizing Google for faster-moving projects.

To review:

  • If you’re grandfathered in Microsoft services and seeking the best global region support, Azure is a good option.
  • If you’re seeking a mature global cloud computing option with the most elastic pricing model, consider AWS.
  • For modest pricing and more focused API management offerings, check out GCP.
  • For a strong enterprise offering with impressive AI fundamentals, IBM Cloud is a contender.
  • If you’re seeking higher SLAs and modular compute services without as much variable need, consider newcomers Oracle Cloud.

All of that is to say that there is no real “best” provider on this list. There are great providers for various use cases, and the use cases will require different pricing models, different products, and different approaches. Each of these offerings is significant in its own way, and a combination of them could likely deliver the highest value.

What do you think is the best cloud computing provider in 2021? Have you had different experiences using any of the above CSPs? Let us know in the comments below!