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Cloud Wars – How Many 800lb Gorillas Can Fit in the Room?

In their latest magic quadrant report on IaaS, Gartner describes the market as still evolving and maturing

There is a common phrase, often attributed as a Chinese proverb/curse, "May you live in interesting times." For those following the cloud technology space, we are definitely living in interesting times. In their latest magic quadrant report on IaaS, Gartner describes the market as still evolving and maturing. This would imply the market leadership is in flux, yet according to Gartner "AWS is the overwhelming market share leader, with more than five times the compute capacity in use than the aggregate total of the other fourteen providers in this Magic Quadrant." I would say that makes AWS an 800lb gorilla in the room that the competition must get by. Many of those competitors could be considered 800lb gorillas in their own right. Microsoft, IBM, Google are not small companies, yet AWS has managed to create a dominant position in the marketplace.

Can AWS maintain that dominance? Who among the other ‘gorillas' could potentially knock AWS from its perch?

The Big Public Cage Match, IBM vs Amazon
As one would expect, the original 800lb gorilla, IBM, wants to be the one to knock AWS from that perch. Early last year, Amazon beat out IBM for a lucrative four year $600M cloud contract with the CIA. IBM immediately filed a bid protest in February, which was partially upheld by the GAO in June (A Big Win for Big Blue). The battle between the two behemoths continued through the summer. IBM worked to strengthen its IaaS credentials with the acquisition of SoftLayer. In October, what appeared to be a successful bid protest by IBM was overturned by the US Court of Federal claims, and IBM withdrew its injunctive action (IBM Steps back from CIA deal). The battle continued in November when IBM started a significant ad campaign, claiming it held a larger cloud business than Amazon. This blitz included running ads on buses in Las Vegas during Amazon's premier re:Invent conference. In January of this year, IBM committed to a 1.2B investment to expand their global cloud footprint.

The battle has created very diverse views in the industry as to who will finally win. Rob Enderle wrote a very compelling piece on why IBM will win the war with Amazon Web Services. He points out in their over 100-year history, IBM has battled many other disruptive competitors - a fact I am well aware of, being a former employee of Digital Equipment Corporation. Digital (DEC) rose in the '60s, disrupting the mainframe computing industry with a disruptive concept, the mini-computer. DEC eventually rose to being the number two computer manufacturer in the world (behind IBM). DEC is now a fond memory as it was since acquired by Compaq (a PC manufacturer) who was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard. IBM putting you in their sights is not to be taken lightly.

On the flip side, a very good counter argument to that viewpoint was written by David Linthicum, in his article Amazon Web Services has no reason to worry about IBM. One of the key points David makes is the argument that IBM will have difficulty adjusting to selling the cloud service model. He points out "the more cloud services that IBM sells, the less money it will make." In essence, it will displace existing IBM hardware and software with its own "public cloud offering." Add into this viewpoint, IBM doesn't always win. When Oracle first came on the scene, it disrupted the database world, and IBM came out guns a blazing. Oracle has not gone anywhere.

What About the Other Gorillas?
With all the coverage the IBM/AWS cage match has gotten this year, sometimes it's easy to forget there are other significant players in this marketplace. These players are not sitting back and waiting for the results of the IBM / AWS battle. Gartner analyst Lydia Long, in Where are the challengers to AWS?, states: "I think there's a critical shift happening in the market right now. Three very dangerous competitors are just now entering the market - Microsoft, Google and VMware. I think the real war for market share is just beginning." Forrester echoes a similar viewpoint. When viewing the market through a lens of the services provided (compute, RDBMS, storage), Forrester analyst Jeffery Hammond sees Microsoft and Google making strong inroads in the RDBMS and storage services space. As with IBM, Microsoft and Google have deep pockets to compete in this space and are not going to give up without a fight. What I find telling is that both these analysts did not even mention IBM vs. AWS, which has been getting the majority of the public attention. Google just announced a partner program that includes three tiers of third-party vendors providing technical and consulting services for Google's cloud platform.

Verizon Joins the Battle
Last October Verizon announced a new cloud offering built from the ground up to compete with AWS and the other IaaS vendors. This offering is different from their existing Verizon / Terramark cloud offering. The new offering is based on technology from CloudSwitch, a company Verizon acquired a little over two years ago. Verizon hopes to differentiate their offering by allowing the client to define specific performance capabilities around compute, I/O, memory and storage. Verizon states their technology allows them to avoid the ‘noisy neighbor' problem seen from other vendors, a not so subtle swipe at AWS.

In January Verizon announced a partnership with Oracle for their cloud environment. "Beginning in the first quarter of 2014, Oracle customers will be able to license Oracle Database 11g and 12C, Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle Enterprise Manager to run in Verizon's Managed Hosting and Enterprise Cloud virtual infrastructures, according to a Verizon document that details the Oracle partnership." While AWS does provide the ability to use Oracle 11g in their environment, the addition of the middleware components could be a key differentiator for Verizon.

This by itself is not a game changer, but is a sign that Verizon is serious about competing in this space. Verizon has its sights squarely in AWS's corner. In its announcement Verizon noted that it will continue to expand partnerships and the ecosystem around its cloud offerings. It quickly demonstrated that was just the first salvo. Verizon announced this week that it is extending its partnerships with CloudBees and CloudFoundry, including committing a monetary investment in CloudBees through its venture arm.

Net Neutrality, Could It Be a Game Changer?
In 2010 the FCC adopted the Preserving the Open Internet, Broadband Industry Practices as a means to enforce the concept of net neutrality on the Internet. This was in response to the practice of a variety of broadband providers (including Comcast and Verizon) that were throttling bandwidth usage based on the source. Some of these sources could have been considered competitors. The FCC net neutrality rule had three key components:

  • Transparency - providers must disclose network management and performance information
  • No Blocking - providers may not block lawful content and services
  • No Unreasonable Discrimination - providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful traffic

Now the federal appeals court has struck down that rule. The suit was brought by Verizon. It immediately raised a question in my mind. Does this mean Verizon, in theory, could throttle access to public cloud providers (such as AWS), and provide better access to their own public cloud services? Imagine the impact that could have on the marketplace. Verizon could effectively lock the other gorillas in a room and start their own room.

Will this happen? Not overnight, that's for sure. The FCC has already said they would appeal the decision. Additionally the court did give the FCC some wiggle room in modifying the rule in a way that would pass the courts muster. The battle over net neutrality is far from over, but how it finally gets resolved could have long-term impact for us and the public cloud providers.

Who Will Still Be Standing in Two Years?
One thing that is clear, the market is still in flux. Gartner predicts that one in four cloud providers will be gone by 2015. IBM has already demonstrated the consolidation direction with their purchase of SoftLayer. Concerns about the risk of a cloud provider still being around could start creating a self-fulfilling prophecy for the smaller vendors. The failure of cloud storage provider Nirvanix last year has put this concern at the forefront for many buyers. If the small vendors become acquired, or forced out of business over the next two years, we could easily end up with a room full of just the 800lb gorillas as the market shakes out. The question will then become, how many of these 800lb gorillas can we fit in the room?

More Stories By Ed Featherston

Ed Featherston is a senior enterprise architect and director at Collaborative Consulting. He brings more than 34 years of information technology experience of designing, building, and implementing large complex solutions. He has significant expertise in systems integration, Internet/intranet, client/server, middleware, and cloud technologies, Ed has designed and delivered projects for a variety of industries, including financial services, pharmacy, government and retail.

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