Going public: Top three public cloud providers for business

Developing a public cloud strategy requires an understanding of the offerings available from the major cloud providers. Here we examine Google, Amazon and VMWare offerings.

While private clouds represent one of the fastest growing areas of cloud participation among enterprise customers, the public cloud is also going strong for business. Some companies use the public cloud alone while others make use of a hybrid public/private setup that allays fears over security while offering greater cost savings than a true private cloud. Here’s an overview of the three public cloud options most often used by participants in TheServerside.com Readership Survey 2011.

Amazon EC2

The “elastic” cloud is living up to its name this year by expanding far past its top competitor (Google). Last year, the two industry giants were closely matched in popularity. Now, EC2 is the preferred option for a full 60% of respondents.

The Amazon cloud is well-established and provides users with a high level of control over what can be installed and how applications are deployed. As far as developing and deploying web apps goes, Amazon supports a wide variety of popular coding languages including C# and .NET. This cloud is also compatible with a broad range of operating systems – and gives the user a great deal of control over OS support. Finally, business users can choose from an almost limitless selection of out-of-the box platforms, frameworks, and server software such as MySQL, Apache, Drupal, etc. to use with the EC2 platform.

EC2 is currently geared toward medium to large-sized businesses, but the introduction of micro-instances is opening up the service to small businesses as well. Of course, running from a single instance does introduce the risk of having a single point of failure. That can represent a significant problem from a scalability standpoint. There’s also no completely free option since Amazon relies on a pay-for-service model even at the micro level (unlike Google which takes advantage of revenue from ads placed on small business customers’ sites). There’s also no free support with the Amazon cloud. However, custom permissions and an advanced firewall are free with this cloud option – perks Google doesn’t yet offer.

Google App Engine

While Google App Engine (GAE) has dropped back to second place in the race for customers, it still commands a respectable 35% of the market share for public cloud business users. It’s the popular option for small businesses that want to try out the public cloud for little or no cost.

GAE offers a free quota (equal to almost 5 million page views/month) that’s very attractive for startups. Another plus on the “free” side is compatibility with Linux OS (EC2 is only compatible with Enterprise versions of Linux such as Oracle and Red Hat). The open source nature of GAE and its APIs make portability a key benefit for businesses that want to be able to switch servers. Some users also find scalability simpler in this environment.

That being said, GAE is designed to work with only Java and Python coding languages. It’s great for fast and easy deployment of web apps for any development team that’s already using Linux OS and writing Web applications in Java. It’s even more ideal for users who develop apps with the Google Web Toolkit (GWT).Otherwise, there’s a lot to learn before a company can start using Google App Engine effectively. 


VMWare’s cloud is catching up with the industry leaders. They’ve jumped from just 23% last year to 34% this year. This firm has been around even longer than its top competitors, but its cloud offerings are a newer category of service offerings. So far, this company has focused most of its efforts on capturing enterprise level users – and it’s been quite successful on that front. By making the vCloud APIs open source, this organization is taking steps to set industry standards and ensure continued relevance in this rapidly expanding market. So far, their strategy appears to be working. Google is actually partnering with VMware to support Spring Java applications on GAE. This means VMware clients can deploy to their vCloud or to the Google App Engine. This interoperability and portability is expected to help both companies carve out a bigger slice of the public cloud pie.

From an end user standpoint, VMWare is compatible with a variety of OS versions (particularly Cent OS) and can be used with coding languages like Perl and SQL that aren’t supported by Amazon EC2. Teams that use the extremely popular SpringSource development framework will probably transition easily into the public cloud environment with this vendor. Other benefits this service offers compared to EC2 include persistence, flexible configuration, a clustered hypervisor for reliability and redundancy, and the ability to manage VM groups. 

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