In order for new or smaller public clouds to be competitive with the big kids (Amazon and Azure), these vendors must either adopt the same practices or be unique in what they do. However, if they have a unique value, is it possible to see it, or are all public clouds painted with the same brush as Amazon? Is the key to public cloud to be like Amazon?
Be Like Amazon
What does it mean to be like Amazon? First, your cloud needs to adopt a different mentality around hardware: white-box compute, white-box networking, even white-box storage. Does this mean not purchasing from Dell or Hewlett Packard Enterprise? In some cases no, and in others yes. The key to using white-box hardware is to get all your gear as inexpensively as possible, while maintaining quality levels and limiting configuration drift and downtime. In the cloud, cost is everything, and everything has a cost. Hardware has costs.
Yet, hardware isn’t everything: we need software as well. Specifically, we need automation. Without automation, the scale of the cloud doesn’t work. It becomes too expensive in easily reproducible processes. While Amazon maintains its own systems, it leaves the tenant cloud admins to maintain their own machine instances. To keep costs down, automation needs to be used on both sides of the divide, by both tenants and service providers. Ideally, the service providers provide the tenant with offshoots of their own automation work.
Keeping costs low in the cloud also means using fewer people. The most expensive part of any cloud is not the technology, but the people and the people processes in place. These processes need to be in place today to handle the large number of tenant requests.
Therefore, part of any cloud is support, including engineering to improve the cloud and to deal with items outside of support. Engineering must also improve people processes, which is really in the purview of DevOps.
To compete in the cloud world, one must use inexpensive hardware, provide a unique product, improve people processes, automate everything, and constantly approve the approach to the cloud. In addition, a cloud must provide automation, security, and visibility to its tenants.
We know that these are important factors for private clouds, yet not many know what goes on within a public cloud. These are also critical public cloud areas.
Be Unlike Amazon
The real key to success isn’t to try to compete with Amazon or Microsoft Azure. Instead, differentiate. We know what Amazon does well; can any clouds do better?
Yes, they can. Take WP Engine. It provides hosting services for web services based on WordPress as a SaaS, yet it also offers IaaS, managed IaaS, and many other features. Its differentiating feature is incredibly deep knowledge of a platform that can be presented in many ways. It has worked out the security issues, scale issues, and commerce issues of offering up a WordPress-based website.
Other companies, like DreamHost, embrace “be like Amazon” while offering improved performance in all aspects of its environment as well as faster standard servers and open network switches with all-flash storage.
Virtustream, on the other hand, has taken “be unlike Amazon” to the extreme. It uses vendor servers, provides incredible security, and has a public cloud designed for SAP and Oracle.
Other clouds differentiate by providing increased security, knowledge of a specific application, community services, graphics, visibility, and performance. Most importantly, they offer specific knowledge: knowledge Amazon and Azure do not have or do not expose.
Build a cloud like Amazon and save costs, but also be aware that any cloud you build must differentiate itself in some major way. This is where combining inexpensive servers, easily upgraded networking, and knowledge comes into play. Picking the proper partner for your hybrid cloud should be about knowledge and cost. What does the cloud offer that meets your needs?