Then There Were Two. Or Were There?

Then there were two. Or were there? According to the annual report of research firm Gartner, the cloud computing competition in the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) space is focusing on two clear leaders of the pack. It should be no surprise that Amazon Web Services (AWS) is still in the lead, but making its move and catching up fast is Microsoft Azure.

Amazon was the first to go to market with an IaaS offer, which happens to be running on Xen-based virtualized servers. That is one of the most obvious differences between the Amazon and Microsoft solutions. Otherwise, in my opinion, Amazon is offering mostly the same thing that Microsoft is: full-fledged solutions, all running on a Microsoft platform. Microsoft also offers interconnectivity with the other Microsoft products and solutions in the corporate enterprise. And it does all this while at the same time offering an on-ramp to Azure for any of the services still running in the corporate enterprise.

Azure, I believe, is Microsoft’s golden ticket. Azure has the ability to offer SharePoint, Office, and email, as well as Active Directory as a made-to-order example solution. How long do you think it will be before almost all of Microsoft’s products have an Azure presence? My guess is not that long at all. And once Microsoft gets to that point, it might be just around the time that Microsoft becomes the new king of the clouds. Time will tell, but at the very least, Microsoft’s ability to release a broader product range for Azure will further expand Azure’s reach and help make a solid hybrid offering even better.

Here is where things are going to get interesting. Have you ever heard of Alibaba? No, I am not referring to something from Arabian Nights, but rather the Chinese eCommerce Goliath. Alibaba is expanding its IaaS offering, Aliyun, into the United States and into direct competition with Amazon and Amazon Web Services. Both Amazon and Alibaba are the heavyweight champions in their own countries. Now we get to see the two heavyweights go head-to-head in each other’s home field and turf.

Alibaba is preparing for its great expansion of Aliyun in the US. It opened a data center in Silicon Valley last year by partnering with US hosting providers and chip makers. We will have to see how many legal regulations this Chinese company will have to contend with compared to those currently presenting difficulties for Microsoft and Amazon as they offer their services directly in the Chinese public marketplace. Clearly, however, the heavyweight fight has just begun.

Some analysts who track Alibaba believe that its effort to expand is not a direct move on Amazon, but rather a move as a provider to give Chinese companies a foothold in the US marketplace while at the same time giving US companies a foothold in China. Either way you look at it, when global giants meet head-to-head, the games are underway.

How will this competition play out? My belief is that both Amazon and Microsoft will continue to face regulatory hurdles in China, while Alibaba will not face nearly as many regulations and laws. This could make the Aliyun cloud platform a more viable option for companies looking to sell services and products in one of the world’s biggest economies. This is one of the main reasons why I believe that Alibaba is a cloud to watch in the future.

So, then there were two. Or were there?

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