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June 19, 2017

Cloud Wars: AWS dominates as IBM & Oracle struggle with IaaS

IBM and Oracle face criticism whilst Alibaba appears as a potential alternative to the hyperscale cloud providers.

By James Nunns

Cloud vendors often talk a good game about being the ‘market leader’ but with often murky financial reporting making it difficult to pin down who is actually dominating, many are left guessing.

Fortunately, Garner has released its latest Magic Quadrant for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Amazon Web Services comes out well on top.

For many it won’t be a massive surprise to see AWS sit firmly in the top right hand corner of the quadrant with Microsoft trailing behind. What may be somewhat of a surprise is that these are the only two sat in that quadrant, with Google well off the pace and IBM and Oracle sat down in the Visionaries section.

All the big companies talk a good game when it comes to being a cloud ‘leader’ but few are. Oracle’s cloud is dubbed a “bare-bones ‘minimum viable product’” that offers only the most vitally necessary IaaS compute, storage, and networking capabilities that “has a limited operational track record.”

The analyst firm said: “Customers need to have a very high tolerance for risk, along with strong technical acumen. Nevertheless, Oracle field sales and executives are very aggressively promoting the Gen 2 offering.

Read more: Cloud wars: Object storage replaces VMs as new battleground for AWS, Google & Microsoft

“Customers should be cautious of high-pressure sales tactics, understand the reality behind the marketing and not feel obliged to evaluate the offering at this stage of its maturity. Gartner strongly encourages prospective customers to speak with references.”

However, on Big Red’s Gen 2 offering Gartner said: “Oracle intends for this platform to be the basis for its future PaaS and SaaS offerings as well. It is being built by a highly experienced engineering team recruited primarily from hyperscale cloud providers. It has well-designed hyperscale cloud architecture, and a thoughtful selection of current and future features.”

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Gartner Magic Quadrant IaaS

On IBM Gartner said that the SoftLayer infrastructure offering’s feature set had not improved significantly since it was acquired in mid-2013. “It is SMB-centric, hosting-oriented and missing many cloud IaaS capabilities by midmarket and enterprise customers.

“The IBM Cloud experience is currently disjointed. Some compute capabilities, such as the IBM Bluemix Container Service and OpenWhisk, reside in Bluemix, but Bluemix is hosted in just three SoftLayer data centers, and is thus not local to most SoftLayer infrastructure,” said Gartner.

It’s not all negatives from the Gartner report though, with Alibaba appearing as a visionary. The subsidiary of the Alibaba Group is reported as having built an impressive ecosystem in China, whilst its current offerings are described as demonstrating “the vendor’s potential to become an alternative to the global hyperscale cloud providers in select regions over time.”

However, its international offering is said to offer little in the way of a unique differentiation with other hyperscale providers and, “Alibaba Cloud’s vision seems inextricably tied to that of its global competitors; it takes liberal inspiration from competitors when developing service capabilities and branding.”

The perennial challengers of Google and Microsoft come in for mixed reviews from Gartner, with Google noted for increasingly becoming an “open” provider that emphasises portability, but is often chosen as a secondary provider rather than a strategic one, however, GCP is being increasingly chosen as a strategic alternative to AWS by customers whose businesses compete with Amazon.

Gartner cautions that Google still needs to invest deeply in global expansion given that GCP has data centres in just five countries, although it has plans to enter an additional eight countries this year.

Microsoft’s revenue run rate for the end of 2016 is estimated at around $3bn and is labelled as a “very capable and broad platform” and the Azure platform is having innovative features added that aren’t being copied from competitors.

However, customers cite issues with technical support, documentation, training, and breadth of the ISV partner ecosystem. Although the company is making significant improvements in this area, “the disorganised and inexperienced ecosystem of managed and professional service partners makes it challenging for customers to obtain expertise and mitigate risks, resulting in greater reluctance to deploy production applications or conduct data centre migrations.”

Microsoft also has issues with multiple generations of solutions and unclear guidance on when to use each, which is creating “significant” complexity when it comes to determining the right implementation.

Read more: Cloud Wars: The murky waters of AWS, Azure & GCP financial results

The clear leader in the market, AWS, is reported as ending 2016 with a revenue run rate of more than $14bn, is described as the “thought leader and the reference point for all competitors.” The cloud offerings are the most commonly chosen for strategic adoption, with many enterprise customers now spending over $5m annually, and a few spend over $100m.

Gartner said: “AWS has the broadest cloud IaaS provider ecosystem of ISVs, which ensures that customers are able to obtain support and licenses for most commercial software, as well as obtain software and SaaS solutions that are pre-integrated with AWS.”

It’s not all positives though, with the analyst firm pointing to a need for expertise to implement AWS due to its extensive portfolio, although that problem is somewhat mitigated by “AWS’s excellent business-class technical support, accurate documentation, extensive training and certification.” Despite this, and it being easy to get started, Gartner warns that optimal use may be a challenge for even those with a lot of expertise.

On the pricing front Gartner said that though AWS is perceived as a cost leader, and a key reference point for pricing in the market, “it is not eager to be the lowest-cost bidder in a competitive situation,” and the granular pricing structure is described as complex.

The full report can be found here. 

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