Cloud Computing, Part 2: A Who’s Who

Part 1 of this three-part series discusses the fuzziness — or the flexibility, depending on one’s point of view — of the definition of “cloud computing.”

There have been a number of attempts to size the cloud computing market. The most eye-popping figure, arguably, is from Merrill Lynch. It has famously said that by 2011, the cloud computing market will reach US$160 billion, with applications for business and productivity services worth about $95 billion.

Whether or not this is a realistic projection — and there are many who contend it is not — it is clear that there is a vendor rush to enter the space. Companies including Microsoft, Amazon, Google, IBM and Salesforce.com have introduced cloud offerings.

So have a myriad of smaller, best-of-breed vendors. To be sure, these firms are usually targeting a more-defined user group or functional area. Still, companies that are seeking to outsource their IT operations should include them for consideration, Shane Aubel, cofounder of Accent Global System Architects, told the E-Commerce Times. Especially if a firm wants to put just one application in the cloud, going with a best-of-breed vendor is usually the smarter route, he said.

Along the same lines, a company might want to avoid a vendor that is trying to be all things to all clients. “Look at what each vendor specializes in, and go with that focus,” Aubel advised. “Folks are stacking up very differently, depending on what they are interested in.”

Microsoft, for instance, is emphasizing its development of cloud-related services. Dell is focused on the point of sale. Amazon and Google offer clear-cut services for business consumers.

Bigger Is Better?

Although a company may eventually decide that Microsoft or IBM is the best fit for its needs, it shouldn’t assume from the outset that a large, recognizable provider is automatically a better choice, Mike Eaton, CEO at Cloudworks, told the E-Commerce Times. “A prospective company should give some consideration to their own business, its strengths and needs — and how well the prospective vendor fits those needs. In other words, what are you good at, and is the vendor good at it as well?”

Using Amazon’s cloud computing services would be a very good fit for an online retailer, for example, since Amazon arguably put the industry on the map. “An e-tailer company wouldn’t necessarily look to AT&T or Verizon for cloud computing, because that is not what they are known for,” Eaton said.

Verizon and AT&T are experts in connectivity. “If that is most important to you, then they would be a good fit,” Eaton continued, “but I would then question whether they are culturally prepared to deal with applications support, especially for a small firm. That is a different matter altogether than connectivity, and these companies are not necessarily known for customer service.”

One conclusion to draw, then, is that these firms would be good for any service that does not require a high-touch, or very interactive, relationship.

With those admittedly broad rules of the road in place, following is a sampling of some of the larger vendors and the areas in which they specialize.

Market Maker

Starting with Google’s offerings not only make sense, it is also only fair. The company all but put cloud computing on the map with consumers, thanks to its ubiquitous search capability.

Its history and performance in the space is now its core competency — not to mention its scale.

“We are offering a massive infrastructure that can power hundreds of millions of users,” Google Apps Product Manager Rishi Chandra told the E-Commerce Times.

“Because we have grown in this environment, we believe we have the most reliable, secure, robust infrastructure on the Web,” Chandra added.

Windows Shop

Last month, Microsoft announced a large-scale cloud computing initiative that focused around Windows Azure, the software architecture that runs in Microsoft’s data centers. Utility services that allow developers to write different types of applications are also part of the mix. So are data storage services, and services that coordinate application usage and synchronize data between Microsoft’s data centers, local computers and remote or mobile devices.

If you are a classic Windows shop, Azure makes sense, Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu told the E-Commerce Times. “Other providers, such as Amazon, are starting to offer Windows — but Microsoft, it hardly needs to be said, has a core competency with it.”

IBM also has an extensive offering that includes its own cloud services portfolio, services to help independent software vendors design, build, deliver and market their own cloud services, and integration services for companies that wish to weave these technologies into their existing IT infrastructure.

CRM Shop

Companies most interested in putting CRM and CRM-related functionality in the cloud may want to consider Salesforce.com’s ever-growing menu offerings. Earlier this week, it introduced Force.com Sites, which allows users to harness the applications available on Force.com and use them to run their Web sites in Salesforce.com’s cloud.

One reason to opt for Salesforce.com is that it has a proven track record, Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research, told the E-Commerce Times. “Even if it is new to cloud computing, a customer knows what it is getting with Salesforce.com because of its reputation in the marketplace.”

Some Best-of-Breed Options

Among the many best-of-breed vendors operating in the cloud are business intelligence vendor Panorama Software, which recently introduced PowerApps strategy, a cloud computing analytics engine for BI applications.

F-Secure uses cloud computing to offer several types of security applications including F-Secure DeepGuard 2.0.

Another industry-specific example is Cirrhus9. Although it focuses on the life science industry, its application can be used in other fields, according to the company. Cirrhus9 has configured a suite of open source products, including e-mail, document-sharing and learning management.

Cloud Computing, Part 1: Some Breaks in the Fog

Cloud Computing, Part 3: SLA Spirit in the Sky

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