Rather than following blindly, AWS competitors are blazing their own trails.
Source: David Wyatt
The short answer to the titular question is no. A longer answer is maybe, but not anytime soon. Amazon Web Services needed to develop its own flavor of PaaS, the cleverly named Elastic Beanstalk, because, despite big-name enterprise customers such as Netflix and Eli Lilly, AWS still very much focuses on developers. Just look at its recent foray into the mobile world with Android and iOS SDKs and its connection with Amazon.com’s Android app store. In part, AWS’s developer focus is of necessity; it doesn’t have a legacy hosting business to serve more-traditional business customers.
AWS’s IaaS competitors, however, can distinguish themselves by innovating at this intersection of cloud computing and dedicated infrastructure. The collection of companies below doesn’t begin to cover the entirety of those offering both multitenant and dedicated cloud servers; pretty much every hosting firm, from AT&T to SoftLayer is doing the same. But GoGrid, Rackspace Cloud and Joyent are more often mentioned in the same breath with AWS, and they need to compete directly with it.
GoGrid might actually be the innovation leader in terms of fusing its dedicated hosting business with its cloud computing business. In 2008, it launched its Cloud Connect program (since renamed Hybrid Hosting) that lets customers deploy dedicated servers and connect them to GoGrid cloud servers via a private network. It was a natural move considering GoGrid’s roots as a part of managed hosting provider ServePath (since rolled into the GoGrid portfolio as the Dedicated Servers offering).
This week, GoGrid took its hybrid approach a step further by announcing dedicated infrastructure — servers, network, management software, etc. — as a cloud service. This means pay-per-use billing, automated scaling up and down, access to the GoGrid Exchange partner ecosystem and everything else that comes along with GoGrid’s standard multitenant cloud servers. It’s a big deal because GoGrid’s customer base of service providers and more-traditional businesses want to leverage — or even resell — GoGrid’s cloud capabilities, but they want to do so in the most-secure manner possible. As GoGrid CEO John Keagy told me, the company is working on a PaaS offering, but the primary focus is “where the available market is” now.
Rackspace’s cloud division is a step behind GoGrid in terms of blurring the lines between managed hosting and cloud computing, but it’s making progress. Rackspace recently announced its Cloud Connect offering that, like the GoGrid offering once bearing the same name, lets customers deploy hybrid cloud environments comprised of dedicated managed servers and shared cloud servers. Additionally, Rackspace is now offering Cloud Servers with a Managed Service Level, which brings the company’s experience in managing customer environments into the traditionally self-service cloud computing model.
There’s also Rackspace’s leadership role in the fast-moving OpenStack project. Rackspace knows it’s not a software company, so it’s working with the cloud-developer community to create a superior — and open source — cloud platform for IaaS and storage. It’s also looking for ways to monetize OpenStack; offering paid support services would be a natural fit because support is the name of the game in managed hosting. It’s essentially the Red Hat business model applied to provider-scale data centers, and Rackspace’s Jonathan Bryce didn’t deny the possibility when we spoke recently about Internap’s inaugural OpenStack-based storage cloud.
Joyent doesn’t have a managed hosting business like GoGrid and Rackspace, but it is differentiating itself by catering to conservative customers that want to build private clouds. Joyent’s SmartDataCenter software brings the Joyent public-cloud experience in-house, complete with IaaS and PaaS capabilities. As far as I know, it’s the only cloud provider actually selling its secret sauce to individual companies and service providers to run on their own infrastructure, and it certainly isn’t the only company pushing cloud software. Amazon CTO Werner Vogels famously called on-premise clouds “false clouds,” but no one selling them is going to complain if they’re closing big deals.
What’s noteworthy to me is that these three companies seem to have chosen to compete by leveraging their own strengths instead of trying keep up with AWS. Such strategies probably won’t result in sheer user numbers comparable to AWS, but they should result in bigger deals and plenty of long-term business.