Every industry and market is stratified, typically into the few major players, a larger group of differentiated mid-market competitors, and thousands of others vying for a piece of the pie. The IaaS market is no different.
Provider names at the top of the pyramid are as well-known as McDonald’s is in the fast food industry. Most were already major companies before entering the IT infrastructure and cloud service business. One of the biggest public cloud providers reports billions of dollars in revenue from the cloud portion of its business as “North America, Other.”
Mid-tier providers tend to be more “pure play” companies, beginning with data center services and/or cloud and growing from there by market, capability and service expansions and acquisitions.
The third layer defies clear categorization. Often, technology, product and market disruption in the form of new innovations originate from here. It’s the mosh pit of the industry in a good way.
Deciding which competitor or competitors will provide “the best deal” can be a simple decision for some and arduous for others.
The big guys have long been competing aggressively on price at the expense of flexibility, communication and accessibility by customers. Now that IaaS and other models have matured and the marketplace is less in awe of the cloud concept, their big challenge is to not upset the status quo, but to incrementally add options and features that will attract new customers (two-thirds of all workloads still run inside the walls of corporate data centers) and get existing customers to spend more. It’s been working quite well.
It’s surprising, though, how much responsibility for the business relationship with a mega-provider falls on the shoulders of the customer. One industry blogger cautioned that a customer must really know her/his stuff when comparing prices for services from one public cloud market leader to another. Pricing depends on a range of factors such as instance type (which come with pre-defined sizes and performance capabilities), resource requirements, expected utilization, location, reservation length, type of storage and type of the guest operating system, among others. Before sitting down at the keyboard to provision services, you need to figure out:
- Which instance types are the right matches for your VMs?
- What are the resource tradeoffs when there isn’t an exact match?
- Where should the instances be located?
- What if no match is found?
- What happens if your mix of VMs changes?
- How does the pricing change if you change location, storage type, or other options?
Even if only half accurate, what stands out from this list is an inflexibility to give customers latitude to provision what works best for them, one-sided compromise and an unclear picture into what your true costs will ultimately be and for how long.
Clearly, this is acceptable to many people given the market success of these firms. However, more than a few Peak 10 customers started down that road, only to discover that big providers were resource-poor when it came to customer assistance, interaction, access to expertise and strategic planning, in addition to force-fitting them into boxes of one-size-fits-all services.
While some mid-tier IaaS providers have modelled their business approach after the mega-cloud providers, others have taken their cues from the lack of collaboration, interaction and specialization common among big companies. These consultative providers have engineered products and services portfolios and created organizations of people and skills that will flex and adapt to customer requirements, not the other way around.
The thousands of smaller players can be anything from innovated specialists with point products in a technology niche to a local shop with limited resources and skills to everything in between. Complete solutions tend not to be their thing, being better suited to address specific portions of cloud computing with little range beyond that. In issues of monitoring tools, back up or security, for example, they may have exactly what you need. Beware of issues with interoperability within your infrastructure.
As the advantages of cloud computing increase almost daily, so does the complexity of engineering the optimum combination and balance of product, services and skills on a continuing basis. Some IT shops will prefer complete control over their cloud environment. Others will want advice or a helping hand now and then. Some will rely heavily on their provider for all of their IT requirements.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, there is no denying the price is important, even if getting to a clear, bottom line can be frustrating. As important as price is, it provides a skewed and incomplete measure of value. What is it worth to be able to call your provider at 3:00 a.m. to troubleshoot your server for you, or to have your provider say that your cloud resources are underutilized and you should scale back? When you need that and get it for the asking, it’s priceless.