Cloud Wars IBM vs Microsoft vs Amazon vs Google – Part 1 Overview

Looking back and 2017 there has not been as much activity as I’ve planned on my blog and one of the main reasons for this is because I have been quite caught up in work. Again one of the main reasons is because my work takes me back and forth between multiple products, platforms and customer cases. It can be from a DevOps project on Azure, to IoT project on GCP to a DR solution on IBM and a HPC setup on AWS. So after plunging into most of these platforms I’ve decided to start my blog with 2018 on some fresh perspectives on the major cloud platforms and focus on their strengths and weaknesses. So this post will reflect my personal experiences with the platform and showing some of the core capabilities, since one of the most frequent questions I get at work is “Where do I start? and why should I choose X over Y?”

I like to compare Cloud Platforms to cars. Most of them can drive you from Place A to B, but all models have different exterior and comfort levels and maybe seven seats in the car, and some have a faster and stronger engine. So the point is that most platforms provide most of the same services, some have a better quality, different prices and different options. So like for instance all the four vendors provide a simliar form of Cloud orchestration language such as Cloud Deployment Manager, Azure Resource Manager, Cloud Formation and IBM Cloud Schematics


So let us start of this post series with an overview of the four major cloud platform on the market. (Also note that I’ve been part on the technical comparison on the major cloud platform on which you can see here
–> and ill get back into a more technical comparison on part two of this blog series and focus a bit more into some different levels such as IaaS/Bare-Metal, Identity, PaaS, Bigdata & IoT, ML and Containers.

IBM Cloud:

Historically IBM has been focusing a lot on IaaS services, with its Softlayer platform, which has been IBM’s public cloud offering on Iaas and bare-metal offerings. On the other hand, IBM has been building up Bluemix as well which has been focusing on the PaaS services which is based upon CloudFoundry. This is also where ML/AI service Watson has its home as well. The problem is that Public Cloud on IBM has been available two different platforms with Bluemix and Softlayer, and also IBM has multiple regions where they other both but some places where they only offered IaaS and not the other. This has been really confusing at times, and has been noticied by Gartner as well since they haven’t had the complete service offering compared to the others. IBM is now focusing a lot on merging these two platforms to provide all cloud functionality from what is now called IBM Cloud.

IBM unlike the other competitors when it comes to PaaS services is mostly building their own services using third party open-source products. Like for instance  the serverless feature in IBM is based upon Apache OpenWhisk unlike Azure which as Functions, Amazon which has Lambda and so on which are closed. Also they have other IaaS options based upon VMware and Veeam for instance where they are a lot further in the race against AWS, and last but not least their underlying orchestration tool for infrastructure as code is based upon Terraform.

Also one of the things I value when working with a platform is the community around it, especially on stack overflow and other social media channels such as Twitter and such, unfortunately IBM has the smallest community
based upon statistics I’ve seen on Stackoverflow, Social media and looking at meetups in the Nordics.

When it comes to PaaS Services even if IBM is focusing alot on reusing open-source platforms such as CloudFoundry also they are standardizing on Kubernetes, they are nowhere the same functionality offerings as the others in the marked. The core
strength of IBM Cloud at the moment as I see it is the IaaS/Bare-metal and VMware offering that they have. One of the core strengths they also have is the focus on Private Cloud with their IBM Private Cloud solution where they can provide a scale able PaaS solution for on-premises solutions.

Google Cloud Platform:

An example of Google with Google Cloud Shell
To be honest I haven’t done a lot of work on GCP before I started working with it about 1,5 year ago, and what I see is that Google’s cloud platform is pretty similar to their search engine, focus on ease of use and speed.
Also I’ve seen that in those cases I’ve been working on GCP, it has come out as the cheapest option between the four vendors, also that Google offers the fastest (compute, storage, network) infrastructure as well, but don’t take my word for it, see for yourself –>

Also Google offers the most flexible IaaS offering, where we can define custom VM instances, any type of disk configuration and we can also use Skylake processors and multiple GPU offerings as well. So I can easily say that Google has the most impressive core infrastructure. However Google does not have any bare metal offerings such as IBM has with Softlayer, and also compared with Microsoft and IBM, Google has no private cloud offering and have therefore went into a partnership with Nutanix in order to bridge the gap –> and they have limited support and integrations with on-premises infrastructure. Then again this allows them to focus entirely on their public cloud offering.

Also Google is missing some of the PaaS services compared to what AWS and Azure is providing. I think that Google’s strategy is not to provide a bunch of different PaaS services which can overlap, but to streamline on a few selected services. Some serviecs that Google provide a quite unique like for instance BigQuery which is one my favorite services! Now I also belive that one of the “weaknesses” that Google currently has, is the ecosystem surrouding it. Many third party companies and vendors today support or have one form of integration or support with AWS and Azure, but not with Google (and the same goes with IBM)

Another thing with Google is the community. Unlike IBM I see there is a lot more meetups in the Nordics in particular and many partners focusing on it as well, but little activity on social media.The last thing I want to mention is since Google is the home of Kubernetes they also have the best managed container engine for it on GCP, but unlike Azure for instance they do not have support for other orchestration frameworks such as Swarm or DC/OS as a service. Also with the release of Azure Container Instances and AWS Fargate now released into the wild as well which focuses more on containers itself and now on managing a cluster consisting of a set of virtual machines underneath changes the game a little, so I hope that Google will release something here soon.

Microsoft Azure

So much has happened in Azure the last year, they have announced multiple new regions (which makes Microsoft the one vendor with the most regions, but not the largest) to cover more ground. We can also see based upon all the announcements from Microsoft Ignite is that their core focus in Azure, Azure and Azure moving forward, with little to no announcements around their current private cloud core products. Also more focus has shifted into Private/Public Cloud offerings with Azure Stack as well.

Microsoft now provides an impressive list of virtual machine instances (however not as flexible and scale able as the other vendors) and a impressive list of different PaaS services and that they have done a great job on the container focus in Azure. Based upon all the announcements from 2017, I believe that Microsoft has done the largest investment into containers & devops features of the four vendors. Microsoft is also building close integrations with existing software that they sell to customers today to make it east for them to move resources to Microsoft Azure moving forward, and for some customers make it the only logical choice. I can also see based upon ETL tools that they provide to make it easy for customers to move and transform data from multiple sources to Microsoft Azure. Also that Microsoft in my opinion has the best visualization options with PowerBI.

Of the 4 vendors, I see that Microsoft is most focused on the regular infrastructure customers, where Azure provides easy support for delivering backup services for IaaS and on-prem with integrates directly with Hyper-V and VMware, and also migration tools which makes it easy to migrate workloads from on-prem or other cloud providers into Azure, and with all the different integrations options with Azure AD as well and building new features such as new modern version of RDS, SQL Server with Stretched database and other scenarios such as Hybrid Active Directory, makes Azure a strong player in that market for hybrid cloud scenarios, both from pure IaaS, Big Data and Identity options as well. Lastly Microsoft has also released Azure Stack where they try to bring the Azure ecosystem to on-premises workloads as well, which makes Azure even more the logical choice when a customer wants to move to public cloud.

One of the downsides with Azure is that performance is not their key asset on certain features, and also limited options on certain areas on IaaS makes it somewhat difficult at times. Might be that they are focusing to much on adding value add services that they are forgetting to focus on the underlying platform itself.

Amazon Web Services
Amazon is the clear market leader when it comes to public cloud. Even if they do not have the most regions, they still have the largest market share. Looking at the technical capabilities and also the range of different PaaS features, most of the others are nowhere near when it comes to the PaaS ecosystem they have, for instance just looking at Amazon RDS and Amazon S3 and how extensive the service capability is. Also having customers such as Netflix using their cloud platform is a good pretty statement of their status. What I also see on Amazon since they have spent the long time in this marketspace is the community around it. Looking at all the user-group and meetups and different communities on AWS it is huge! Also I forgot to mention is that Amazon is ranked as the clear market leader in both IaaS and Storage in the Gartner magic quadrant. Also what I often see is that most third party vendors (if they support cloud or have some form of cloud integration) you can bet 10$ that it is mostly integration with AWS.

One of the things I’ve also noticed at Re:Invent is there was a high focus on DevOps and Containers with support for Kubernetes and AWS Fargate (Which is focusing on Container instances instead of a managed container cluster) but also on the partnership with VMware which will now allow customers to provision VMware ESXi hosts running on AWS infrastructure (Combining the market leader in private cloud and public clouds) which is a strong statement when it comes to hybrid cloud. Still a bit behind IBM especially on the VMware support and worldwide availability. Also one of the large focus areas in AWS was also on machine learning capabilities and media services (Which mostly has been services which Azure have had the upperhand on) 

One of the downsides of AWS has so far been the lacking interest for hybrid or private and some limited offering for on-prem solutions (one of the features is the storage gateway which)

Other ramblings
So that was a short introduction on some of the core strengts and weaknesses when it comes to the four vendors. Looking at the community and ecosystem on the vendors there is no denying that the largest is focused on AWS. This is just a screenshot from the stackoverflow developer report from last year. Showing AWS and Azure in the top 10 of categories on questions asked.


Also showing all the threads on reddit, seems like there is alot more activity focused on AWS then on the other providers as well.


But of course I have focused a bit too much on the IaaS and PaaS offerings on a cloud provider, there is also no denying that the close integration between a cloud provider and other SaaS offerings to provide a consistent Identity and access control across the solutions is something that Microsoft and Google especially are quite good that. For instance having one account to access Collaboration tools and with the Cloud Platform. So this has been a somewhat short introduction to the Public Cloud Vendors and some of my experience on these, I would also love to get any feedback on your own experinces on these platforms and your take on it, the next blog in the series will focus a bit more in-depth on IaaS and look a bit more in details on the differences between the vendors.




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