2012: The Year of the Public Cloud

After years of watching airport billboards promoting non-existence clouds, it looks like 2012 will finally be the start of the real Battle for the Public Cloud. Here is my handicap guide to the key contestants in the upcoming battle:

With its leading position in the market and the momentum of an M1 tank, Amazon remains the odds on favorite. They have defined the public cloud category, and will almost certainly retain a competitive edge in 2012. Their strength and weakness may be in the age of their cloud, which has allowed them to deliver disruptive innovations, but also has them supporting a large capital investment of diverse and heterogeneous hardware. While Amazon is the only major player with an offering that includes compute, block storage and object storage, this will change in early 2012. While some vendors are fighting for market share, Amazon is on a messianic mission to change the world.

Rackspace’s open source strategy was risky, bold and is now proving to be disruptive, with major vendors such as HP and Dell following their lead. In many ways this is reminiscent of the battle between Apple and IBM clones in the 1980s, with Amazon betting on a closed strategy that maintains tight control over user experience, and Rackspace betting on an open platform. In Rackspace’s favor is their corporate customer-first DNA, and their deep experience in delivering infrastructure services. With its upcoming upgrade to the latest version of OpenStack, and launch of a block store, Rackspace will be a tough competitor to beat.

Most analysts assume IBM is a laggard in the cloud, with a Wizard of Oz strategy promoting “private” clouds to maintain their services dominance. But in truth, IBM has a compelling public cloud offer, with feature rich compute and a block storage. They also recently announced a relationship with Nirvanix to round out their cloud offer with an object store. They may be the only 100 year old runner on the track, but they also carry with them the experience of a company that has successfully navigated every disruptive technology since the advent of the airplane. With enterprise DNA and a strong services organization, they are a competitor to watch.

With turmoil in its executive ranks, HP has been quiet on its public cloud. But the word on the street is their OpenStack cloud is in beta, with a possible launch next year. The expected initial offer is purported to include complete compute, block storage and object storage offerings. Like IBM, HP understands the enterprise, and has a long history in managing disruptive innovation within its Fortune 100 organization structure. In the 1980s, HP incubated an inferior printer technology called inkjet, rather than have it diluted in its then successful laser division. They seem to be taking a similar approach to their public cloud, with the hope of achieving similar results.

I’ve been a little hard on Microsoft Azure since spending 2+ hours installing 1+GB of software to build a “Hello World” application on their cloud. Yes I know there is a Java and Ruby SDK now - but is anyone actually using it? I think Microsoft missed the mark with their initial launch of Azure by over focusing on PaaS and maintaining Windows hegemony. But Microsoft has a long history of doggedly iterating their offerings to market leadership, and some of their recent moves suggest they are still in this race. I’ve said in the past the cloud is all about software, and no competitor has better software DNA than Microsoft. Now if only they could recapture some of their former culture of risk-taking, they will have a chance at being a leader in the public cloud.

Few companies have a better brand, corporate history, and customer list to dominate the public cloud than Dell. Unfortunately, Dell may be the only major vendor at risk of not having a public cloud offering in 2012. They have generated a lot of moves in private clouds, but little in the way of a public cloud. Although their chances may be slightly dimmed, I wouldn’t count my old alma mater out yet. My unsolicited advice: take a page from HP’s history and incubate the public cloud, hiring top external high tech talent at all levels in the organization. Come on Dell, it’s now or never for the public cloud.

Everyone Else
So what about Google? Facebook? Verizon? EMC? Others?

Google seems to have lost its way in Paas, and Facebook has single-handedly made online social networking more complex than actual social networking. Verizon could be a sleeper, but not sure I see their strategy yet; and EMC has unique DNA for a vertical cloud play when they are ready.

And the Winner Is...
And the winner for the public cloud is ...(drum roll and theme song from Chariots of Fire please)... us. Yes, we are all the winners of the coming Battle for the Public Cloud. The diversity of available clouds in 2012 will give us a multitude of options at competitive prices. The increased competition will also drive a higher rate of innovation, making available to us new services and features for use in our applications.

In the words of Winston Churchill, 2012 is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end - but is rather the end of the beginning of the era of public cloud.

Let the race begin.