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Amazon in the crosshairs of Google and Microsoft

It's been a busy past few weeks for Amazon and its competitors.

At the recent Google I/O Conference in California, the leading Internet search company made two moves that seem to be in direct competition with the leading e-commerce and cloud provider: Amazon.

On the hardware end, Google's Nexus 7 tablet seems squarely aimed at not the leading tablet on the market, the Apple iPad, but rather the cheaper Kindle Fire, made by Amazon.

Meanwhile, up in the clouds, Google is making an equally aggressive play targeting Amazon Web Service customers with the announcement of Google Compute Engine (GCE), an infrastructure-as-a-service offering that goes head-to-head with AWS's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). The Linux virtual machines that make up GCE also complement Google App Engine (GAE), the company's platform as a service (PaaS), where developers can build and host customized applications.

"Google is hoping to sneak developers away from AWS by offering them compute in the same place they get access to GAE and other tools, which are quite popular," says Carl Brooks, an analyst at Tier1 Research and the 451 Group.

The moves from Google follow announcements made by Microsoft, when the tech titan released its own tablet, named Surface, and extended an infrastructure-as-a-service offering on top of its Azure platform. To cap it all off, AWS suffered a service disruption caused by an electrical storm and ensuing power outage.

The moves add up to a heating of the cloud marketplace, and vendors increasingly offering products and services aimed at AWS's stronghold. "The market and the various technologies are still immature and there is a lot of room to move for tech firms," Brooks says.

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Typical of many Google product rollouts, the Compute Engine offering is available only in preview mode for select users. But pricing and technical specifications seem to put it in competition with AWS. A single virtual core from GCE comes with 3.25GB of memory with 420GB of local disk space for $0.145 per hour. Amazon's smallest Linux instance comes with 1.7GB of memory and 160GB of local storage for $0.08 per hour. For larger instances, GCE's eight-core offering comes with 30GB of memory and 2x1770GB of local storage for $1.16 per hour. AWS's extra-large instance comes with 15GB, 1690GB of local disk space and is priced at $0.64 per hour. Microsoft Azure's base-level VMs start at $0.013 per hour, but only include 768MB of RAM. Networking fees are extra for each of the services.

AWS already has a broad spectrum of supporting capabilities on its cloud platform, such as Simple Storage Service (S3), database services, such as Dynamo DB and Relational Database Service (RDS), as well as high-performance computing and application hosting. To build out the feature set in the Compute Engine, Google has also inked partnerships with other cloud providers to offer services that will give it standing against AWS. Cloud automation and migration tools such as Puppet Labs, RightScale, Opscode and CliQr were announced as initial Google partners, while MapR, a big data analytics tool, and Numerate, which specializes in cloud computing for the biotechnology industry, were also named as partners.

Perhaps as important as integration with third-party apps is the common Google platform that both the PaaS and IaaS offering share. That consistency of platforms has its advantages, says Forrester analyst James Staten. "It's easier and more cost effective to put more apps [with the same vendor]," Staten says, especially if the applications on the PaaS layer rely heavily on databases or compute power.

Google isn't the only company that's made a push into the infrastructure space. Microsoft made a similar move just weeks before Google's announcement, extending Linux and Windows virtual machines for rent to its Azure PaaS offering. "For Microsoft and Google it's an acknowledgement that PaaS alone isn't working and they need to provide the base IaaS to make their cloud platforms more appealing to enterprise buyers," Staten says.

Combined, the news from Google and Microsoft mark two major new entrants into the IaaS space that has thus far been dominated by AWS, with a variety of other players vying for market share as well, most notably Rackspace, which has been pushing its OpenStack cloud building project as an open source alternative to AWS. Now, it seems consumers have a much wider range of choices as an alternative to AWS. The question is, can any of them topple AWS's leading role?

Staten says Azure could have a shot given its massive partner ecosystem and its adoption and use in the enterprise already. Microsoft has an opportunity to convert its enterprise customers and partners into the Azure ecosystem, which is a space AWS has not fully cracked yet. "Microsoft hasn't really turned that community on to its cloud services," Staten says. "If it can, and hold them loyal, Azure could certainly threaten AWS."

Brooks, the Tier1 researcher, says Google is still a long way off from that. "That will be an interesting question in about two to three years," he says. "Even the multiple partial outages at AWS over the last few weeks won't hurt their standing or their adoption rates. They're more or less untouchable."

The caveat, though, is that cloud is still very much in its early days, which means there could be enough market share for everyone to go around.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.


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