Counting Clouds: Top Vendors, Innovations and the Bright Future Ahead

Mike Allen
February 20, 2014

"Cloud computing, no longer nascent and well on its way out of the hype cycle stratosphere, continues to indicate that the sky's the limit. The game-changing technological platform has helped organizations in historically tech-averse industries become information- and application-centric, while its infrastructure and storage help innumerable startups get off the ground. The ""as-a-service"" approach continues to explore new uses and win support, while the data center landscape has been transformed by cloud connections.

We'll spare you the ""dark clouds ahead"" metaphors, because overall the cloud computing industry is headed for a bonanza. Cloud-related spending is expected to triple between 2011 and 2017, according to IHS Technology, hitting $235.1 billion by the latter year. In 2014 alone, spending on cloud infrastructure and services is projected to rise 20 percent, from $145.2 billion in 2013 to $174.2 billion by the end of this year.

For some cloud providers, however, the outlook does portend some measure of doom, with Gartner projections that 25 percent of cloud providers will see their businesses disappear into thin air by 2015. Of course, many of these will no longer be unique entities simply by the virtue of their consolidation, as there is a lot of cloud demand to go around. However, cloud businesses that lack the service - or service-level agreements - of their more confident competitors could see themselves frozen out of enterprise cloud spending.

Let's look at a few ways to evaluate the directions in which the cloud is moving. By understanding the different types of service features enticing adopters and the lingering concerns about life in the cloud, budding service providers and potential users alike can gain a better grasp on the types of market inefficiencies that could use a fresh approach. It can also help enterprise decision makers ensure that their cloud and IT dollars are going to a provider positioned for success. CRN's list of the top cloud providers in various categories can provide additional insight into the strategies that drive successful cloud services providers

Cloud Market Saturation Allows Clients to be Choosy
There are a lot of cloud options out there. This is a double-edged sword for cloud users. On the one hand, more competition is great for creating more innovation, customer service and reasonable pricing. On the other hand, the sheer number of options can be intimidating. According to The Whir, different user requirements and needs will play a large role in the types of cloud services organizations seek. Risk concerns may convince customers that large vendors offer more security, while more attractive pricing models can elevate a smaller provider's case. Niche appeal is also a factor, especially for organizations concerned with compliance, as well as individuals or small companies with specific needs.

Consolidation is expected to be the name of the game over the next three years, with acquisitions happening much more frequently than bankruptcy. Obviously, many more companies expect to be doing the acquiring rather than being purchased themselves, according to The Whir, which will simply not be the case. The consolidation phenomena will likely pick up speed over the remainder of the year, even as companies with large footholds in other industries dip their enterprise toes into the cloud services pool.

Who Are the Top Cloud Providers?
All cloud vendors are not created equal. Right down to its name, the cloud has always been a buzzword-heavy field, with thought leaders and service providers regularly conjuring up new terms and jargon to describe exactly what is going on. As with any slang-centric phenomena, some cloud terms describe productive uses of the technology, while others are used by pretenders as a smokescreen for scant offerings. CRN has published its ""100 Coolest Cloud Computing Vendors"" since the cloud's nascent stages, way back in the primitive time of 2010. Over its lifetime, the report has served as a beacon for cloud solutions providers and potential buyers to navigate through the cloud marketplace.

The CRN list highlights 20 leaders in five cloud categories: Platforms, infrastructure, storage, software and security. Instead of merely listing the largest or highest-earning performer in each category, the list looks to combine those factors with factors like industry perception and growth potential. Among those recognized are cloud trailblazers and relative newbies, massive enterprises and small outfits. They all offer significant insight into the progress of the cloud. While they don't rank companies beyond declaring a top 20, even looking at the alphabetical first on each list offers an instructive microcosm of the types of companies making waves.
Platform: Apprenda: '‹Boasting a 225 percent sales growth in 2013, Apprenda was one of the major benefactors of growing interest in platform-as-a-service, a more centralized, manageable cloud solution that rippled through many enterprises last year. Thirteen top financial institutions now leverage the Clifton Park, N.Y.-based company's platform, including JPMorgan Chase, which garnered a 700 percent increase in developer productivity and a 300 percent rise in infrastructure utilization efficiency with Apprenda.
Infrastructure: Amazon Web Services: In existence since 2006, AWS has had a jump on many industry rivals and remains the dominant force in infrastructure-as-a-service. It has served as a model for other tech titans developing diverse IT ecosystems. AWS managed infrastructure accounts for about 1 percent of all Internet consumer traffic at all times on average, according to DeepField. Its next step is the virtual desktop.
Storage: Acronis: Founded in 2002, the Massachusetts-based storage and backup management company rode products such as its Backup & Recovery 11.5 system to a sterling reputation for handling complicated enterprise data security and continuity requirements. Reflecting the converged nature of IT platforms and networks in today's enterprise, its solutions cover protection at the file and system level for cloud, physical and virtual environments.
Software: Acumatica: '‹The company has only been around since 2007, but doubled its partner roster in 2013 on the way to 350 percent revenue growth. Its cloud-based enterprise resource planning systems have found more footing as supply chain management and operations shift to the cloud.
Security: Adallom: Cloud security continues to be the target of concern and hand-wringing, even in 2014. Vendors like Adallom have developed cloud-centric security solutions that monitor and analyze user activity to identify potential threats and block suspicious activity. They can even learn behaviors and become smarter over time, effectively creating security that can scale in a way similar to the rest of the cloud.

What Does the Future Hold?
As evidenced by many of the companies holding CRN's top cloud spots, the cloud is rapidly becoming a linchpin of a company's varied service platform. More enterprises are including the cloud alongside dynamic hardware, software and infrastructure packages. Companies in industries threatened by the digitization and mobilization of the workforce are augmenting their current products with the cloud, often through reselling and white-label cloud arrangements.

Consider the wireless industry, which IHS Technology highlighted as having a prime opportunity to augment their business offerings and overall value. The cloud could help them leverage big data and analytics tools to better understand customers on a personal level, which can initiate the use of differentiated service packages. This can help reduce churn. Many wireless providers have lagged behind Internet titans like Amazon and Google, but their existing infrastructure positions them to offer dynamic cloud packages if they should so choose."



    Mike Allen

    "Cloud computing, no longer nascent and well on its way out of the hype cycle stratosphere, continues to indicate that the sky's the limit. The game-changing technological platform has helped organizations in historically tech-averse industries become information- and application-centric, while its infrastructure and storage help innumerable startups get off the ...