Cloud service providers have become increasingly popular, as evidenced by the global market’s explosive growth, with an estimated value of $386.97 billion USD in 2021 and an expected CAGR growth rate of more than 15% between 2022 and 2030.
With many vendors and cloud platform services across dozens of categories, it’s become especially difficult for businesses to choose the right cloud service provider. This guide will not only explain what cloud service providers are, but will also cover top vendors, benefits of the cloud, and more.
- Amazon Web Services
- Google Cloud Platform
- HPE GreenLake
- IBM Cloud
- What is a Cloud Service Provider?
- How to Choose a Cloud Service Provider
- Benefits of Cloud Computing
- Private Cloud vs. Public Cloud
- Getting a Clearer Picture in a Crowded Cloud Market
Top Cloud Service Providers
We’ve compiled a list of the top cloud service vendors, listed in alphabetical order, with information regarding their key features, pros, cons, and pricing.
Alibaba Cloud is the largest China-based cloud provider, offering a wide range of products and services in more than 200 countries around the world.
- Broad array of features and services
- Vast knowledge and documentation base
- Multilingual support
- Interface learning curve for non-technical users
- Some necessary coding knowledge
- Lack of flexibility for running some services and applications
Alibaba Cloud offers a high-value free trial that gives customers adequate time and flexibility to try out its features. Upon adopting Alibaba Cloud, the available services are priced on a pay-as-you-go model, with many tools even offered free of charge. As such, Alibaba Cloud’s modular flexibility makes it a great solution for businesses of various sizes.
Amazon Web Services
A consistent leader in Gartner’s magic quadrant, Amazon Web Services (AWS) dominates the U.S. cloud market. Small businesses and enterprises alike use AWS as their cloud service provider, with more than 200 IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS cloud services available globally.
Security is a main priority for AWS, illustrated by its offers of more than 40 compliance certifications. And to meet the needs of customers who aren’t ready to do away with legacy systems or on-premises data centers, AWS has added VMware Cloud as a virtualization solution that bridges traditional and cloud cloud data management models.
- Centralized billing and management
- Easy implementation
- Flexible capacity management
- Global availability
- Breadth of features
- Knowledgeable customer support
- Extensive APIs, tools, and resources
- Integrations with broad network of partners
- High scalability and flexibility
- Provides centralized and flexible billing for numerous cloud services
- Complicated pricing structure
- Potential tool creep can lead to inflated costs
- No trial period before committing to AWS
- Lack of compatibility with on-premises cloud environments
AWS takes a pay-as-you-go approach, so you only pay for the services you use without getting locked into a contract or licensing periods. If you cancel a service, AWS does not charge a termination fee. Though AWS offers a pricing calculator, it requires users to enter information that, at best, gives them a rough estimate of services they would actually need.
Microsoft Azure provides hundreds of services, including cloud-based versions of its legacy products and services, such as Office 365 and Power BI. Customers with traditional on-premises technology management appreciate Azure’s migration flexibility and support with Azure Stack, for example.
Azure also offers 90 compliance certifications designed for governmental, regional, global, and industry-specific uses.
- Frequent platform updates
- Global availability
- Easy to set up and manage
- Consistency across cloud environments
- Strong hybrid cloud services
- Breadth of cloud services, applications, and enterprise SaaS tools
- Integration between PaaS and Azure’s public cloud
- User-friendly interface
- Initial learning curve
- Complicated pricing and licensing plans
- Lack of customizability
- Occasionally inadequate customer support, according to some users
As with AWS, Microsoft Azure’s pricing and licensing options can be challenging to navigate. They offer different kinds of promotional discounts, making it hard to know which one applies; in some cases it’s hard to get an accurate idea of pricing upfront.
Google Cloud Platform
Google Cloud Platform (GCP) is a strong and popular contender among enterprises, available globally. Additionally, GCP is building out its multicloud solutions and data center locations to accommodate smaller businesses and gain market share.
Though it offers comparable services to AWS and Azure, users have been particularly impressed with the GCP’s machine learning functionality and robust analytical tools.
- Flexible contracts and good discounts
- Responsive customer support
- Extensive documentation
- Global infrastructure
- Array of cloud solutions and products
- Breadth of APIs and developer tools
- Environmentally sustainable (low carbon) infrastructure options
- Difficult migrations and integrations
- Can be pricey
- Confusing interface, according to user reviews
GCP offers flexible contracts and a variety of discounts to attract prospective clients from competing cloud vendors. Free trials are available to those who want to give the platform a test drive.
As one of the pioneers of edge computing, the Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) GreenLake edge-to-cloud platform taps into a niche market offering that will soon become more mainstream with the rise of 5G use. HPE GreenLake blends cloud applications and infrastructure tools to accommodate each business’s unique needs.
- Easy provisioning of private cloud environment
- Out-of-the-box and customizable cloud environment configurations
- Flexible framework that supports configurations of your choosing
- Pay-as-you-go pricing model
- Potential vendor lock-in/dependence
- Difficult API integrations
- Documentation and training resources could be better
HPE Greenlake pricing is split into three tiers that offer increasingly more features as you upgrade. The website walks you through acquiring a quote by defining your workload, choosing configurations, and finalizing specs.
However, it can be difficult to estimate this information upfront. Plus, the last step is to provide an email address to get your quote, so there is no transparent way to get a feel for price without submitting your contact information.
Most popular among mid-sized businesses and enterprises, IBM’s full-stack cloud platform covers public, private, and hybrid environments and offers more than 170 products and cloud services.
- Assisted implementation from dedicated IBM support team
- Infrastructural flexibility
- Broad network of partners and APIs
- Offers more than 170 products that run in the cloud
- Industry-specific applications and services
- Breadth of security features
- Non-intuitive user interface
- Complex licensing structure
- High cost
IBM offers a product tier that gives users free access to more than 40 cloud services and discounted rates on more than 350 products and services. From there, IBM provides three pricing models: PayGo with Committed Use, Reserved instance use for time-based contracts, or a subscription for platform-wide discounts.
Oracle Cloud offers integrated cloud services that help companies build, deploy, and manage workloads in the cloud or on-premises. Its most notable feature is its database services, as Oracle is well known for its data management software.
- Vertical-specific products for ERP, CRM, and more
- Works well if your company already uses Oracle products
- Requires little to no coding knowledge
- User-friendly interface
- Global reach
- Scalable and flexible for various workloads
- Free training and certification programs
- Difficult setup
- Relatively high cost
- Rigid contracts
Oracle Cloud outlines a transparent pricing structure, but the information may overwhelm users looking for the right product tier for their company. Users report that Oracle Cloud’s cost is relatively high compared to competitors, but it may be worth the investment if your company already uses and is familiar with Oracle products.
Owned and backed by Dell, VMware cloud solutions span two main functions: a bridge between on-premises data centers and the cloud and as a cloud service provider.
VMware has leveraged this bridge functionality in its partnerships with other major cloud service providers, including Alibaba, AWS, Azure, Google, and IBM. As such, VMware doesn’t so much compete with other vendors, as it works with them in a mutually beneficial business relationship.
At the same time, VMware is not dependent on the other big players for its success. It’s a powerful cloud service provider in its own right. VMware is positioned to benefit all around by covering on-premises and virtualized data centers, public and private clouds, and everything in between.
- Consistency across cloud environments
- Enables integration between public and on-premises infrastructure
- Extensive integration with AWS cloud services and other common apps
- Industry-specific solutions
- User-friendly interface
- Scalable and flexible
- Broad partner network
- Relatively high cost
- Availability of third-party resources is sometimes limited
- Can’t virtualize all types of workloads
- In some cases, a direct migration to a public cloud may prove simpler and less expensive
VMware outlines a detailed licensing structure that depends on the average maximum number of virtual machines your company manages to afford customers flexibility.
What is a Cloud Service Provider?
A cloud service provider is a third-party vendor that offers a gamut of Internet-based cloud services, including but not limited to:
- App/website hosting
- Content delivery network (CDN)
- Data storage
- Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) maintenance and security
- Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) tools
- Platform as a service (PaaS)
- Software as a service (SaaS)
Most companies today have moved their computing and data infrastructure to cloud models for flexibility, performance, and speed to meet the growing digital demand of their business and customers.
How to Choose a Cloud Service Provider
With hundreds of cloud service providers to choose from, it’s difficult to know which one is right for your business needs. Be sure to consider the following factors:
Cost of implementation
In addition to financial cost, the time and resources necessary to implement a new cloud infrastructure should also be considered. As such, it may be better to choose a vendor that offers the flexibility to scale up or down with their tools, products, and services in order to limit costs and avoid tool creep.
Moreover, be sure to ask the vendors about the level of support they provide as you migrate your data and assets onto their infrastructure. All of these considerations are especially pertinent to those moving from on-premises data centers or private clouds to a public, hybrid, or multicloud environment because it’s an even bigger, and thus riskier, shift.
If you’re switching to a hybrid or multicloud environment from either an on-premises infrastructure or a private cloud, make sure your software, hardware, and all other IT assets will function seamlessly across your cloud environments.
To that end, check out the vendor’s application library or partner network for embedded apps and add-on integrations. If it includes many that you already use, that speaks to that cloud service’s ability to fit with your current software and tools.
Read more: Fighting API Sprawl in the Modern Cloud Maul
Cloud security features
Outsourcing your cloud to a provider means relinquishing some control over cloud security posture management (CSPM) security measures.
In your shared responsibility with the cloud service provider of choice, find out whether they offer their own cloud security or rely on a third-party cloud security service. If it’s the latter, researching third-party affiliates only prolongs the buying process and necessitates further trust and outsourcing of your company’s security.
Additionally, make sure the cloud service provider offers transparent and user-friendly dashboards and analytics as well as options for backup and disaster recovery to ensure security and resilience. Depending on your industry, check on the cloud service provider’s compliance certifications as well.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
By migrating your data storage and infrastructure, your company reaps several benefits like easier collaboration, lower costs, increased security, resilience, efficiency, and more.
- Collaboration: With the ubiquity of work-from-home and hybrid work models, cloud computing is a must-have in order to keep your business adaptable and your workforce connected.
- Cost Savings: Cloud computing yields lower operations costs because you no longer need to own, manage, and maintain hardware, on-premises servers, databases, and other assets.
- Security: Cloud providers invest in cybersecurity and include automated security functions in their cloud environments to shoulder some security responsibility.
- Resilience: When the inevitable data breach occurs or when a server is down, cloud providers keep managed cloud environments running optimally by backing up data. This is a major advantage over on-premises data centers that are not as quick to bounce back when experiencing an outage.
- Efficiency: Cloud service providers manage servers and data centers for you, which frees up in-house IT staff to focus on more pressing concerns.
- Scalability: Cloud computing is scalable, offering limitless capacity for users, resources, and workloads. Cloud service providers allow for scaling up and down as needed, which is especially beneficial to businesses operating in fluctuating or cyclical industries.
- Performance: Cloud service providers often have data centers around the world to deliver fast, reliable service. They also maintain and update cloud software, databases, and other services automatically.
Private Cloud vs. Public Cloud
Some vendors, like Azure, HPE GreenLake, IBM, and VMware, provide both private and public cloud services.
However, it’s not always easy to tell which type of cloud infrastructure is best for your business. Often, it comes down to the expertise of your staff, the size of your budget, and the level of security your industry demands.
In a private cloud, data is hosted on a company’s server or intranet. Companies who own a private cloud are responsible for managing, protecting, and updating servers, hardware, software, and other IT assets with in-house IT staff.
This option affords companies more control and security over their clouds. However, a private cloud is less efficient and more costly because of the amount of resources needed to maintain it.
Read more: Top 8 Data Migration Practices & Strategies
As a result, a public cloud is often the more popular option, supplying companies with their infrastructure that the provider maintains and updates. Public clouds ensure business resilience and continuity, enable faster deployment, and are more cost efficient.
However, they might not provide the level of security and control necessary for industries that must adhere to more stringent data privacy regulations.
Read more: What Are Sovereign Clouds?
Getting a Clearer Picture in a Crowded Cloud Market
Cloud service providers relieve companies of the burden of operating and maintaining infrastructure on their own by executing their own resources and expertise to manage cloud infrastructures, platforms, and applications. This benefits your company in terms of efficiency, cost, security, and other aspects.
However, the cloud service provider market is as diverse as cloud models and configurations that companies need. Start with the top providers listed here to get a sense of what you need out of your data infrastructure and which company checks off most of your boxes.
Read next: Best Enterprise Cloud Migration Tools & Services 2022