Amazon, Microsoft, Pivotal, and Verizon bulk up in the cloud

Amazon WorkSpaces, Microsoft's Visual Studio Online, and two Cloud Foundry deals headline the week's cloud announcements

The forecast was very cloudy in the tech industry this week, as Amazon rolled out a virtual desktop as a service and Microsoft announced a cloud-based complement to Visual Studio. Not to be outdone, Cloud Foundry placed two feathers in its cloud -- er, cap, with Pivotal debuting a collection of tools and services that run on the PaaS and Verizon announcing its support for the open source offering.

Amazon targets the desktop

First off: Amazon unveiled this week a desktop service, called Amazon WorkSpaces, delivering Windows virtual desktops on demand that can be accessed from Macs, Windows 7 computers, or Android devices. Andy Jassy, senior vice president at Amazon Web Services, told attendees at the re:Invent conference that WorkSpaces provides a "persistent state," meaning the desktop's contents remain the same no matter what device the desktop is accessed from.

"Amazon Web Services," InfoWorld's Serdar Yegulalp writes, "is determined to make buying a desktop machine a thing of the past." Available in four virtual machine configurations, Amazon claims WorkSpaces "can deliver those desktops at a better per-user price than pretty much anyone else on the market, with the lowest-tier desktops available for $35 per user per month. For a 1,000-user setup, Amazon claimed around 59 percent cost savings over delivering the same desktops on-premises."

Despite the advantages a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) offers administrators in managing their users' computers, it has not made major inroads into the enterprise. But Joab Jackson of the IDG News Service writes that Amazon "is hoping WorkSpaces will prove cost-effective and easy enough to manage that it will be appealing."

WorkSpaces follows hot on the heels of Amazon's desktop-oriented announcement of a graphics-as-a-service offering called G2. WorkSpaces and G2 instances are complementary in many ways, Yegulalp writes, "the former are for day-to-day desktop jobs, the latter for high-end performance work."

Microsoft marches on in the cloud

Microsoft also made a splash in the cloud this week. The company continued to make good on its promise to provide a cloud version for nearly every on-premises product by unveiling Visual Studio Online. Aimed squarely at developers, the set of Windows Azure-based tools is an online complement to Microsoft's Visual Studio desktop suite of tools.

Visual Studio Online, Yegulalp writes, "is meant to be a cloud-based development tool, not just a hosted repository. Microsoft is offering a hosted build service, where projects can be built in the cloud and the results delivered back to the desktop in Visual Studio."

Chief among Visual Studio Online's offerings is the "Monaco" coding environment, which provides a subset of Visual Studio features that make it possible to edit Azure websites from inside a browser on any device.

Pivotal pushes Cloud Foundry

In yet another cloud debut this week, Pivotal, the big data company led by former VMware CEO Paul Maritz, pulled back the curtain on Pivotal One. The collection of tools and services for building data-intensive cloud applications includes Pivotal's distribution of the Cloud Foundry open source PaaS and of Apache Hadoop.

VMware likened Cloud Foundry to Linux for the cloud, and since taking hold of the project when it was spun off from VMware, Pivotal has been focused on gaining broad corporate adoption for the PaaS.

Toward that end, providing an easier installation experience for Cloud Foundry is a key aim of Pivotal One. Yegulalp asserts "the point of Pivotal One is to allow data services to run with the same elasticity and ease as more conventional cloud-deployed applications on top of Cloud Foundry. The data services can also be scaled out, slimmed down, and upgraded to the latest versions without having to monkey with build scripts or tools like Puppet or Chef."

PaaS market heats up

PaaS is one of the hottest areas of the cloud at the moment, with spending on PaaS projected to reach more than $14 billion by 2017. This week another big name jumped in: Verizon, which announced it is backing Cloud Foundry and integrating the PaaS tool with its offerings. This follows last month's overhaul of its IaaS and storage services.

The PaaS industry, Network World's Brad Butler writes, has become a focus for many leading cloud vendors. "PaaS could be an important initiative in the cloud because of what it enables. Most PaaSes are a cloud-based application development platform used to build apps that are hosted in the cloud. Others view the PaaS market, especially open source PaaS tools like Cloud Foundry and others, as being an intermediary that act as a portal to access infrastructure from Amazon, OpenStack or other IaaSes."

While some question the long-term viability of the PaaS market, Butler quotes North Bridge Venture Capital Partner Michael Skok, who speaks of a "PaaS squeeze" with "the PaaS market becoming dominated by IaaS vendors offering application development tools to run apps on their clouds, and SaaS vendors offering PaaS-like capabilities to build new apps that integrate with their existing SaaS programs. That could squeeze out pure-play PaaS providers like the private PaaS ones. Verizon's move to cozy up with [Cloud Foundry] could be the beginning of another IaaS/PaaS blend."

The long-range outlook? Expect very cloud times ahead.

This article, "Amazon, Microsoft, Pivotal, and Verizon bulk up in the cloud," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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