The knock on Amazon Web Services and other IaaS (infrastructure as a service) providers is that they're not reliable enough for enterprise-class workloads. And even with recent price drops, it's cheaper over the long haul to buy and run your own infrastructure.
I'm not going to attempt any in-depth cost comparisons since so much depends on the workloads in question and granular provider pricing for various sevices. But I'm pretty convinced that reliability concerns about cloud computing are going the way of cloud security worries: If you know what you're doing, in most cases the public cloud is probably at parity or better with the risk posed by your own infrastructure (ultrahardened, mission-critical workloads excepted).
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Big dogs weigh in
Now HP and reportedly Microsoft are entering the IaaS fray. Both will compete directly with Amazon while emphasizing their enterprise worthiness and leveraging their existing enterprise sales channels -- not an Amazon strength.
But as RightScale CEO Michael Crandell reminded me, sophisticated configuration of Amazon Web Services already provides public cloud infrastructure that's reliable enough for production workloads. In addition to the many startups that have built businesses on the Amazon cloud, I think many enterprises and small businesses have simply gotten used to Amazon and learned to tweak it to their liking. I can't imagine Amazon being knocked out of the top slot anytime soon.
Currently occupying a distant No. 2 position behind Amazon, Rackspace seems sure to slip as HP and Microsoft ramp up. Plus, Terramark, a subsidiary of Verizon, is coming on strong. As I noted a few months ago, Terremark benefits from both huge Verizon bandwidth and a big buildout of regional Terramark data centers, which together promise to reduce the latency inherent in cloud computing.
The two-pronged approach
And guess what? Each of these public cloud IaaS providers has a way for customers to run local, private clouds using similar technology. For example, HP, Dell, and Rackspace have adopted the OpenStack platform for their public cloud offerings -- just as OpenStack is beginning to gain traction as a private cloud solution for certain fearless customers.
As for Microsoft, for some time Redmond has been touting its version of a private cloud solution built on Windows Server 2012, Hyper-V, and System Center -- which will be part and parcel of Windows Azure and should figure prominently in Microsoft's imminent IaaS push. Terramark, for its part, is a 100 percent VMware IaaS play that clearly targets existing VMware licensees, which today have some of the most advanced private cloud functionality currently available.