Deep Dive

Public cloud megaguide: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, IBM, and Joyent compared

The top five public clouds pile on the services and options, while adding unique twists

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The message from the cloud has always been simple: Surrender your cares, IT managers, and we'll handle everything. Forget about skinning your knuckles installing servers, double-checking diesel backups, or fretting about 1,000 or 10,000 things that could go wrong. Give us a credit card number and your data. We'll do the rest.

For the last few months, I've been living the dream, building a vast empire of computers that spanned the globe. Machines everywhere crunched my data into teeny tiny bits, then crunched the numbers even more. Private networks carried my secret scraps of info between the machines so that others could work the data and reform it into pretty graphs. Sure, my desktop is a bit old and it could use more RAM, but with my browser I created a worldwide army of machines with about as much ease as the sorcerer's apprentice in "Fantasia."

The good news is that, unlike the apprentice, the machines more or less disappeared when I asked them to go away. That's the beauty of the cloud. You buy what you want, when you want it. Oh, there is one errant recurring charge for a blob of bits stuck in Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud, but tech support is looking into erasing that. I expect it will be stricken soon, along with those bills for a few pennies that reminded me of the blob when they appeared on my credit card statement.

All the other machines came and went with just a small charge measured in cents. Most dollar stores have been artfully renamed to accommodate goods that cost less than $5, but in the cloud it's still possible to buy machines as if they were penny candy. Someone should resurrect the old Woolworth name and the five-and-dime slogan.

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