Google Compute Engine vs. Amazon Web Services cloud: The battle is on

And don't forget about Microsoft

With news this week that Google Compute Engine cloud is now generally available, the battle in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service market has hit a new level. The biggest question is: Can Google give the kingpin of the public IaaS market, Amazon Web Services (AWS), a run for its money?

In some ways, not a whole lot has changed - Google’s Compute Engine has actually been on the market for more than a year, including being available to anyone for months. But becoming generally available is important, Google executive Greg DeMichillie says: It confirms the company’s internal and external commitment to GCE - meaning that it will stick around for the foreseeable future, unlike some other popular Google products that have been cut.

[FIRST LOOK: Google Compute Engine vs. Amazon Web Services]

[MORE GOOGLE: Google takes the wrappers off Compute Engine]

This news could also be marking a new phase in the cloud computing industry, says Gartner analyst Lydia Leong in a blog post she wrote about GCE becoming generally available. “I think the GA of GCE is a demarcation of market eras,” she wrote. “We’re now moving into a second phase of this market, and things only get more interesting from here onwards.”

Google has also rolled out new features in its IaaS cloud. Most notably, GCE now supports any Linux OS type, and natively offers RHEL and SUSE Linux. The company also rolled out live migration of virtual machines, meaning customers don’t have to shut down their VMs when the software or hardware is updated by Google.

GCE is just part of Google’s arsenal of cloud computing products, which also includes Google Application Engine, an application development PaaS (which is already generally available), along with various SQL and NoSQL storage options and big data analytics tools like its BigQuery.

While Google and AWS compete across the cloud market, they do have different approaches. Amazon has a market-leading set of features and partners offering services on top of its cloud. Not only does AWS have EC2, the direct competitor to GCE, but it also has a variety of storage options (like Google), including Simple Storage Service (S3), Elastic Block Storage (EBS), and RedShift the data warehousing platform.

The companies each have data analytics platforms too. While Google has BigQuery, AWS answers with ElasticMap Reduce, its Hadoop on-demand service. AWS at its re:Invent show rolled out Kenesis, its real-time data analytics platform for short-term analytics jobs.

Where AWS clearly has an edge over Google is in the marketplace of partners that run services on top of AWS’s infrastructure. In the AWS marketplace users can spin up hundreds of types of services, like enterprise applications from SAP, or performance optimization tools from Riverbed and others.

[WHAT LIES AHEAD: Google Compute Engine's biggest challenges]

AWS has a market-leading breadth and depth of features and services in its cloud. But, it also had a multi-year head start in the market. So, where does that leave the market now today? AWS now has more legitimate competition than it’s ever had, though still has a sizeable market lead.

Google will likely be in this fight for the long-haul and it may push AWS to innovate faster technically. Google’s cloud executive hinted to the New York Times that the company hopes to offer a more reliable and higher-performing cloud compared to that of AWS. RightScale, which is a company that allows customers to access public clouds from multiple providers, notes in a blog post that it has been impressed with Google cloud’s performance and that one of its customers is using GCE over AWS because of the reliability and scalability.

Here’s how Leong, the Gartner analyst puts it: “GCE still lags AWS tremendously in terms of breadth and depth of feature set, of course, but it also has aspects that are immediately more attractive for some workloads. However, it’s now at the point where it’s a viable alternative to AWS for organizations who are looking to do cloud-native applications, whether they’re start-ups or long-established companies.”

Google and AWS aren’t the only games in town either: Microsoft with its Azure public cloud service is another formidable player. The experience Microsoft has serving enterprise customers cannot be underestimated. Rackspace and IBM are big players in this market, too.

Leong suggests that Microsoft may challenge Amazon in the enterprise market, while Google could challenge AWS more in the startup and mid-size business market. Either way, competitors are zeroing in on the market-leading public IaaS cloud. Given that AWS could generate up to $4 billion in revenue this year on its platform according to some estimates, it can’t be surprising that other companies are looking to get in on the action.

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and NetworkWorld.com. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW. Read his Cloud Chronicles here.  

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