Sure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the golden child of cloud computing, but Microsoft Azure isn't too far behind. And according to Gartner’s recently released Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas), it's starting to nip into AWS’s market.

Gartner contends AWS is beginning to face significant competition on two fronts:  Microsoft is competing in the traditional business market and Google is challenging it in the cloud native market.

Look at All the Players

What is also noticeable about this Magic Quadrant (MQ) is that, unlike other IT markets, there are no Challengers vying with the Leaders to get themselves noticed. That is not to say that there are no other players -- there are. It's just that, in this case, they fall into the Visionary and Niche Player segment in almost equal numbers, providing specialized or evolving services to a whole range of companies.

The result is that, for those looking at buying into this still immature market, Gartner recommends that potential customers look at all the vendors in the space. It says that with all the MQs, but here, because of the high level of specialization of vendors outside the Leaders’ quadrant, it is particularly true.

But what exactly is it that is being discussed? There are so many different kinds of cloud computing vendors and services it is probably a good idea to take a look at how Gartner approaches cloud computing.

First, it defines cloud computing as "a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT enabled capabilities are delivered as a service using Internet technologies." On top of that you have Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS):

A standardized, highly automated offering, where compute resources, complemented by storage and networking capabilities, are owned by a service provider and offered to the customer on demand. The resources are scalable and elastic in near real time and metered by use."

These Companies Rock

There are a wide variety of companies that are able to offer these services. There's Azure and AWS in the Leaders’ Quadrant, with CSC, CenturyLink, IBM, Google and Verizon in the Visionaries Quadrant. 

In the Niche Players Quadrant there's also Dimension Data, Fujitsu, Go Grid, HP, Joyent, Rackspace, VirtuStream and VMWare.

None of the companies listed could be described as "slouches," so what exactly is it that makes them Leaders?  In this 50 page report, Gartner offers a long list of inclusion criteria. However, it says that Leaders distinguish themselves by offering a service suitable for strategic adoption while simultaneously demonstrating an ambitious roadmap.

It says Leaders do not necessarily excel in all areas and may not be the best providers for those organizations that have specific needs. They even avoid some use cases entirely. That said, they are still at the top of their game and have a considerable market share.

Digging into the IaaS Leaders

Today we will look at the Leaders Quadrant and some of the trends that are emerging in the market. However, because of the size and nature of the companies in the other quadrants -- like Google, VMWare and IBM -- a second piece later this week will look at what they are offering and why Gartner says Amazon and Microsoft still beat their offerings.

Amazon Web Services

AWS is a cloud focused service provider with what Gartner describes as a very pure vision of highly automated, cost effective IT abilities delivered in an on demand manner.

It has data centers all over the world, covering just about every region on the planet and ensuring that organizations’ concerns about the geographical location of stored data are all addressed.

Its Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2, offers multitenant, fixed sized and nonresizable virtualized VMS, while single tenant VMS are available through Dedicated Instances.

It has a wide range of storage options that cover long term and object based storage, as well as a cloud storage gateway appliance for easy access. It has also been dramatically cutting storage costs as it battles with both Microsoft and Google for market share.

It is worth noting for prospective customers that enterprise grade support is extra. Gartner points out that while the Service Level Agreement (SLA) covers a wide range of eventualities, it does not have any exclusion for maintenance. It also offers continuous availability on its portal and API.

Strengths: With such a profile, its strengths are easy to pinpoint. According to Gartner, AWS has a diverse customer base with the broadest range of use cases, including enterprises and business critical applications. It is the overwhelming market share leader, with more than five times the cloud IaaS computing capacity than the aggregate total of the other 14 providers in this MQ.

Gartner also describes it as a thought leader that is innovative, agile and responsive to market needs. It has a wide range of IaaS features and PaaS capabilities and continues to develop its services on a monthly basis. It also has a large technology partner ecosystem and an extensive partner network that can offer assistance in adapting the platform for new customers.

Cautions: With Gartner heaping this kind of praise on it, it is surprising to find that there are also a number of caveats. Notable among them is the fact that while Gartner describes AWS as a “price leader” it still charges separately for optional items that are sometimes bundled with competitive offerings. This increases the complexity of understanding and auditing bills.

Its support offerings are also tiered based on the level of support that a customer purchases rather than on a relationship or size of spend basis.

However, the most notable caution of all is that AWS, according to Gartner, is beginning to face significant competition from Microsoft in the traditional business market and from Google in the cloud native market. So far, it has responded aggressively to price drops by competitors on commodity resources. Gartner concludes by saying that, though it may have a multiyear competitive advantage, it is no longer the only fast mover in the space.


Microsoft is increasingly focused on delivering its software capabilities via cloud services. It's Azure service was, in the past, strictly PaaS, but Microsoft has started making moves on the IaaS space by launching Azure IaaS.

Like AWS, it has data centers all over the world that are accessible in multiple languages, which also offers organizations the possibility of storing data in whatever jurisdiction they need to.

Like AWS, enterprise grade support costs extra. Recommended uses include general business applications and development environments for Microsoft centric organizations, as well as use as part of an overall Microsoft Azure solution.

Strengths: Like all other Microsoft products, its brand is one of its principal strengths along with its existing global customer base. It has an aggressive road map that has enabled it to rapidly attain status as a strategic cloud IaaS provider. Under new leadership, this momentum is likely to continue.

According to Gartner, Microsoft has a vision of infrastructure and platform services that work not only as stand alone offerings, but also seamlessly extend and interoperate with on premises Microsoft infrastructure.

The broader Microsoft Azure service is a full featured PaaS offering with significant complementary capabilities with the VMs integrated into the overall offering.

Cautions: Although Microsoft has introduced a wide number of services throughout 2013 and continues to rapidly release both catch up capabilities and fresh innovations, many enterprises are still finding significant capability gaps, especially around networking and security. On top of this, many features are still in preview or “coming soon,” and it is not always obvious to customers which features are in preview and which are not.

Gartner says that Microsoft is in the midst of a multiyear initiative to make its on premises software "cloud first," rather than trying to scale software originally built for on premises single enterprise use.

Finally, Gartner points out that Microsoft is just starting to build an ecosystem of partners around Azure and does not yet have a software licensing marketing place.

Market Overview

The somewhat short list of Leaders in Gartner's report points to a market that is not yet mature and is still just defining itself. According to Gartner, there are three categories of customer needs in cloud IaaS:

  • The hosting of a single application, or a closely related group of applications;
  • IaaS that will serve a broad range of different workloads with batch computing;
  • Hosting is the most sought after requirement at the moment, with the least common need being batch computing which, even still, brings in money.
    Gartner says that IaaS is now being used to run most workloads, although not every provider can run every type of workload. Service providers are also moving towards infrastructure platforms that can offer physical and virtual resources priced according to the level of availability.

This is what is currently driving the market, with IaaS providers offering different kinds of services and products which will evolve as the market continues to change. Later this week we will look at some of the other niche and specialized vendors to get a clearer picture of what is available on the wider market.