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    Compare Top Cloud Computing Providers of 2021

    Even with the popularity of cloud computing, a large portion of businesses still aren’t taking advantage of all that the cloud has to offer. From providing better access to your remote team to cheaper operating costs, cloud computing can make your business more efficient, more secure, and more collaborative.

    To make switching to the cloud an easier decision, we’ve put together this guide to show the advantages of cloud computing and compare the top providers.

    Table of contents

    Public vs. private cloud environments

    A comparison of public vs private cloud environments.

    When you’re thinking about migrating to the cloud, the first thing you need to decide is whether you’ll use a public or private cloud environment. You might also opt for a hybrid model.

    Public cloud environments are the most common. With public clouds, all of the servers and storage, along with any necessary hardware, are owned and maintained by a third-party provider, like AWS or Microsoft Azure. Public clouds are generally cheaper, more scalable, and more reliable than private cloud environments because the provider is able to host multiple companies with the same hardware and storage devices. Additionally, you won’t have to perform any maintenance.

    Private clouds, on the other hand, are exclusively owned by the business or organization using them for storage. Many companies, especially those in highly regulated industries, choose private clouds for data or applications that require high levels of security. Often, public clouds can’t meet regulatory requirements, meaning private clouds are the only way for companies to move their data off-premises. However, private clouds cost quite a bit more than public clouds, so organizations will often use a hybrid model. They store sensitive data and applications in private clouds and everything else in public clouds.

    Also read: Private Cloud vs Public Cloud

    Benefits of cloud computing

    The benefits of cloud computing go deeper than cost savings alone. Data is easier to access, more secure, and less prone to disaster.

    Long-term cost savings

    While cloud migration is an expensive undertaking, more businesses will see long-term cost savings, assuming they use cloud cost control best practices. When you remove the need for on-premises servers, your operating costs drop significantly. Your IT team won’t have to dedicate large portions of its time to maintaining the servers. Instead, they can focus on projects that will improve your company. Additionally, you won’t have the maintenance costs for the servers themselves.

    Accessibility and team collaboration

    The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear how crucial it is for employees to have access to company information and applications wherever they are. With remote work looking like it’s going to be the new norm, businesses need to switch to cloud computing to grant employees this access, if they haven’t already. With a public cloud, users access data through the internet, allowing them to work from anywhere. It also makes team collaboration easier because multiple team members can work on a document at the same time, even when they’re miles apart.

    Increased security

    Cloud providers invest heavily in cybersecurity to keep their customers’ data safe. Because of this, many organizations, especially small businesses, get a higher level of security than they would normally be able (or willing) to purchase for themselves. Cloud environments place less of a burden on in-house IT teams because many security functions are automated through the cloud provider and the responsibility of cybersecurity is shared between the organization and cloud provider.

    Disaster recovery

    Cloud providers incorporate a good deal of redundancy into their environments to ensure that should one server go down, they won’t lose any data or force downtime on their clients. On-premises servers usually don’t have the same backups. If a server goes down, organizations could face hours or even days of downtime trying to fix it and recover any lost data.

    Compare top cloud computing services

    A comparison chart showing the major features for AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, Oracle, and Alibaba.

    Provider Overview

    Amazon Web Services (AWS) is often touted as the leader in the cloud computing space. Gartner has named them a leader in their magic quadrant for Infrastructure and Platform services for ten years in a row. They have a large service offering, and companies of all sizes use AWS for their cloud environments. The main drawback is that their pricing structure is hard to understand, leaving some companies confused and frustrated.

    Microsoft Azure is a close second behind AWS. Although they were late to the cloud provider industry, they rose through the ranks quickly by moving their on-premises software (Microsoft Office, Sharepoint, etc.) to the cloud. Because of the popularity this software already enjoyed, it was a no-brainer for many organizations to follow it to the cloud. However, it seems Microsoft is facing some issues with customer support and documentation.

    Google Cloud Platform is a great option for organizations that use containers because they actually developed the Kubernetes standard that other cloud providers now use. In terms of market share, it’s currently in third, far behind both AWS and Microsoft. However, Google is working to improve the offerings and number of data centers worldwide to bridge that gap.

    Oracle Cloud works well for organizations that already use Oracle products or don’t have a high level of coding knowledge. Many businesses like the user interface and that it’s easy to get the platform to behave how they want. Unfortunately, the Oracle platform hasn’t been quite as strongly optimized as some of the others on the list, and it may not be as competitive price-wise with the others.

    Alibaba Cloud is the cloud leader in China with a high presence in the Asia-Pacific region. They offer solid, multilingual support, and their website is available in multiple languages. Unfortunately, the user interface isn’t very friendly for users who aren’t tech-savvy, and most organizations will need someone with strong coding skills to get the right level of functionality from the platform.

    Also read: AWS vs. Azure vs. Google: 2020 Cloud Comparison

    Pricing structure

    AWS offers a pricing calculator to help potential customers estimate their cloud costs, but there are so many variables that it’s hard to actually get an accurate estimate. Many organizations also don’t know how many instances they’ll need until they’ve started migrating their data. Businesses using AWS for their cloud services should definitely use third-party cost management tools to optimize their cloud spend.

    Also read: Cloud Migration Cost Analysis & Tools

    Microsoft Azure’s pricing is equally difficult to discern. They offer many situational discounts, making it tough to tell what your actual price will be without talking to a sales representative. The software licensing system also isn’t very clear-cut, adding an extra layer of complication into the pricing mix.

    Google uses the obscurity of its competitors’ pricing models to its advantage. Rather than following suit, GCP offers flexible contracts to its customers along with steep discounts in an attempt to draw clients who are currently spending large sums with their competitors. They also offer free credits to get new customers started and allow them to test the platform.

    Oracle Cloud wins points for transparency in their pricing structure, although for cloud computing, that may not be the best thing. Their pricing sheet is about a mile long, and, unless you know the ins and outs of cloud computing, you’ll have a tough time making sense of it. Some customers have noted it’s priced on the higher end compared to other providers, so if cost is your biggest concern, you may be better off with another vendor.

    Alibaba Cloud is unique in that they offer new customers the free trial with the highest value, worth anywhere from $450 to $1,300. This allows them to try out the platform and see how it works. All of their available services are priced on a pay-as-you-go model, which is great for businesses looking to scale. They also offer quite a few tools that are free of charge.

    Technical support and training

    AWS, for the most part, received high marks from their customers in the support category. Their support team is helpful, knowledgeable, and offers suggestions to improve the functionality of the cloud environment for their customers. However, there are several different support plans, and not every company will be able to get away with the Basic option.

    Microsoft has poured time and effort into Azure to make it a user-friendly option. While there can sometimes be a steep learning curve, it’s one of the easier clouds to get set up, and it’s fairly easy to manage once it’s in place. However, you’re still probably going to need help from support at some point, and their actual support team and documentation don’t always offer the level of support users need. The platform is updated often, and the documentation just can’t keep up.

    Google Cloud Platform generally gets high marks for customer support from its users. Google is making a big push for their cloud platform’s growth, so support is easily accessible. There’s also good documentation for both the platform and APIs, which are available in multiple languages. There also appears to be a helpful community for GCP.

    Oracle Cloud offers a user-friendly interface according to its customers, but it doesn’t seem like their support team is quite as responsive as many would like. Some users would also like more tutorials on the different functionalities of the cloud platform to get more for their money.

    Alibaba Cloud has a relatively new knowledge base, but it seems like it covers a large variety of topics. In addition to their documentation library and blog, they also offer forums where other users can work together to solve problems, sometimes improving the speed to resolution. There are both photo and video tutorials, and most questions on the forums have at least one answer.

    Breadth of features

    AWS has been around the longest and, because of this, has the largest selection of features and tools. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are large facets of the AWS cloud platform and will likely grow as the technology improves. It has a large number of use cases and works well for businesses of any size.

    Also read: AWS Expands Scope of AI Services Portfolio

    Microsoft has invested heavily in its ML services, offering several cognitive computing features, like text analytics and a bot service for Azure. The platform is one of the newer options on the market, and as such, it’s constantly evolving as Microsoft adds new features. Azure also offers tools to support Microsoft’s original on-premises software for users that didn’t want to switch to the cloud.

    Google focuses heavily on ML and AI in their cloud platform. Companies specializing in AI should give Google a strong look thanks to TensorFlow, which is an open-source library Google has put together to help developers build machine learning applications. GCP doesn’t support third-party integrations as well as AWS, but overall, it’s a pretty feature-rich platform.

    Oracle Cloud pairs really nicely with other Oracle software, but it still doesn’t have the rich feature set of other vendors on this list. Some customers really liked the drag-and-drop apps offered by third-party vendors and the completeness of the SaaS and PaaS platforms.

    Also read: Oracle Adds Free Cloud Migration Services

    Alibaba Cloud has the most features and servers available for customers in China and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. For that reason, companies in the EU and USA may want to look elsewhere for their cloud needs. However, the platform is growing and developing quickly thanks to partnerships Alibaba has made with other large enterprises.

    Storage and backups

    AWS offers five different storage options for its cloud environment, including storage choices for blocks, objects, files, and more. There are even physical data transfer options for companies who don’t want to transfer certain files over the internet. Additionally, organizations can use the Storage Gateway feature to easily set up processes for backing up and archiving data. AWS Backup is available for an extra fee.

    Microsoft Azure offers a large data lake, perfect for storing big applications, as well as options for unstructured data. Thanks to the original on-premises SQL software, Azure’s database offerings are large and varied. Microsoft also offers an actual backup service, where some competitors do not.

    Google storage options include unified object storage and persistent disk storage, and the number of storage offerings is growing as GCP matures. The platform offers database services perfect for mission-critical workloads. Unfortunately, GCP does not offer any kind of backup or archiving services.

    Oracle Cloud shines in database management, allowing organizations to manage the utilization and automating necessary upgrades and updates. The platform offers advanced block storage and solid archiving options. They don’t appear to offer backup services, however.

    Alibaba Cloud offers four different storage options, including object storage, file storage NAS, elastic block storage (EBS), and storage capacity units (SCU). There is also a hybrid backup recovery service that protects data stored in your Alibaba Cloud and on-premises data centers. You also have the option to migrate data into your cloud using their Data Transport service.

    Also read: The Changing Face of Enterprise Backup and Recovery

    Choosing the best cloud provider for your organization

    While it might be tempting to focus on the price tag when it comes to choosing the best cloud provider, remember that the value of the cloud isn’t limited to dollars and cents. While long-term cost savings are definitely a benefit, your company should be more concerned with ensuring accessibility, security, and the ability to recover data after a disaster.

    Before deciding on your cloud provider, take a closer look at the data and applications you plan to migrate. Once you have a better idea of what you need, it’ll be easier to decide which platform offers the features that complement those needs best. We’d also recommend taking advantage of free trials or new customer offers when available to ensure that your team can work with the platform before committing to it fully.

    Read next: Creating a Cloud Migration Checklist

    Jenn Fulmer
    Jenn Fulmer is a content writer for TechnologyAdvice, IT Business Edge, and Baseline currently based in Lexington, KY. Using detailed, research-based content, she aims to help businesses find the technology they need to maximize their success and protect their data.

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