The Top Cloud Computing Companies Explained

By Melissa Rudy
Updated: May 15, 2012

The Top Cloud Computing Companies Explained

Our digital world is headed in the direction of the cloud. As more individuals and companies are lured by the advantages of cloud computing, a growing number of businesses are lining up to provide cloud services—from big, established names to smaller, specialized vendors.

However, things can get confusing with so many cloud service providers offering such a variety of cloud-based applications and platforms. Which one should you choose? Of course, you should go with the provider that best suits the needs of your business—but if you're not familiar with cloud computing, it can be hard to discern what a cloud service provider can actually do for you.

Here, we'll take a look at some of the top cloud computing companies on the market today, and how their offerings compare.

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)

Currently one of the “big three” providers of infrastructure-as-a-service, or IaaS, Amazon EC2 allows you to partially or completely virtualize your IT infrastructure. This means your operating system, software applications, bandwidth usage, and computer power and capacity can all be hosted offsite, reducing or even eliminating the need for physical servers and installed software.

With EC2, network control remains in your hands. This makes the service different from platform-as-a-service providers, who control and maintain the underlying operating system and applications. Another difference is that PaaS systems limit you to a single OS, while EC2 allows you the choice to use your preferred OS or multiple systems, including Microsoft Windows and several Linux distributions.

In addition to flexibility in terms of operating systems—and multiple applications and suites to choose from—EC2 is highly scalable. You can increase or decrease your capacity in just a few minutes—and because the pricing is usage-based, you pay only for the resources you're using.

Windows Azure

This cloud offering from Microsoft is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) that runs Microsoft operating systems and applications from the cloud. The choices are limited with Azure, as you're restricted to Windows OS and Microsoft-based products. On the positive side, it's Microsoft, which is used in the majority of businesses.

With Azure, the IT tasks for your operating system and applications are managed by the cloud service provider. This makes the service a good choice for businesses that don't have the resources for a dedicated IT staff.

In addition, Azure is usage-based and automatically scaled to your required capacity, so you only pay for the resources you're using. The service boasts unlimited servers and storage, which expand effortlessly along with your business.

Azure can be used to run applications, but it can also be used to build them. It's a strong choice for developers looking to provide software-as-a-service, or for enterprise companies  who want to build and run custom in-house software.

Salesforce

Salesforce provides both software-as-a-service (SaaS) and PaaS through Force.com. The primary aim of Salesforce's PaaS is app development for social enterprises. This service supports all the major development environments, providing scalable resources to build and launch apps.

The SaaS offerings from Salesforce are more in line with businesses. The company provides Internet-based software for automation and customer resource management (CRM) that is customized for a number of different industries, including communications, financial services, social enterprises, government, health care, media, retail, and non-profit organizations.

While the pricing is usage-based, Salesforce operates on a low monthly per-user fee, rather than usage-hours. Their solutions are ideal for small and mid-sized businesses and eCommerce sites.

More top cloud computing companies

The above companies illustrate the services offered by Iaas, PaaS, and SaaS cloud providers. There are many businesses offering cloud services, typically in one of these three categories.

Some of the most popular include:

  • Rackspace, offering infrastructure-as-a-service and hybrid hosting
  • Oracle, creators of Java, offering SaaS, PaaS, and managed cloud services
  • Google App Engine, providing PaaS for app development
  • GoGrid Cloud Computing, a provider of IaaS in competition with Rackspace

Ultimately, the choice of a cloud computing company should hinge on your business needs. Once you've determined whether you need IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, or any of these services in combination, you can consider price, flexibility, scalability, and features to choose the best solution for you.

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