When you think of public cloud providers, a handful of names -- specifically, AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform -- probably come to mind. But these so-called “Big Three” providers aren’t the only public clouds in town. A variety of alternative clouds exist. Depending on your needs, you may want to use an alternative cloud alongside one of the Big Three clouds. Or, you may discover that an alternative cloud alone provides the best value.
Here’s how to determine whether an alternative cloud is right for you.
What Is an Alternative Cloud?
An alternative cloud is a public cloud platform other than AWS, Azure and Google Cloud--which are together known as the Big Three cloud providers.
There are many alternative clouds out there. Some, such as Oracle Cloud and IBM Cloud, provide a broad range of cloud services that are comparable in scope to the service offerings of the Big Three providers. Otherwise--like Linode, DigitalOcean and Rackspace--focus on a more limited range of services, such as virtual machines and data storage.
It’s important not to confuse alternative cloud with private cloud. A private cloud platform, like OpenStack or (arguably) Kubernetes, is a platform that organizations can use to set up cloud services on their own infrastructure.
In contrast, alternative clouds provide services via a managed services architecture. They supply all of the hardware and software tools necessary to leverage cloud services. The only reason they’re called alternative clouds is that they’re not as widely known or used as AWS, Azure and Google Cloud, which collectively account for about 70% of the total cloud computing market.
Which Problems Do Alternative Clouds Solve?
Because alternative clouds do the same basic thing as the Big Three clouds, they don’t really solve problems as much as they offer opportunities that may not exist when companies rely on the Big Three clouds alone.
Those opportunities typically boil down to:
- Cost: In some cases, alternative clouds offer services at a lower cost than the Big Three clouds. That tends to be the case especially for alternative clouds that specialize in a certain type of service, like data storage.
- Service and support: Some alternative clouds offer a wider selection of hands-on support services than the Big Three clouds, which are not really into the managed support services game.
- Ecosystem integrations: In certain cases, alternative clouds provide services that integrate better with a certain vendor’s ecosystem than the Big Three clouds. For example, companies that are already heavily invested in IBM products may find IBM Cloud easier to use than a cloud like AWS.
How New Are Alternative Clouds?
Alternative cloud platforms have been around for a long time. Some, like Rackspace, evolved from hosting companies that were founded before the debut of the Big Three clouds.
However, interest in alternative clouds has increased in recent years. There are probably two reasons why.
One is that as multicloud architectures have gained popularity, more companies have begun evaluating their cloud strategies and questioning whether the single cloud they have been using--which, in many cases, is a Big Three cloud--is the best fit for all of their needs.
The second reason is that the cloud computing market has simply matured to the point that the Big Three providers increasingly have a hard time standing out. Ten years ago, large providers like AWS had an advantage because their size and resources allowed them to pioneer new types of services, such as cloud-based serverless functions, that weren’t available elsewhere. Today, alternative clouds have caught up, and can in many cases offer the types of services as the Big Three.
That’s especially true given that open source platforms like OpenStack have made it easy for alternative clouds to deliver cloud services without having to build those services from scratch. Instead, they can use open source platforms as the basis for their own services.
Do You Need an Alternative Cloud?
Consider several factors when weighing whether your business can benefit from an alternative cloud:
- Cloud service types: How many different types of cloud services do you use? If you use just a few services--and they are standard services like compute or storage--it will be easy to find an alternative cloud that provides them.
- Cost goals: Are you worried that you’re spending too much on cloud services? An alternative cloud could be a smart way to reduce your overall cloud spend.
- Support requirements: If you need more support from your cloud provider than you’re currently getting, you may find value in alternative clouds that provide hands-on support services.
- Ecosystem: As noted above, if you’re knee-deep in a certain vendor’s ecosystem, the alternative cloud provided by that vendor may be a good fit for you.
Remember, too, that you can use an alternative cloud alongside one (or more) of the Big Three clouds. If you want to take advantage of certain services in an alternative cloud, but use a cloud like AWS or Azure for other workloads, there’s nothing stopping you.