Cloud Conflict Will Focus Increasingly on End User, Tech Tools
Among tech giants, the battle for cloud dominance is reaching a new stage. Amazon Web Services (AWS) made the most of its years-long head start in the cloud space, seizing roughly a third of the market by the beginning of the year (depending on who you ask; in 2018, for example, research firm Canalys estimated AWS at 31 percent of the cloud-vendor market). But Microsoft and Google, the other major competitors in the space, are making aggressive moves to differentiate their offerings from the Amazon juggernaut. For example, Microsoft (which Canalys placed at 18 percent of the market last year) is pushing what it calls the “Power Platform,” which combines its analytics (Power BI), app-building (PowerApps) and stack automation (Flow). In doing so, it’s attempting to provide companies with something beyond raw compute power. Google has done something similar with its suite of cloud-based offerings, which includes the Google App Engine, Google Cloud Datastore, and other options. The company has also worked hard to commoditize its artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning work, putting it on a collision course with Microsoft’s forays into automation and analytics. Not that Amazon has slept while its rivals plunge ahead; in addition to introducing a variety of compute options, the e-commerce giant has pushed into artificial intelligence and machine learning—although those offerings are generally angled more toward developers than office workers. For example, developers can use Amazon Lex (which focuses on chatbots), Amazon Polly (for speech-enabled products) and Amazon Rekognition (image analysis) to make existing applications “smarter,” rather than burn the time and resources to build their own machine-learning models. As cloud vendors’ offerings evolve, a very existential question comes into focus: In addition to providing “raw” compute, is it better to offer tools that will allow third-party developers to build apps and services for specific clients and companies? Or should these vendors take a more active role, focusing more on end-users who need a combination of cloud resources, A.I., and analytics to do their jobs? In addition to its work with developers, Microsoft obviously chose to place a heavy emphasis on end-users—a logical move, considering how products such as Office already have a huge install-base, and giving those users the ability to do things like build low-code apps is a good way to make its platform more attractive to businesses seeking to make their workforces more productive and efficient. From a tech pro perspective, it’s also easy to see how tools like Flow will appeal to sysadmins and others who are increasingly concerned with the automation of business technology. Google could easily follow that same path, thanks to its suite of end-user tools, and it certainly has the capability to become much more of a player in the world of sysadmins and stack managers. With Amazon and AWS, however, it’s a trickier question. The company doesn’t build productivity software, and it’s chosen to focus AWS more on providing the "building blocks" of cloud infrastructure. But as business use of the cloud becomes more sophisticated, it might decide it needs to move into a position where it can better challenge Google and Microsoft in the cloud space (and create more of a differentiation from companies like Oracle, which are moving into the cloud-vendor space as rapidly as they can). If that future comes to pass, look for Amazon to release even more, specialized cloud tools and offerings.