Can Microsoft (or Rackspace) Dethrone Cloud King Amazon?

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Microsoft and Rackspace both made much cloud computing news this week; the former by announcing pricing and details for its Azure platform, and the latter by opening up its Cloud Servers APIs. Both companies have large customer bases and strong reputations, so the real question as their cloud offerings mature is not if they can attract customers, but, rather, if either company can dethrone Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the cloud king.

Microsoft presents the more compelling case, especially given the huge number of corporate customers that already use and prefer Windows. If Microsoft can bring even a fraction of its existing clients to the cloud off the bat — forget about the opportunity to add new ones – Azure will be off to a running start.

Azure’s features and pricing don’t hurt either. Unlike other Platform-as-a-Service offerings (which Azure is, technically), Microsoft will allow development across a wide range of favorite languages. Unlike Amazon’s infrastructure-only offerings, Microsoft also is rolling out software services the likes of which Amazon can’t touch (yet). Per-server pricing is comparable to base Windows-on-EC2 instances, but the specs of Microsoft’s instances are not known. This will change, however, if Microsoft decides, as has been rumored, that it will offer infrastructure as a service, too.

By opening its Cloud Servers APIs, Rackspace also made itself a more worthy competitor for the crown. Manually provisioning instances as demand dictates is one thing, but being able to write that capability into the application is what makes the cloud the cloud. Opening your platform up to third-party management providers like RightScale is another big boon from releasing cloud APIs. With such partnerships in place, customers without the inclination to cloud-enable their own apps have another channel to buy your wares. Rackspace also seems to be pushing its “openness” advantage over Amazon, but what exactly is meant by “open” in the context of cloud computing is anybody’s guess.

So, can Microsoft or Rackspace overtake Amazon’s leadership position? It’s conceivable, but it will take a lot of effort to overcome Amazon’s considerable headstart.

Question of the week

Who, if anyone, can conquer Amazon’s cloud dominance?

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