After Amazon, how many clouds do we need?

With news that Google(s goog) and Microsoft(s msft) plan to take on the Amazon Web Services(s amzn) monolith with infrastructure services of their own, you have to ask: How many clouds do we need?

This Google-Microsoft news, broken this week by Derrick Harris,  proves to anyone who didn’t already realize it that Amazon is the biggest cloud computing force (by far) and, as such, wears a big fat target on its back. With the success of Amazon cloud services, which started out as plain vanilla infrastructure but has evolved to include workflow and storage gateways to enterprise data centers, Amazon’s got everyone — including big enterprise players like Microsoft, IBM(s ibm) and HP(s hp) — worried. Very worried.

These vendors are betting big that they can give Amazon a run for its money and that their cloud services will help them retain existing customers and (knock wood) win some newbies. Microsoft built Azure as a full-fledged platform as a service, but in the face of Amazon’s success had to tack to offer IaaS-type services, including VM Roles, which has been in beta for more than a year.

Amazon as enterprise apps platform? Don’t laugh

Take the news late this week that IBM is working with Ogilvy and Mather to move the advertising giant’s SAP(s sap) implementation from its current hosted environment to  “SmartCloud for SAP Applications hosted in IBM’s state-of-the-art, green Smarter Data Center.” (Note to IBM: brevity is beauty when it comes to branding.)

Don’t think that little tidbit is unrelated to last week’s announcement that SAP and Amazon together certified yet another SAP application — All-in-One — to run on Amazon’s EC2.  This sort of news validates Amazon as an enterprise-class cloud platform, and that’s the last thing IBM or HP or Microsoft wants to see happen.  So every one of these players — plus Google — are taking aim at Amazon.

Some hardware players, including HP, which is reportedly about to cut 30,000 jobs, see the cloud as a way to stay relevant, and oh, by the way, keep customers workloads running on their hardware and software.  HP’s OpenStack-based public cloud went to public beta earlier this month.

Case in point: Along with the SAP migration news,  IBM also said its SmartCloud Enterprise+, IBM’s managed enterprise cloud infrastructure offers:

“unprecedented support for both x86 and P-Series [servers] running … Windows, Linux and AIX on top of either VMware or PowerVM hypervisors….


SCE+ is designed to support different workloads and associated technology platforms including a new System z shared environment that will be available in the U.S. and U.K. later this year.

Hmmm. P-Series and System Z —  not exactly the sort of commodity hardware that modern webscale cloud companies run, but they are integral to IBM’s well-being.

Vendor clouds to lock customers in

This illustrates what prospective buyers should know: Despite all the talk about openness and interoperability, a vendor’s cloud will be that vendor’s cloud. It represents a way to make sure customers run that company’s hardware and software as long as possible. But legacy IT vendors are not alone in trying to keep customers on the farm.

Amazon is making its own offerings stickier so that the more higher-value services a customer uses, the harder it will be to move to another cloud.  As Amazon continues what one competitor calls its “Sherman’s march on Atlanta,” legacy IT vendors are building cloud services as fast as they can in hopes that they can keep their customers in-house. For them, there had better be demand for at least one more cloud.

There will doubtless be more  discussion on this and other cloud topics at the GigaOM Structure conference in San Francisco next month.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Ohmega1982,