Stratus or Cumulus… Comparing clouds

After writing a blog post about cloud computing, it came as a very welcome surprise to read that Apple did indeed release it’s own version of a cloud platform: the iCloud.

This inspired me to pick up the topic again and take a closer look at what different clouds there are and what services they offer. Of course there is way too much out there to give a comprehensive analysis of the cloud market here, but at least I would like to give an overview of the main providers and how they have been compared.

After typing some keywords into Google to get a clearer picture I decided to focus on 4 main clouds providers: Microsoft, Google, Amazon and, it goes without saying, Apple.

After researching a little I figured though that comparing the first three cloud providers with Apple’s iCloud was like comparing apples with oranges. They serve rather different purposes. Let me talk a little about Microsoft, Google and Amazon to clarify that:

Among these three big players there seems to be a pretty consistent purpose for cloud computing: the ability to increase infrastructure capacity on the fly. They all provide administrative consoles to manage your infrastructure’s capacity within their hosting facility. You pay only for the amount of infrastructure you use, rather than paying for your own infrastructure which would have to meet peak demands.

Amazon’s EC2 essentially provides you with hosting for entire virtual machines (called Amazon Machine Images). You get to customize the type of hardware available for running your desired operating system and freely put together an entire working environment in the cloud.

Microsoft’s Windows Azure is similar to EC2 in some respects, but is more limited. You cannot customize the image you use completely and thus are limited to supported platforms.

Google’s App Engine (GAE) is again very much like Windows Azure, just that it is even simpler and therefore easier to use, without such a big IT investment.

As you will have noticed, the services discussed above have already to some extent been treated in my previous blog. The next question is, what is Apple’s iCloud? How does it compare to Azure, EC2 or GAE?

According to Wikipedia, iCloud is a service which allows users to store data such as music files and automatically sync between multiple devices such as: iPhones, iPods, iPads, and personal computers.

It basically provides a kind of online desktop. This is of course a very limited service which is directed at Apple users only and doesn’t look to provide business solutions or any greater form of customization. It goes very much in the direction of the Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music Better.

I came across a very comprehensive comparison between these music cloud solutions: link.

A table illustrates quite nicely the multiple advantages Amazon and Google clouds have over Apple. Apple of course has the advantage of a very strong foundation of users with it’s iTunes platform, but nevertheless I doubt whether iCloud will be such a success given the competition.

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