Why the surge in providers? IaaS revenue continues to grow, of course, but I think the real driver is anticipation of a long-awaited tipping point: when enterprises start moving their production workloads -- as opposed to dev and test or batch processing jobs -- to IaaS platforms.
Up until now production IaaS workloads have tended to originate with other tech players, from consumer companies like Netflix to small PaaS (platform as a service) players such as Engine Yard. I think 2013 could be the year when that changes. I've had several off-the-record conversations over the past few months that convince me we'll see a number of large enterprises move core applications -- including ERP -- to IaaS providers in the coming year.
It's no surprise, then, that Google, HP, and Microsoft are positioning their offerings as much more tailored to enterprise needs than Amazon Web Services, which the insurgents like to dismiss as generic and ill-suited to run enterprise production workloads. That might have been true a few years ago. But today, Amazon has a tremendous lead -- in virtual machine configuration options, in the native services it offers, and in the huge partner ecosystem it has developed. Amazon continues to expand its enterprise sales and support, bulk up its SLAs, and now offers "virtual private cloud" services that provide greater isolation among customer workloads.
Regardless, in a ballooning market, everyone has a shot. Google Compute Engine, currently in beta, claims it will have a performance and reliability advantage. HP Cloud seems willing to bend over backward to accommodate particular enterprise needs -- and promises "convergence" with its private cloud offerings to support unified management.
Windows Azure may be the most interesting case of all. Over two years ago it officially launched as a PaaS catering to Microsoft developers who wanted to build and deploy applications in the cloud. Adoption was not brisk. In the summer of 2012, Microsoft quietly added IaaS -- including support for Linux and MySQL -- backing off its long-held assertion that PaaS was the vastly superior option.