March 01, 2011, 1:54 PM — Microsoft and Amazon have been the two primary players in the Cloud Computing market for a while – the market for externally hosted public cloud, anyway.
They haven't been directly competitive, though, despite what they and nearly everyone who writes about them says (including me).
They do complain about each other and try to outdo each other, but each is aimed at a very different group of potential customers.
Amazon is an Infrastructure as a Service company, meaning you hire them when you want a real, live data center available that allows you to do all kinds of customization and optimization and performance tuning and network configuration and resource allocation and virtual-infrastructure design and maintenance. There is no hand-holding allowed.
Some of your eyes just glazed over; the rest of you are thinking "more detail, please."
For the first group there's Microsoft Azure – a Platform as a Service offering which, if you prefer it that way, allows you to build or upload applications built in .Net onto what looks a lot like one or more Windows Servers that you can manage remotely.
Almost since they launched, though, each has been sprinting toward the other by adding features to make its service more like the opposite one.
That's good if each has exactly half the features a single, largely homogeneous group of potential customers wants to have.
It's bad if they offer services that are different enough that the "weakness" of each is actually a strength for the customers or functions for whom it's designed.
I keep thinking they're already as close as they're going to get, but it's not true.
Amazon started out, essentially, renting an open-plan data-center platform for applications, then gradually shrank things down until customers could buy power in chunks almost as small as those offered by Azure.
Azure loosened up its single-image approach to give customers more control over the virtual infrastructure, where the resources were assigned, and even parallel processing for ersatz high-performance computing in the cloud. Oh. And Cobol, although no one is sure if that's really a benefit or not.