Gearing up for cloudapalooza: Google and Microsoft face off against Amazon

Three events taking place in San Francisco this week illustrate a massive change in the cloud computing landscape. Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft (in alphabetical order) are holding near dueling confabs within blocks of each other.  Here are some things to look out for.

First up: Google Cloud Platform

On Tuesday at Google Platform Live, the company will trot out cloud chief Urs Hölzle, and big data guy Jeff Dean (he of BigTable and Spanner fame) and others to show, once and for all, its deadly serious about its Google Cloud platform.

Fair or not, Google still faces skepticism that it’s really prioritizing cloud and that it will remain an internet search and advertising company. But the fact that Hölzle — who will speak at Structure in June — will be front and center at this event is a big deal. He was the eighth employee at Google and is credited for building out the infrastructure underlying all that web search and advertising stuff; so he knows a little something about big scale. To date he’s been more low-profile than AWS’s SVP Andy Jassy and CTO Werner Vogels tag team, but that doesn’t make him a slouch when it comes to the world of massive infrastructure.

Google Cloud Platform logoAt Google’s event expect more price cuts for key platform components. It may go the route of adding Reserved Instances, which are not yet on the Google price list but are a mainstay of Amazon’s cloud. With AWS Reserved Instances, or RIs, users can lock in cheaper prices by committing to one- or three-year periods of use.

Some experts expect Google to extend the RI period to five years but more dramatically, it may also introduce the concept of cloud credits, whereby users commit to big chunks of Google compute/storage and other resources but are not required to pay up front. “They want to make AWS RIs look pricey,” said one source. Other possibilities: Google could announce its take on AWS CloudFormation, a central, easier way to manage multiple cloud resources. Google could also announce Windows support for GCE. (Check out Here are 8 things Google could do to freak Amazon out.) Google could not be reached for comment on these possible scenarios.

The CEO of a software company that works with both Google and AWS clouds said he’s impressed with strides Google has made in cloud. “I think when we look back at this date in six months to a year, we’ll be talking about how Google really ramped up as a real competitor to AWS in public cloud,” he said. He did not want to be named because of his ties with Amazon.

Next up, the incumbent champion: AWS

The AWS Summit on Wednesday will likely feature more of Amazon’s “we’re the cloud for big business as well as startups” message and, I would think, the general availability of WorkSpaces, the desktop virtualization product announced in November and still in “limited trial.” Also probably on tap: support for the Cloudtrail API logging and tracking service in more regions. Cloudtrail, also announced in November, is thus far available only in U.S. East and U.S. West regions.

Andy Jassy, senior vice president of Amazon Web Services, at AWS Summit 2013 in San Francisco, April 30, 2013

Andy Jassy, senior vice president of Amazon Web Services, at AWS Summit 2013 in San Francisco, April 30, 2013

The event, to be hosted by Jassy, will feature talks on AWS in high-performance computing applications and in hybrid scenarios — a key area of interest for businesses. AWS will undoubtedly continue to push its vision of AWS for enterprise use, although that message may have been dented by news Monday that Nasdaq OMX is reconsidering its AWS-based FinQloud implementation.

Microsoft in the unfamiliar role of challenger

On Thursday, it will be Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s turn. He is expected to announce the long-awaited Office for iPad(s aapl) and undoubtedly various tie-ins to the Windows Azure cloud, which I’m betting will not be called Windows Azure much longer, if the company is serious about supporting heterogeneous devices and applications.

In fact, Microsoft has taken great pains to show that Azure, despite its first name, is welcoming to non-Windows-oriented toolsets and languages. This week it posted a profile of Miranda Luna, a 23-year old Microsoft product manager working on Azure Mobile Services for developers building apps that run on iOS, Android and Windows devices.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

A big launch of Office for iPad would indicate that Nadella plans to shake up the Windows-only or Windows-first mindset that’s prevailed at Microsoft for decades and position Azure as a cloud for more than just .Net shops and developers (although there are still a lot of those.)

So summing up: AWS at 8 years is the de facto champion of public cloud and it’s taken time for rivals time to a: decide they want to be in this fight and b: get their acts together to fight it.  In Google and Microsoft, Amazon now faces two formidable and well funded cloud efforts that may be late to the fray but are clearly serious about staying in it for the long haul.


Note: This was updated at 11:30 p.m. PDT with additional detail on what Google may announce.

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