Gartner’s IaaS Quadrant highlights how Microsoft is winning race for second place

James has more than a decade of experience as a tech journalist, writer and editor, and served as Editor in Chief of TechForge Media between 2017 and 2021. James was named as one of the top 20 UK technology influencers by Tyto, and has also been cited by Onalytica, Feedspot and Zsah as an influential cloud computing writer.

There’s been an awful lot of research in the infrastructure as a service space over the past several weeks. Well bow down now, because Gartner has released its Magic Quadrant and there’s plenty to digest.

You thought Amazon Web Services (AWS) would be streets ahead at the top of the Quadrant? You thought correct. You thought Microsoft would be the nearest challenger to AWS? You thought correct there too.

What you might not have been expecting was that AWS and Microsoft were the only two companies Gartner analyst Lydia Leong deemed worthy of the ‘leaders’ tag. A gaggle of players comprise the visionaries section: CenturyLink, CSC, IBM – noted in the Quadrant at IBM (SoftLayer) – Google and Verizon Terremark.

Several other companies reside in the niche players category; the nearest challengers here are Rackspace and VMware, whilst GoGrid and Joyent finished flat last. HP, who recently invested a billion dollars in its latest cloud bet, came second last in ability to execute, arguably proving how badly needed that investment was.

Microsoft, Amazon, and a battle of history

Gartner’s examination of AWS goes a long way into determining the huge market lead it has over the competition. The analyst house calls Amazon a “thought leader”, “extraordinarily innovative”, “exceptionally agile” and “very responsive to the market.”

High praise. Yet there’s a caveat. Gartner argues that AWS is growing too fast for its own good – its sales capacity cannot consistently satisfy prospective customers who need consultative sales – and argues that Microsoft and Google are the strongest competition in the traditional business and cloud-native markets respectively.

Does Microsoft’s back catalogue help it practically write its own ticket in IaaS?

For Microsoft, the main caution is how nascent Azure Infrastructure Services is. “Many features are in “preview” (beta) or “coming soon”, and it is not always obvious to customers which features are still in preview,” the report notes. Yet Redmond’s consumer history precedes it, enabling it to rapidly become a leader in IaaS, according to Gartner.

This is an interesting point. Compare and contrast with IBM; where their 100 plus year history in enterprise helps its brand – if perhaps not customer impressions of the company’s agility – does Microsoft’s back catalogue help practically write its own ticket?

Three interesting actors: IBM, Joyent, CenturyLink

IBM remains the ace in the pack which hasn’t yet been played. CloudTech expected Big Blue’s ranking to be slightly ahead in the ‘completeness of vision’ stakes, however this is noted in the report, Gartner praising IBM’s “strong vision for how the shift to cloud will radically transform its business over time.”

Yet the Armonk firm is accused of cloud washing SoftLayer’s dedicated server business, and asks questions about the future of SoftLayer itself. “We believe it is more likely that customers who pursue strategic adoption of IBM cloud services will do so for the managed services and other higher-level capabilities, than for the core SoftLayer capabilities,” Leung wrote.

Joyent’s position is interesting, especially given the recent downtime issues the company has faced. Put that bad day at the office down to serendipity, but it could also be a red herring; Gartner was relatively positive about the San Francisco firm below the line, praising its “unique vision for cloud IaaS” and adding it was “exceptionally innovative from a technology perspective.” The analyst house added, however, that because its offering was unique, it needed a more mature ecosystem than it currently offers.

CloudTech opined last month whether CenturyLink could take on ‘cloud’s big three’ after announcing wide-ranging price cuts in line with Amazon, Google and Microsoft’s previous efforts.

Gartner’s view was interesting here: the analyst house described CenturyLink’s roadmap as “ambitious”, yet added “it will be challenged to muster the resources and agility of the leading providers in this market.” This is a fair point. IBM, Microsoft, Google, Amazon all have wide-ranging ecosystems. What does CenturyLink have in comparison?

How this stacks up against competing research

If you think the IaaS market is a dogfight, then the IaaS research market is nearly as bad. So where should you focus your eyeballs and your money?

Horses for Sourses (HfS), in its IaaS winner’s circle, put 10 companies in that exalted position. AWS, HP and IBM made the list. Microsoft and Google did not. HfS stressed its unique proposition in determining cloud services, made up of a buyer view of an end-to-end business process.

Still, taking into account its similarities with the Gartner Magic Quadrant – ranking the x and y axes in execution and innovation, segmenting its results into quarters – it’s interesting to see Microsoft in the secondary ‘high performers’ category, and Google, Rackspace and Joyent on the fringes. AWS did not carry such a dominant lead either, with IBM and Cisco best at execution and innovation respectively.

A conclusion IDC drew also resonated with Gartner – it’s not about who’s won the battle now, but who wins the war in five to 10 years

Not satisfied with that? What about IDC? VP David Tapper released a report last month which argued IBM was the IaaS vendor of choice for US enterprise buyers, ahead of Cisco and HP. Google, Microsoft and AWS filled positions five to seven. A conclusion Tapper drew also resonated with a takeaway from Gartner – it’s not about who’s won the battle now, but who wins the war in five to 10 years. 

“This is not a market for the faint of heart,” wrote Leong in a blog post, adding: “For that matter, this is not a market for the shallow of pocket.

“There’s also a clear convergence with the PaaS market that’s taking place here,” she added. “AWS has long offered an array of services that are PaaS elements, as well as many things that sit on the spectrum between pure IaaS and pure PaaS. Microsoft and Google started as PaaS providers and then launched IaaS offerings.

“The distinctions will blur and increasingly become less relevant, as providers fight it out on features and capabilities.”

We’ve got to wait nine months for the oracle’s next prediction – and that itself is a huge indictment of the pace and size of the market. But what’s your view on the latest Quadrant? Take a look for more information here.

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