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A Look Beyond Amazon's Cloud

When people think Infrastructure as a Service, their first thought is Amazon Web Services (AMZN). That’s fair given its early-mover advantage and size. But AWS is not the only IaaS in town. The thing is, some much smaller cloud providers are not trying to compete with AWS on sheer size and breadth of services but more on specialized features and services or by focusing on a smaller market. The feeling among cloud analysts is that a smaller provider can out-innovate the big guy provided it focuses that innovation and doesn’t try to be all things to all people.

“While AWS, Rackspace, and Microsoft are on everyone’s short list, you have to look at every IaaS player to determine fit. The objective is to move from the business, to the requirements, to the technology. If you do that, you need to be a bit more open-minded when it comes to selecting a cloud provider,” said David Linthicum, Gigaom Research analyst.

Given that assessment, here’s a list of a few IaaS offerings that have cropped up often in my conversations over the past few months. You may not know them by name but they may be worth a look, depending on your needs.

Tier 3. This small cloud provider got outsize kudos from Gartner’s rankings for what Gartner cloud analyst Lydia Leong described as a “good balance of manageability and control for an IT audience and productivity-oriented stuff for developers.” For developers, its Iron Foundry PaaS—basically a version of Cloud Foundry for the .NET world—is a strong entry, and Tier 3 supports popular development and operations tools including New Relic, Pingdom, Logstash, and Octopus Deploy.

ProfitBricks. This company zigged where Amazon zagged, offering scale-up architecture—you can rent gigantic instances of computing power, up to 62 CPU cores and 240 GB of RAM—which suits traditional big database applications as well as some NoSQL scenarios. “What I like about them is instead of imitating Amazon EC2 like most of the newbies, they leapfrogged AWS with their scale-up architecture, dynamic instance types, InfiniBand, and SSD-based storage,” said Gigaom Research analyst Janakiram MSV.

Virtustream. For enterprise accounts needing cloud infrastructure to run enterprise SAP applications, Virtustream is probably a great option. So great that SAP invested in Virtustream. The company was smart to pick an application it excels at and then target the heck out of that audience. Virtustream has 100 production large-scale SAP implementations running—that’s impressive,” said Forrester Research analyst Dave Bartoletti.

DigitalOcean. For newbies who may not know what an instance is but want to build stuff on rented modern infrastructure. DigitalOcean is “wicked cheap, adding customers fast and doesn’t have a ton of legacy infrastructure so they’re the first time of where IaaS prices are headed,” said Carl Brooks, analyst at 451 Research.

Internap. Has a nice mix of cloud and bare metal capabilities. And its recent purchase of iWeb may make it home to a lot more small and midsize companies. Brooks said Internap is ”turning colocation into cloud long-term, and does interesting stuff around DCIM [Data Center Infrastructure Management].” Customers like the mix of bare metal and virtualized options. Data analytics company Exelate uses Internap a lot because it’s able to define its own server specs, network topology, and storage arrays, said Exelate co-founder and CTO Elad Efraim.

GoGrid. Offers very enterprise-y service-level agreements (SLAKs) that distinguish it from the pack, said Forrester Research analyst Dave Bartoletti. And with its GoGrid Exchange, independent software vendors can license and package up their applications to run on GoGrid, making deployment easier for end users.

This is hardly a scientific sample. Please use comments below to propose other, smaller IaaS providers and specifically why they deserve a look. Remember, AWS, Rackspace (RAX), Microsoft (MSFT), and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) need not apply for our purposes here.

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Darrow writes for Gigaom.

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