Amazon's competitors start to take developers seriously

For years, Amazon's competitors have focused on the wrong strategies. Now, with Google, developers are important again, and AWS finally has real competition.

Cloud computing

Never underestimate the overwhelming power of convenience. Time and time again, the would-be challengers to Amazon Web Services (AWS) have focused on the absolute wrong things. "We're more secure!" they shout. "We offer better performance!" they intone.

But no one seems to listen, in large part because they're offering up the wrong arguments. Customers, whether it's an enterprise IT buyer or a 90-year old consumer in his rocking chair, care about convenience more than just about anything else.

Selling everything but convenience

Amazon's challengers need to digest this message. Alcatel-Lucent has its "carrier cloud," a way to focus on the network layer of cloud services, but not a way to make the cloud easier for end-users to consume. CenturyLink (Savvis) has spent years trying to make its service easier to use but still tends to focus on the raw infrastructure capabilities undergirding its services — like the ability to daisy-chain data centers so that systems in one location can automatically fail over to another — rather than on simplified deployment.

IBM, which has been on a cloud buying spree, touts its patents (R&D), relationships with IT, and investments in OpenStack (among other things) as reasons to buy into its cloud instead of AWS.

Meanwhile, others want to pile onto the public cloud's perceived deficiencies in security as a reason to go with a private cloud or to tread lightly on public cloud adoption. Cloud security companies like Perspecsys have rolled out reports showing that security is top of mind for would-be cloud adopters, with 69% of respondents to a 451 Research survey indicating security as a "high" concern. McAfee, a security vendor, also jumps into the fray, while ComputerWeekly has its own take, listing data security and regulatory compliance as the top two concerns inhibiting public cloud adoption.

And still the public cloud, and particularly AWS, speeds forward, seemingly uninhibited by all the marketing FUD thrown at it. Amazon, after all, groks convenience, and customers keep buying it.

Convenience trumps all

If anything, Amazon's success has served to diminish fears over security and other alleged problems with the public cloud. Rightscale's surveys since 2013 have shown a marked decrease in security concerns for both cloud newbies and experienced cloud users (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A

There's a decrease in cloud security concerns.

Indeed, in this same report, Rightscale highlighted just how critical convenience is to selling public cloud (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

Convenience is critical to selling public cloud.

This is one big reason why I wasn't blown away by the price war that has erupted in public cloud services, sparked by Google's aggressive discounting in March. Pricing is the least important reason to adopt the cloud, as cloud expert David Linthicum highlights: "The price of cloud services pales in comparison to the value of time-to-market and agility advantages."

At last, Google gets this, too. While people have been talking about Google's price drops, the real story is how Google is using pricing to carry its message of convenience. By introducing sustained-use discounting in March, Google took an additional step toward making public cloud computing even more convenient and predictable.

As Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady puts it, "The most important feature of cloud computing [is its] low barrier to entry." Or convenience, if you will.

Convenience and...

Once ease of use is covered, everything else starts to make more sense. Hence, as Randy Bias suggests, Google's blazingly fast networks connecting its clouds is a real advantage against Amazon... but only if it's at least as convenient for developers to use as AWS is. The good thing for Google and for competition in the market is that Google seems to have fixated just as much on the developer experience as it has on its infrastructure.

For the first time, AWS has real competition. Because for the first time, someone else is as focused on the developer experience as Amazon.


Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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