Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud, which provides on-demand access to virtual machines and other computing resources, has helped define the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) technology model and bring cloud computing into the mainstream of IT. But that doesn't mean it's the best option for customers, according to the Gartner analyst firm.
The Gartner Magic Quadrant for cloud infrastructure-as-a-service and Web hosting, published last month, places Amazon in the "visionaries" tier, one step below the "challengers" and two steps below the "leaders." In Gartner's view, the leaders are Savvis, AT&T, Rackspace, Verizon Business and Terremark Worldwide. Visionaries include Amazon, GoGrid, CSC, Joyent and IBM.
"Visionaries have an innovative and disruptive approach to the market, but their services are new to the market and are unproven," Gartner writes.
Gartner did express some admiration for Amazon's cloud service.
"Amazon is a thought leader; it is extraordinarily innovative, exceptionally agile and very responsive to the market. It has the richest cloud IaaS product portfolio, and is constantly expanding its service offerings and reducing its prices," Gartner analysts Lydia Leong and Ted Chamberlin write.
But the analysts caution customers on several fronts. "Amazon does not offer any managed services ... Amazon is the only evaluated vendor that does not also offer the standard options of colocation, dedicated nonvirtualized servers. ... Amazon is a price leader, but it charges separately for optional items that are often bundled with competitive offerings. ... Amazon's offering is developer-centric, rather than enterprise-oriented, although it has significant traction in large enterprises."
Some of these criticisms are simply a byproduct of the fact that Amazon is purely an infrastructure-as-a-service vendor, whereas rivals who place higher in Gartner's Magic Quadrant are in the business of hosting physical servers and managing the data center infrastructure for clients. In fact, Gartner's recommendation to customers for "visionaries" is to "buy these services on demand, or in contracts of one year or less." Amazon sells its services in an on-demand model, so this is hardly much of a restriction.
But Gartner also criticizes Amazon's service-level guarantees.
"Amazon has the weakest cloud compute SLA of any of the evaluated competing public cloud compute services, even though its uptime is actually very good," Gartner writes. "Most providers offer 99.99 per cent or better, with many offering 100 per cent, evaluated monthly, with service credit capping at 100 per cent of that monthly bill. Amazon offers 99.95 per cent, evaluated yearly, capping at 10 per cent of that bill."
Amazon spokeswoman Kay Kinton defended the company's service-level agreements.
"Many of the SLA's you see out there are written in a way that either [excludes] downtime (calling that downtime 'maintenance') or are written so the vendor never has to pay out," Kinton writes in an e-mail. "AWS [Amazon Web Services] is clear about how our SLA's are calculated, we do not [exclude] downtime, and our service health dashboard gives customers complete constant access to how the services are performing. What matters most is demonstrated performance, and ours has been strong."
Forrester analyst James Staten also gives high marks to Amazon.
While the Magic Quadrant looks at both infrastructure-as-a-service and Web hosting, Staten notes that Amazon is strictly an infrastructure-as-a-service vendor.
"While many will complain about the SLAs for AWS, they do improve over time (you used to not get one at all) and second the users of AWS put availability and performance into the [software] stack, rather than relying on that in the infrastructure," Staten writes in an e-mail.
"That said, if I were to do a quadrant strictly on IaaS I would be hard pressed to put anyone higher (or ahead) of AWS. They are by far the largest player, with the broadest customer base and service portfolio, have the most stable API (which really matters in this market), have driven cloud economics the hardest and have the most rich ecosystem of partners and services that integrate or run on their platform."
Gartner's Magic Quadrant is divided into leaders, challengers, visionaries and niche players. The challengers who placed ahead of Amazon are SunGard, Datapipe, NaviSite and OpSource. Niche players who placed behind Amazon include Hosting.com, Carpathia Hosting, SoftLayer, Layered Tech, Media Temple, and NTT Communications.
The challengers, as defined by Gartner, "have a track record of delivering good service capabilities, but they are trailing the market's evolution," while niche players "are typically specialists with more limited product portfolios, or emerging vendors."
The leaders, meanwhile, have proven they "have staying power in the market," and customers should be comfortable signing two- or three-year contracts with them, Gartner says.
AT&T, for example, "has a very strong corporate commitment to cloud computing, and has the broadest and deepest vision of any global carrier," Gartner writes. "It has an ambitious and comprehensive road map of services that are highly integrated with its network capabilities."
Microsoft's Windows Azure service, primarily a platform-as-a-service offering, was not included in the Gartner Magic Quadrant.
Read more about data center in Network World's Data Center section.