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Top Cloud Service Providers

by Mike Ricotta - May 16, 2017

When it comes to finding the right cloud hosting provider, the list of top cloud service providers is ever expanding but all providers are not created equal.  It’s important to consider what your business’s needs are and what you’re capable of supporting on your own, in order to get the most cost effective solution.

For example, suppose your cloud needs are mostly storage-based.  On one hand you could require a lightweight but speedy CDN while the other could be a shared storage server for your team’s documentation or intranet.  The former might be easily addressed with a low-cost and maximum up-time managed solution, such as AWS S3.  The latter might be addressed with a low-performance server that charges hourly, permits control over starting and stopping instances, and allows for more disk space while skimping on computation power, like an on-demand AWS EC2 M3.

Perhaps your needs are more computationally based or service based.  Maybe you’re a journalist looking to scale to your big break without breaking the bank, through Azure’s WordPress App service or other SaaS solutions.   If you’re a startup in need of a custom IaaS solution, provisioning and scaling instances on Linode might be the ticket, or if you’re a well established brand seeking fanatical support for your licensed legacy technologies, Rackspace’s support might be what you’re looking for.

We may not have all of the answers to your needs but we’ve done our best to provide you with a comprehensive list of popular providers, their flagship services and capabilities, and service pros, cons, and pricing.  This is the most comprehensive analysis I’ve seen to date (which is why I thought it needed to be written).

We’ve highlighted the best of, in our opinions, as well.

Provider VPS & IaaS PaaS & SaaS Storage
(~$3-$10/mo)
Raw Pricing Service/Support
Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2
Pros: Excellent GUI!  Spin up and scale instances within minutes.  Distribute to different co-lo’s, manage keys and security groups, tags, monitoring, snapshots, etc. We are fans of creating and sharing our own AMI’s and using security groups.

Cons: Occasional networking problems, super slow performance during the holidays, limited Elastic IP’s (dedicated IP’s are basically held ransom).

Amazon Web Services
This link should give you a list of what you might be looking for.  Most often, these will require some programming, unlike most SaaS platforms.  Their “websites” marketplace should be suitable for spinning up a quick CMS, though, for a SaaS solution.
S3 (Simple Storage Service)

Pros: S3 is a wildly popular solution for page speed improvements (as a CDN).  $2.30/mo CAN get you 100GB.  Hard to beat that price!

Mid-priced

Pros: On-demand pricing allows you to pay for what you use and you can even schedule start and stop times for your instance, so you’re not paying for it in off-hours.

Offers “Free Tier” which can go on *forever*, unlike its competitors’ “Free Trials”.

Cons: On-demand expenses can easily double with 2 weeks of snapshots.

Pro Tip:  Use “Reserved Instances” to reduce your EC2 billing by up to 75%.

AWS’s support options are very affordable but limited, slow, and may contain hidden fees.  Between slow business-level support and bank-breaking Enterprise, there’s no proper middleground.

Pro Tip:  AWS has ‘hidden’ fees in a lot of their services.

Google Cloud  Compute Engine

Pros: Pay for what you use with per-minute billing (ie. Joyent).

Intuitive console.

High performance.

Super low prices.

Google App Engine

This is Google’s Managed platform (PaaS) and they also offer container services.

Cons: No viable SaaS option, you’re going PaaS or somewhere else.

Google Cloud Storage

Pros: Unbeatable performance at price you can smile at:  $2.60/mo CAN get you 100 GB of storage.

Cons: Fees… Your pricing isn’t locked in.  Give it a shot, it’s always easy to migrate if you get surprised by fees.

Low-to-Mid-priced

Pros: Free Trial, per-minute pricing.

When comparing costs to EC2, similar instances on Compute Engine were half as expensive as EC2, which is really nice.

The Google App Engine, however, isn’t as low-cost.

Cons:  Instance types don’t go as small as AWS EC2 but that shouldn’t matter when you’re paying half as much.

Watch out for Fees, Google’s fees are higher percentages than their competitors.

With slightly higher pricing and similar SLA’s to AWS’s Business and Enterprise tiers, Google gets a +1 for at least having a middle tier.

Pros: More options with top-notch engineers.

Cons: Prepare for some hefty product usage fees.

IBM Cloud BlueMix Virtual Servers (and More)

Pros: Tons of options for virtualization, including hybrid VMWare pairings and IaaS SAP certified.

If you have a very specific hardware need, IBM might have it.

Public nodes are competitively priced.

Helpful access to API.

Cons: Private nodes are 3x more expensive.

You pay hourly or monthly.

IBM Managed Services and Application Platform

IBM offers a variety of managed services including management of SAP, Oracle, and security services.

IBM’s application server supports IBM Websphere and Bluemix.  This is their PaaS solution.

Pros/Cons: These are highly specific and again, enterprise level, you won’t find them elsewhere on this list.

Cloud Object Storage && CDN

Pros:

IBM remains competitive in both CDN and object storage.

$12 gets you 100GB CDN bandwidth

$3.00 gets you 100GB object storage.

With their Verizon partnership spanning 50+ cities internationally, we’re talking near zero geo-latency.

Mid-to-High priced

If you’re not looking for enterprise services, this probably isn’t for you.  You’d have to have a really specific need in mind, to go to IBM.

Pros: Many products and services come with a free trial.

IBM’s support options are priced well at the base but much like its competitors, there’s not much of a middle-ground.

Pros: More affordable 

Cons: The free tier literally refers you to Stack Overflow (which if you don’t know what that is, shouldn’t be publicized as a service.)

10% service charges way outpace the competition and are likely to exceed their publicized rates, so do your math!

Microsoft Azure Windows Azure VM & Private Clouds

Pros: Availability sets are unique to MS, allowing for a much lower-cost option to load-balancing (directs traffic failover).

Their interface offers a litany of options and allows you to share access to vendors!

Cons: It’s going to cost you more than AWS and Google.

MS’s recommendations are pretty bloated, so use your own judgment.

Azure App Service && Business SaaS apps
The Azure App Service provides a marketplace of MS maintained software to support your standard environment needs.Cloud Services is their PaaS solution.Pros: Both are surprisingly easy to use.  We recommend them.Cons:  If you want custom services, you have to write custom scripts to keep them persistent on reboot.  You could also lose FTP users on reboot.  MS reboots whenever they feel necessary, so it’s mostly out of your hands.Their interface still could use improvements.
 Azure Blob Storage

Priced competitively with all others on this list.

Pros: Options for different storage types.  That stands out among competitors.

Cons: Can be slightly more expensive than competitors.

Mid-priced.*
We suggest checking out the other links for an easier calculator.

Pros: Free TrialFor SaaS and PaaS, this is your best and most affordable solution.

Cons: Azure VM costs don’t compete with the other major players.

Pros: If you’re running a .NET environment, who better than the product’s creator, to support it?

Cons:  Support is mostly an endless sales process full of “that’s not my department” folks, even when you’re paying for it.

Joyent Triton Compute

Pros: Per-minute pricing that can be nearly half the cost of AWS EC2.

Cons:

Pricing can be misleading.

Containers are limited technology

Node.js

Talk about a niche! Enterprise level Node.JS cloud service (how many buzz-words is that?)

Cons: Node.JS is incredibly easy too manage, so if you are managing your own server, you shouldn’t need this service.  Also, if you’re using their object storage or built the Node.JS app on your local, you should be very familiar with managing Node.JS… you don’t need an enterprise vendor to do it.

Object Storage

Pros: RESTful API and a GUI.  Even comes with a free trial.

Cons: Pricing is a bit unclear.  You really have to be a developer or sys admin to set this up.

Mid-priced

Pros: Per-minute pricing with configurations that allow you to reduce your costs as evidenced by the above link.

Cons: Container pricing can just as easily be more expensive than AWS if you look more carefully.

Various support options make Joyent an option that’s priced similarly to AWS’s support but with faster critical response time.  Again, however, there’s not much of a middle-ground.  We’re uncertain of the quality of support

Cons: Basically all of their service documentation is built for devs and sys admins, so if you’re not one, you can’t avoid hiring help or paying for support.

Rackspace Cloud Servers

Pros: Fanatical Support

Cons: Expensive! You’ve signed a contract for raw infrastructure at more than 2x the costs of an on-demand AWS EC2 server and that’s before you start paying their management fees which are unavoidable.

SaaS hosting, CMS, and web and mobile apps

Pros: Engineers can set you up with a non-standard stack that they’ll support.

Cons: 

Involves sales team and engineers and not a click and launch solution like Azure.

Rackspace used to offer a PaaS “Cloud Sites” solution but sold this arm to liquidweb.com

Cloud Files

Pros: Just as fast and reliable as you’d expect from its competitors and priced to match.

Mid-to-High-priced

Pros: Cloud Files are priced well.

Fanatical support… but they’d just as well support your AWS or Azure servers.

Cons: There’s no avoiding the costs.  Even if you deleted all your servers, you’d still get charged through the end of the month for not canceling your account.

Rackspace support is a bit expensive and grows slower year over year.  They also make it difficult to find pricing because they want you to submit forms for their sales funnel.  Still, it remains better than most alternatives.  If you’re looking for someone to occasionally bend the rules, Rackspace is the partner for you.

Pros: Rackspace will support other platforms, not just Rackspace (but so will Arcane, and at a lower rate!)

Pro Tip:  We publicized their pricing on our site… feel free to take a look around.

Linode Linodes

Pros: Spin up instances in seconds.  Performance is awesome and it even has a mobile interface!

Cons: You must be a developer. Lacking support.  If you’re not an expert Sys Admin, you must hire support.

Sorry!

Linode requires Sys Admins and Developers

 Sorry!

Linode basically does one thing (super well).

Low-priced

Pros: No hidden fees.  Unrivaled pricing.

Cons: You don’t have the advantage of on-demand billing, so your’e paying for the whole month.

Linode is not competitive as a support provider.  You’re really on your own, here.

They do have a support staff to handle tickets but you’re not paying for an engineer to set up your stack, so don’t expect it. 

DigitalOcean Compute Droplets

Pros: Lots of documentation and quick deployment.  If you’re a mid-level Sys Admin and need instruction, this can help.

Cons: You must be a developer. Lacking support and supposed network problems.

Sorry!

DigitalOcean requires Sys Admins and Developers

Attach Volumes to Your Droplet

If you are savvy enough to set up a CDN on your own DigitalOcean instances, this an affordable option, with no nickle-and-diming, and it’s all in one place.

Mid-priced 

Generally higher than Linode and Google but lower than than AWS and MS.

Instances (droplets) are more affordable as you scale up. No hidden fees, and storage costs can be half as much as AWS S3 by simply attaching volumes to your instances.

DigitalOcean is not a support provider, the situation is similar to Linode and they don’t offer phone assistance.  Their business service includes a premium once you have a $500 minimum spend, which actually used to be the standard for most of the above competitors.  

Cons: Bad Reviews

Pros: Excellent community documentation.

If you feel that we’re off-base or missing anything (obviously we’re missing several vendors) and want to contribute, please feel free to contact us on social media.