While there's a lot of general confusion about what, exactly, cloud computing is, identifying the industry's big players isn't too difficult.
Some have very public faces. Others operate in the background. But they all play a key part in this emerging field, which is just as important to less-than-thrilling business necessities as it is to your home entertainment. And a fair number of players have a foot in both ponds.
02 June 2011
Written By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
It may have started as a movie-by-mail rental service, but Netflix (NFLX) had its corporate mind on the cloud from day one. Today, Netflix is defined by its streaming service, which is growing bigger by the day. New releases are still unavailable, but for catalog films – and television series – this has become the go-to source for most people. And Sandvine, a company that sells network management and measurement software to large ISPs, says the company now accounts for 22.2 percent of all U.S. broadband traffic.
Apple's (AAPL) not a current leader in the cloud computing space, but analysts say it's just a matter of time – and likely a very short time – before the company enters the cloud storage music war with Amazon and Google. Record labels are rumored to be already on board with the move – and, given the size of its user base, allowing people to stream their entire iTunes collection to any iDevice, Mac or PC without having to upload and sync it manually is almost certainly going to be big.
Google Music is stealing headlines these days, but Google (GOOG) has long been invested in the cloud. Gmail is a default address for many people – and businesses. And entrepreneurs are increasingly turning to Google Docs and Google Calendar to cut their costs. And the company seems to be on a mission to stay on the cutting edge of cloud technology.
Cloud Drive, Amazon's (AMZN) public-facing cloud storage service, just scratches the surface of this company's cloud interests. The company has long offered virtual servers and data storage space to business clients Its Elastic Compute Cloud launched in 2006, long before many competitors – and is a leader provider of cloud hosting. That proved problematic when the service experienced an outage earlier this year, taking down companies including Foursquare and Reddit.
Following the success of Google Docs, Microsoft (MSFT) did the unthinkable – it announced plans to make its lucrative Microsoft Office franchise available online for free. That was its biggest public foray into the cloud, but hardly its first. The company's Azure platform, run by the company's top technical pundit Ray Ozzie, has over 10,000 paying clients, including Accenture.
It doesn't have a significant public facing division, but Rackspace (RAX) is one of the most trusted names in the cloud. Rather than providing shared data center resources, the company opts for private ones, making it the go-to choice for several universities (including Stanford), social media companies and even The NFL's RedZone site.
By targeting small- and medium-sized businesses with its cloud-based finance and accounting software, NetSuite (N) has become one of the largest online software providers – particularly in the business software field. It seems ready to expand its focus, too, announcing a new suite of services in mid-May that appear aimed at larger companies.
The high cost of business software (not to mention the compatibility risks that go along with updating that software) has always been a headache for businesses. Salesforce (CRM) lets businesses customize and use those programs via the cloud at a lower cost with built in tech support. They're also able to scale as necessary. And rather than paying for each specific program, companies pay a monthly subscription, based on usage.
There certainly isn't a higher profile company with a stake in the cloud these days than Sony (SNE) – though it's for reasons they'd rather forget. The hacking of the PlayStation Network showed some of the dangers in cloud technology – and has some companies rethinking whether it's a good choice for them. For Sony, though, there's no turning back. The growing world of online gaming and Internet connected televisions makes it an essential part of the business.
While it still makes a sizable amount of its revenue from packaged goods, Activision-Blizzard's (ATVI) crown jewel is in the cloud: "World of Warcraft" has 11.4 million active subscribers, who quest - and buy and sell virtual items – online. Blizzard has another online game in the works. And expect more virtual goods and services for the hit "Call of Duty" franchise by the end of the year.