Beyond The Big 2: 10 Benefits Of Alternate IaaS Providers

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If you’re looking at infrastructure-as-a-service options, you’re already aware Gartner has declared Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure as the Big 2 in the market. And, in many cases, they’re all you’ll need. But sometimes, your unique business requirements will make an alternate IaaS provider a better fit for your organization. Here, we outline 10 benefits to help you decide what’s right for your needs. PreviousNext

(Image: BeeBright/iStockphoto)

(Image: BeeBright/iStockphoto)


We’ve all heard the old saying “bigger is not always better.” Such is the case with your infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider.

According to Gartner’s 2016 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service, “The market for cloud IaaS has consolidated significantly around two leading service providers.” While these Big 2 players — Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure — offer a wide range of services and integration partners in their ecosystems, choosing an IaaS provider depends wholly upon your business needs.

That’s not to imply all the alternatives we’ll be discussing here are diminutive. In fact, IBM and Verizon are among the service providers whose IaaS offerings we’ll be discussing. It’s simply that, when their IaaS services are stacked up against the Big 2, they qualify as alternative options. We’ll also be talking about smaller providers who offer certain specialties that might be important to your organization.

Still, choosing a player other than the Big 2 can feel risky. In fact, the Gartner report further said customers may be at risk in choosing an alternate service provider for various reasons, including lack of maturity and vision, and a reduced number of integration options.

I tend to disagree. I believe there are plenty of unique strengths offered by alternative IaaS providers that can prove invaluable to potential customers.

In fact, the Gartner report outlines 10 strengths offered by alternative IaaS providers. We highlight those here, along with additional advice as you weigh your decision about whether AWS, Azure, or an alternative IaaS provider is right for your organization.

Before we get started, let’s note there are plenty of very good reasons why IaaS services from Amazon and Microsoft are recognized as leading offerings in the industry.

There’s very little these Big 2 providers don’t offer today. They’re also front-runners when it comes to leveraging emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT).

Still, alternative cloud providers can fill many gaps — primarily in the areas of service and support. That fact could make all the difference, depending on your business needs. It’s in these instances where you’ll find the true benefits of alternate IaaS providers.

Focus On Specific Business Needs

One of the advantages of a smaller IaaS is its ability to help customers solve specific business problems in the cloud. Whether your focus is batch computing, IoT, e-commerce, DevOps, or something else entirely, by considering an alternate provider you’ll be able to partner with a firm specializing in the right competency for your needs.

Strong Legacy Application Support

Migrating modern applications from an on-premises environment to a cloud environment is where the Big 2 IaaS providers excel. But when you have legacy applications — especially those that aren’t necessarily virtualization friendly — alternate IaaS providers can be a better choice. SoftLayer is a perfect example of how IBM is helping companies transition legacy apps to the cloud, including the option of running applications on bare metal servers.

Meeting Your Geographic Preferences

While Amazon and Microsoft have IaaS data centers placed strategically around the world, they may not be the most ideal locations for your particular cloud deployment. There are plenty of IaaS providers based in Europe, Asia Pacific, and South America that might be more suitable for your needs, particularly if you are dealing with regulatory and compliance environments. Alternatively, you may find some providers have data centers best situated for a specific user set. For example, Dimension Data is one of the few global providers with a large data center in Africa.

Potential Cost Savings

I often work with customers who choose AWS or Azure based on the assumption that the two biggest IaaS providers are also the cheapest. They can be, but it really depends on your particular needs. For example, if your business requires advanced support services, alternative IaaS providers can be a more affordable option for you.

Contracts And SLAs

Most of the big cloud providers use a “take it or leave it” approach to designing their IaaS contracts and service level agreements (SLAs). Small IaaS providers, on the other hand, are sometimes willing to negotiate individualized contracts and SLAs designed for the specific needs of prospective customers. While it’s nice to use your crafty negotiating skills to snare a great dollar deal on paper, securing a superior SLA will bring greater long-term benefits to your company.

More Cloud Management Platform (CMP) Options

Choosing a Cloud Management Platform (CMP) may be a purely subjective choice — but it’s a choice nonetheless. Clearly some CMPs are better than others in terms of ease-of-use, self-service provisioning, service catalogs, and advanced monitoring tools. If you have a preferred CMP you like to use, it might be worthwhile to seek out a provider offering your favorite platform.

Enhanced Customer Service

Once you are locked into a service and support contract, IaaS giants often limit customer service to only a few options, which may not be the ones you need most. Then, if you require more advanced assistance, you can get it — but it’ll cost you. Alternatively, many smaller providers give you more free and personalized customer service options at a more affordable price. So, if your particular company needs some additional hand-holding, it’s nice to know there are options available for you.

API Selection

Deciding which cloud API to tie yourself to is critical. There are plenty of alternatives to choose from, all with their own pros and cons. Going with a smaller service provider which uses an open API — such as OpenStack — will keep you from getting locked into a proprietary API technology, as you would with one of the Big 2 IaaS providers. You also may have reasons to choose a proprietary API — and thus a specific IaaS provider. Much of this really depends on what applications you plan to deploy.

Engaged Design And Architecture Support

With the Big 2 IaaS players, design and architecture services are often treated much the same as the cookie-cutter levels of customer service and support. Alternately, some of the smaller IaaS providers will offer in-depth design and architecture services. And they’ll either include these with your service, or offer them at a very low cost. These design services are a smart way to get your project off to the right start – while avoiding any critical design mistakes.

Bundling Multiple IT Services

Some internet and WAN circuit service providers also offer robust IaaS platforms. If yours does, you may want to stick with a single vendor for all your IT services. A provider responsible for the infrastructure from end-to-end can help you from a support and troubleshooting standpoint in a way that separate vendors can’t. Both CenturyLink and Verizon are examples of vendors bundling cloud and Internet/WAN services.


As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why you might choose an alternative cloud provider other than the Big 2. Whether you need specialized environments, support, or levels of service, there is certainly a cloud for your IaaS needs. Determining the right fit is often simply a matter of keeping yourself open to possibility.