Clouds have to be big, right? If the best feature of the cloud is that you can just click and start up a machine in seconds, it follows that there must be vast warehouses loaded with computers out there somewhere. Huge warehouses filled with tall racks of machines arranged in endless rows, like a modern digital version of the ending of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
The word “big” is relative, though. The biggest clouds—AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform—may attract much of the market share, but they’re far from the only companies in the game. Some smaller companies are developing niches and finding a way to compete even though their racks of machines are miniscule, at least compared to the big three.
And to call these alternatives “miniscule” is only possible in comparison to the dominant players. It’s common to find that many of these competitors also run dozens of data centers around the globe and these data centers also have enough racks of machines to serve as a set for a modern digital version of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” They’re just not gargantuan.
It turns out that raw size isn’t always the most attractive option for developers. The machine instances are pretty much commodity hardware running commodity operating systems and the software can migrate in search of a better option. The cloud companies are competing on user interfaces, sophisticated features, speed, and sometimes even the one seemingly certain advantage of bigness, price.