Last year, I wrote here that cloud services were “differentiated commodities.” The evolution of the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) market over the last 18 months continues to reinforce this view.
A recent analysis of an enterprise’s IaaS options for an IT infrastructure workload that is expected to grow ten-fold during the next few years illustrates this observation quite well – and demonstrates the value that enterprises turning to cloud solutions can contemplate.
The graph below shows five pricing alternatives from three cloud providers (all normalized for similar levels of support, etc.). Amazon Web Services (AWS) EC2 standard on demand offer starts out with the highest cost and holds that premium position throughout the volume range over the three-year period projected. Surprisingly, Microsoft Azure’s solution with a one-year commitment comes in at almost half the cost of AWS on-demand and remains very competitive across the volume range. Only Rackspace’s private cloud alternative beats out the Azure one-year solution at higher volumes. Azure pricing without the one-year commitment starts pretty competitive, but escalates rapidly to finish nearly as high as AWS on-demand at the highest projected volumes. If willing to make a longer term commitment, the AWS solution with a three-year commitment scales to a competitive level at higher volumes. (However, I should highlight that AWS has a consistent history of reducing prices relatively frequently – lowering price for its first generation standard instances by 18 percent just a few weeks ago, which could easily make even its on-demand offering quite compelling as it potentially could take advantage of future price cuts.)
Enterprises thinking about cloud IaaS solutions shouldn’t miss the point about how pricing behaves with volume. Each of the solutions shown scale much more slowly than volume growth – AWS grows only 2x with a 10x volume increase and the low price Azure one-year only grows 3x with the 10x volume. Workloads for which rapid growth is likely can secure substantial attractive economics. (One might wonder how frequent workloads might show 10x growth over a relatively short period; we are observing a surprising number of new applications (e.g., big data analytics) that consume resources at many times these rates – some would crash under their own weight without a cloud solution that can scale with their explosive demands.)
Decision makers also need to remember that compute virtual machines (VMs) are only a portion of their IaaS bill – storage, IO, and additional services can add up very quickly and provider strategies and choices differ widely across these areas, too.
Business and technology leaders thinking about decisions about their IT infrastructure options must include cloud solutions in their consideration set. Just like the legacy IT world where capital budgeting ran the show, planners in the next generation IT era need to pay close attention to getting the future outlook right. As illustrated by this IaaS analysis, evaluating options at a snapshot in time may lead to choices that leave a pot of gold on the table. Moreover, crafting the solution design to enable flexibility (i.e., low switching costs) in ways that create future options may enable the enterprise to exert leverage to secure even more favorable economics in the future as pricing models and relative price points shift over time.
I’m sure many of you have read the reports of Amazon’s new CEO’s steps to revitalize the company’s growth. News of restructuring that could involve widespread layoffs that cut deeply across Amazon, including some of its key development areas are also driving changes across the company’s management ranks.
Meanwhile, there’s at least one part of Amazon that is taking aggressive steps to fuel growth rather than cutbacks.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced today that it is reducing prices for the 19th time in the last six years. And it’s not just a nudge downward:
- EC2 prices for longer term (3-year) Reserved Instances in some configurations are dropping by 35 to 40 percent
- EC2 On Demand prices for high memory instances are now 10 percent lower
- Similar price reductions span services beyond EC2 as well (e.g., RDS, EMR, ElastiCache)
While the reductions are meaningful for its flagship EC2 On Demand services, I interpret the very large reductions for longer term Reserved Instances as yet another salvo that plays to the enterprise market. Moreover, the introduction of volume tiering that enables additional discounts should turn many CIOs heads who are in the midst of pilots that test the value of cloud services in a modest way. Spend over US$250K on Reserved Instances and get 10 percent off the amounts above that level – more than $2 million steps that up to a 20 percent incremental discount. And finally, in a distinct departure from previous positions, AWS is inviting “one off” deals by asking those spending more than $5 million to “call me!” Some of AWS’ largest users are ending up with pricing that is over 50 percent lower than before these actions.
The business case for broader adoption across the enterprise continues to get stronger. Enterprises should be including ongoing pricing improvements in their Infrastructure-as-a-Service models; can internally-delivered infrastructure be cost competitive with options that are likely to drop another 20 percent over the next few years?
AWS appears to continue its leadership in cloud infrastructure services with this pricing action, and it continues to add solutions and features that should appeal to enterprise buyers. Recent discussions with enterprise CIOs, however, suggest a gap continues to exist – at Amazon and most of the other cloud service providers – around the ease of enterprise solutioning. The low touch, self-service approach enables attractive price points but still leaves the enterprise with do-it-yourself tasks that impede their widespread adoption of mainstream solutions. AWS’ strategy appears to rely on the VAR / SI channel do the solutioning, focusing on the horizontal cloud delivery platforms (which we suspect may be higher margin, at least for AWS). This provides an opening for other cloud pioneers – Rackspace, Savvis, Terremark, and others – to step up to fulfill the enterprise market’s needs for true enterprise-class solutions that include the all-important solutioning capabilities. Competing on price is essential – but the value player is likely to seize the enterprise leadership role in the long run.