The internet or the Information Technology industry to be more specific, has always had a fascination for buzz words.

Last year saw the concept of Blockchain become viral. One such perennial buzz term contender is "Cloud Computing". More popular than ever, as evident from Google trends , what does this "cloud" even mean? A popular belief is that the word cloud was used as a metaphor for the internet but one could argue that there are much more compatible terms like sea or sky that suit the notion of the internet. The answer to this question is reflected in diagrams that represented early telephone/computer networks. Cloud computing means that instead of all the computer hardware and software that you wish to use, sitting on your desktop, or somewhere inside your company's network, it's provided for you as a service by another company and accessed over the Internet, usually in a completely seamless way. Another question that has raised more than a few heads in the past is the origin of cloud. This excellent article accurately describes the timeline and the events that lead to the evolution of cloud computing.

So now that we've got our basics covered, that's great! But the hard part is not understanding what the cloud means, it's understanding what your needs are from the cloud provider. There is an abundant supply of cloud service providers. Today, everyone and their uncle seem to be offering cheap and/or free cloud storage. More options equals more competition among the providers and more competition equals.. a better service for the consumer, that is you. No problems now, right? Riiight? Well, not necessarily - everything's well and good as long as you know what the right choice is for you. The general perception is that people simply decide on the basis of who provides them with the most free storage. But this is a myopic insight that tells us only one part of the tale. You maybe person 1 - a student who needs cheap and effective, at least for the short-term, cloud services or person 2 -  the owner of a small business who needs a reliable data backup solution. Needs differ based on the person and the most important thing to do first is to identify your requirements. Down below listed are 4 popular cloud services delineated with their pros and cons which would help you decide what the best cloud storage facility for you truly is.

The Players:

Amazon Web Services (AWS):  A long serving establishment, AWS have been in the game for around 11 years now. Their computing services are extensive and cover important cloud sections such as deployment, databases, networking, etc. Amazon manages AWS.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP): GCP has only been in the business for about 5 years. Despite being relatively inexperienced, they have created a solid foundation in the market. The initial push was done to power their own services such as YouTube and Google. Later on, they built enterprise services and enabled anyone to host in the cloud. Google manages GCP.

Microsoft Azure: Azure can be described as nascent - as in, it is just coming into existence and there is a lot of scope for development in the future. In spite of operating only for around 6 years, they are still one of the leaders in the cloud service paradigm. Azure also provide a complete set of cloud services. Microsoft manages Azure.

Alibaba Cloud: Alibaba Cloud, founded in 2009, is another competitor who offers high quality cloud services. Services are available on a pay-as-you-go basis and include data storage, relational databases, big data processing and content delivery networks (CDN). Managed by the Alibaba Group.

AZURE vs AWS vs Google Cloud vs Alibaba : Free Tiers

GCP Free Tier:

These services are always free with Google Cloud:

  • App Engine: 28 instance hours per day and 5GB Cloud Storage
  • Cloud Datastore: 1 GB storage
  • Compute Engine: 1 f1-micro instance per month and 30 GB-months HDD
  • Cloud Storage: 5GB - months for regional storage
  • Cloud Pub/Sub: 10 GB messages per month
  • Cloud Functions: 2 million invocations per month

AWS Free Tier:

These services are always free with AWS:

  • EC2 for 750 hours
  • Amazon RDS - 750 hours / month
  • Amazon S3 - 5 GB storage
  • Amazon Lambda 1 Million free requests / month
  • Amazon Quicksight 1 GB capacity

Azure Free Tier:

These services are always free with Azure:

  • Linux / Windows VM for 750 hours
  • Managed disks storage - 2 x 64 GB
  • Blob storage - 5 GM
  • SQL Database - 250 GB
  • Cosmos Database - 5 GB
  • Bandwidth - 15 GB

Alibaba Free Tier:

These services are always free with Alibaba Cloud:

  • ECS - 1 Core CPU - 0.5 GB memory
  • ApsaraDB - 1 mySQL/postgreSQL instance per month
  • OSS - 100 GB free storage
  • Tech Domain Name - 1 year free to use

AZURE vs AWS vs Google Cloud vs Alibaba : Pricing

We are not going to go deep into the pricing policies and information of the cloud vendors as the prices fluctuate quite often. So, the best option would be to check the respective pricing pages of the providers to enlighten ourselves.

Final Verdict:

Amazon Web Services:

AWS is the oldest shark in the sea and this has allowed Amazon to build its cloud services from 2006. Also, the offerings are enterprise and user friendly, attracting a lot of leading corporations as well as budding developers. Another massive pro of AWS is its openness and flexibility. It also ranks consistently at the top for configuration options, security and reliability. Cons include outrages and high pricing for transactions. Speed is another issue as retrieval may be slow if you don't acquire fast downloads.

Perfect for you if

  • you want the safest choice
  • you want access to lot of free resources
  • you have significant knowledge of using cloud services (as it is a tad more complex than its competitors)

Microsoft Azure:

Most organizations use Microsoft products. So, such companies that also view Azure as a potential vendor option would find it extremely easy to transition to the Microsoft Cloud. Azure naturally links well with key Microsoft on-premise systems such as the Windows Server. Cost effectiveness and security are other strongholds of Azure. However, it is not easy to use as it requires expertise to ensure all moving parts work together efficiently.

Perfect for you if

  • your application/organisation uses Microsoft products
  • you wish to take advantage of Microsoft's ecosystem
  • you are a developer who wants to easily create, maintain and deploy applications

Google Cloud Platform:

GCP provides very high flexibility for promising startups and small businesses to get free credits for one to two years. It's also comparatively cheaper than AWS & Azure. Billing is done minute by minute. GCP provides an eminent platform for developers interested in the disciplines of Big Data and AI. Of course, GCP is relatively an amateur compared to AWS and this is clearly reflected in the offerings and the depth of the services provided. Being cheaper comes with the cost of performance downgrades like lower speed and more time to access resources unlike other services like AWS and Azure.

Perfect for you if

  • you want the cheapest option (long-term)
  • you wish to use a simplified model with preconfigured applications
  • you wish to build apps for the google play store

Alibaba Cloud:

Alibaba Cloud is an interesting option to say the least. Jack Ma has spearheaded the expansion of the service from China into Europe and North America, even recently launching a data center in India. One edge that Alibaba Cloud has gained over its competitors is that it has been growing rapidly over the past few years and that it has the funding to become a legitimate contender for AWS. One major shortcoming is the lack of service and the risk of having sensitive data in servers outside of the country in which you are in.

Perfect for you if

  • you are in China and whereabouts (obviously)
  • you run a small scale business and are not yet ready for the big time vendors like AWS.
  • you wish to link your business/applications with the latest Machine Learning, IoT and big data crunching technologies.

If you want a more deep insight on the different parameters that affect your decision, click here.