Know the Alternatives to ‘Big Cloud’

By Rick Mancinelli

When it comes to cloud services, three familiar brands dominate: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). These major players – often referred to as “Big Cloud” – dominate the cloud services space with widespread brand awareness and massive marketing budgets.

The original promise of Big Cloud was to provide organizations with a simple, cost-effective alternative to designing, deploying and managing IT infrastructure. Unfortunately, the growth and success of Big Cloud has often come at the expense of its small- and medium-sized clients, most of whom are unaware of the emerging “Alternative Cloud” ecosystem and its performance, price and service advantages.

Alternative Cloud encompasses the thousands of smaller but equally capable cloud services providers around the globe. While Big Cloud aims to be all things to all people — with countless, complex niche services — Alternative Cloud tends to focus on the essential, bread-and-butter hosting services that most organizations need to thrive. 

Let’s explore Alternative Cloud’s advantages across performance, price, ease of use, service and flexibility.

Performance Advantages

Contrary to popular belief, companies such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google don’t have access to superior hardware. Their services rely on the same enterprise-grade hardware that Alternative Cloud providers use, with raw performance being generally equal.

However, Big Cloud can employ several dubious strategies to increase their margins at the expense of performance:

  • Extended service life: Big Cloud often extends the service life of its hardware beyond its optimal lifespan, meaning that a customer may unknowingly end up on a platform that is several generations old.
  • Higher consolidation ratios: Big Cloud is fond of forcing more customers to contend for fewer resources – such as RAM, CPU, disk and network resources – which can hurt performance during periods of high usage.
  • Performance throttling: To counter the effects of older hardware and higher consolidation ratios (the number of virtual servers that can run on each physical host machine), Big Cloud can employ aggressive throttling strategies, which prevent customer systems from performing at full potential.

Good Alternative Cloud providers avoid strategies such as this. C3 Complete, for instance, offers current-generation hardware, conservative consolidation ratios and performance throttling only as a last resort – never as a tool to enhance margins. In other words, there is no inherent performance benefit when working with Big Cloud, and in many cases, you could end up with a performance deficit.

Price and Cost Containment

Imagine that a local self-storage company charges you $200 a month for a unit. They boast that another company down the street charges $300 a month – “Just think of the savings,” they’d say.

But after reading the fine print – or worse, when receiving your first monthly invoice – you realize you’re only allowed one monthly visit, and every subsequent visit cost you $50. Your $200-a-month unit has become an $800-a-month unit.

Over and over again, this is what we see with Big Cloud. Too many organizations sign up with a Big Cloud provider, build their environment and move in their data and applications, only to discover that the provider’s baseline services don’t meet their needs, triggering additional fees.

And boy, does Big Cloud love fees: ingress fees, egress fees, high-usage fees, high-utilization penalties, and more. Before long, many customers find that they pay twice as much or more than originally budgeted. One Big Cloud provider’s egress fees even earned them the name Cloud California”: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

So, while Big Cloud costs may initially appear lower, unexpected fees can rack up fast. The result? Budget-breaking bills you didn’t anticipate, don’t understand and can’t comfortably explain to your CFO.

Alternative Cloud typically works differently. At C3, we determine your monthly cost based on your actual business needs — determined by actual conversations between our engineers and your team — and then allow you to utilize your cloud environment to its fullest. There is no metering of data transfer, CPU time, disk I/O or other metrics. It’s your platform to use, without limitation and without fear of unexpected fees.

In short, there is no fine print here. Your CFO will love the budget-friendly cost containment of a flat monthly fee, and your CIO/CTO will enjoy the unencumbered performance, reliability, security and flexibility.

Ease of Use Advantages

Over time, Big Cloud has evolved into a collection of absurdly complex platforms. Consider that Amazon Web Services alone offers no less than 11 certification programs that teach engineers how to deploy and manage their services. Not to be outdone, Microsoft has more than 75 different Azure-related training programs.

Alternative Cloud tends to focus on the core cloud technologies that meet the needs of all but the most extreme use cases. This results in simpler user interfaces, shorter deployment times and expedited troubleshooting. At C3, we further differentiate ourselves from Big Cloud by offering self-managed, co-managed and fully managed cloud service options.

It’s ironic that cloud’s original promise of simplicity has been obscured by the complexity of Big Cloud’s platforms. Regardless of which approach fits your organization, a reputable Alternative Cloud provider should support you through every step of your cloud journey: from concept to design, all the way through operations and support.

Service and Support

When it comes to service and support, Alternative Cloud providers have major advantages over Big Cloud. Consider that AWS has more than one million active customers — that makes it awfully hard to stand out in their support queue. In fact, to become a top 10 AWS customer, you would need to spend about $7 million per month just on cloud services.

Thankfully, you have other options. Many Alternative Cloud providers have built their businesses around a personalized service model that Big Cloud can’t replicate. As a C3 customer, for instance, you have access to a 24/7, U.S.-based support team that actually knows you and your organization. Beginning with your onboarding, our engineers work with you to determine how your business actually operates: What are your business objectives? What are your true cloud services requirements? This high-touch approach helps us provision each customer appropriately for their unique resource needs.

When we meet new customers, we often discover that they are struggling with two notorious Big Cloud problems: over-provisioning and “cloud sprawl.” Over-provisioning occurs when Big Cloud providers allocate – and charge for – far more resources than the customer needs (e.g., a 128GB environment, when your application only needs 32GB). Meanwhile, cloud sprawl refers to the gradual accumulation of duplicative cloud instances that a customer no longer needs but continues to pay for. Only an attentive cloud partner that knows your business can catch and eliminate these redundancies.

While Big Cloud may be able to offer personal service to clients spending $1 million per month, they simply can’t extend that service level at scale to smaller organizations. That’s where Alternative Cloud comes in.

Unparalleled Flexibility

Cloud computing was originally hailed as a flexible alternative to building and managing your own infrastructure. Sadly, as the coud services market has matured, customers often find Big Cloud to be far more rigid than they imagined.

From the start, Big Cloud tends to shoehorn new customers into whichever pre-packaged instance type provides the closest fit. At best, this can result in an over-provisioned cloud environment and unexpected cost overruns. At worst, your systems architect may be forced to make compromises leading to unacceptable performance and unanticipated organizational impacts.

Meanwhile, reputable Alternative Cloud providers give clients discrete control over each resource type — RAM, CPU, GPU, disk, network — which guarantees a perfect fit every time. It’s the difference between an off-the-rack suit and a tailored tuxedo, without the added expense.

One of our clients, an automotive group, faced another kind of cloud flexibility challenge on its digital transformation journey. Although the company wanted to adopt a modern, cloud-based environment with fully virtualized desktops, it was mandated by its manufacturing partners to keep certain legacy systems on-site. To meet this challenge, C3 placed the legacy systems within the same data center as our cloud platform, employing a hybrid solution (cloud and co-location).

If this automotive group had been a Big Cloud customer, it would have been forced to acquire its own costly co-location space, interconnect the legacy systems with those hosted in the cloud and absorb the continued cost of managing this subpar solution.

In other cases, cloud customers require data locality for regulatory or operational purposes. In these instances, an alternate provider such as C3 can deliver cloud services via a secure edge data center near you.

One of our clients, an Ohio-based medical service provider, needed its data to be stored locally within the state. We were able to operationalize a Cleveland data center to meet its needs within three months. Meanwhile, Big Cloud corrals customers into huge regional data centers. Is Amazon willing to create a new AWS center that’s optimized for your small business? Of course not.

Flexible delivery is the essence of Alternative Cloud. Instead of making your systems and applications fit the Big Cloud model, reputable Alternative Cloud providers mold their environment to fit your needs.

For a growing number of organizations, Big Cloud has turned out to be far from the panacea it was marketed to be. As we enter a new era of Alternative Cloud, your customers have the opportunity to avoid Big Cloud’s compromises, and finally enjoy the potential of Cloud computing as it best fits their organization.

And far from being “Cloud California,” you really can check out any time you like.

Rick Mancinelli is CEO of C3 Complete