Most of the world’s companies, and even individuals, rely on cloud data storage for things they do every day. Whether they run a simple website or blog, consume content on the web, or check their bank balance, they undoubtedly leverage cloud data storage every day.
No longer novel and steadily gaining consumer trust, data storage in the cloud is here to stay. But while the term “cloud” sounds ethereal and fluffy, there really is no such thing as an actual cloud for computing; instead, the cloud is simply another computer, located somewhere else in the world.
The question for financial institutions comes in at least two parts:
- Which cloud computing solution is right for our organization?
- What are the differences between cloud services anyway?
There are several right answers, but to find the answer best suited for you, you need to look at the available technology solutions and what each has to offer. Other factors should be considered as well, from ease of integration to long term cost structure as usage scales. Here are some potential solutions to examine more closely.
The Major Players
First, let’s look at the major players in the cloud data storage space. The biggest are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and the cloud agnostic Snowflake. There are other offerings from IBM and Oracle as well, but since they operate in a similar way to the “big four,” we won’t cover them here.
Amazon Web Services spun off of Amazon’s already massive data center infrastructure and was first launched in 2002. Its next real competitor, Google Cloud, did not appear until 2009. Microsoft followed suit in 2010. The newest member is Snowflake, founded in 2012. So, at first glance, when it comes to age, AWS seems to have the upper hand.
But that dominance didn’t last. Microsoft, not to be unseated by a non-IT rival, adapted quickly. Snowflake was founded by three data storage experts in 2012, and they quickly innovated and expanded their services as well. Rather than develop an entire cloud provider platform, Snowflake instead built an intuitive experience that could be deployed on any major cloud, abstracting the technical layers that can often hinder integration and ramp up. Google Cloud was a little slower to develop and offer additional services, but as they expanded their own internal products, they expanded cloud services as well.
A Look at Market Share
As in many other instances, Amazon is the mover and shaker in the cloud computing domain. When it comes to market share, they have captured 33% (as of 2022), Azure has accumulated 21%, and Google 8%, with the rest of the competition sharing the remaining market. Amazon’s clear lead is not a surprise. They are by far the largest provider, offering the most services with over 200 different options.
In contrast, Google Cloud offers around 95 core services, although that number is growing. These extra services give Amazon the edge with a key market group: enterprise-level businesses. However, that does not always apply to large financial institutions. For example, Capital One uses Snowflake, and HSBC and several other financial institutions trust Azure for their data storage and cloud computing solutions.
So who is the best? For that, we need to look at a few factors related to each solution:
- Integration with your existing infrastructure
- Features and services offered
Each of the data solutions offered here has a different approach to data storage and cloud computing. Here’s what you need to know to decide.
AWS Data Solutions
As we stated, AWS is the largest and most mature data solutions provider. They have more data centers, more features, and more integrations than many other solutions. Their cloud products include:
- Networking & Content Delivery
- Machine Learning
- Security, Identity, & Compliance
Despite AWS’s huge marketplace advantage, there is a downside. Because the platform is so extensive, there exists numerous ways to accomplish the same “solution.” This can overwhelm consumers and can introduce some choice paralysis. Choosing the “right” solution for your business may take more time and due diligence on AWS than other plug and play providers.
Cost is another factor. AWS starts affordably, with their free tier allowing you to build proof of concepts for free. It is only when these products are put into production that their true costs become evident. While still considered affordable in the cloud space, cost is something that must always be top of mind with AWS. As is the nature with the cloud, what would traditionally take hours to accomplish (such as racking a server in the office), takes mere minutes in the cloud. This ease of deployment can lead to hastily deployed, orphaned, and forgotten cloud resources, which get tacked onto your monthly bill if unrealized.
If you are already using AWS in other aspects of your business, the simplicity of integration and having all of your cloud services in one spot may be worth the additional investment.
Microsoft Azure has risen to second place in the arena of data solutions in a niche that Amazon held a lock on for a long time. The reason is simple: Microsoft is an IT giant, and shifted into cloud services quickly, innovating along the way.
One primary advantage to Azure is that if you are already using Microsoft software and simpler services such as OneDrive and Office, the integration will be intuitive and a breeze. When it comes to app development and AI, Azure is at the top of its game, offering developers familiar tools. Customers with existing SQL databases would enjoy a familiar experience during a migration to Azure.
One of the most important features of financial institutions is the ease with which one can create hybrid solutions. Since banks and credit unions often want to keep some functions in-house, a hybrid solution combining both the cloud and local servers is the best solution. Azure offers a number of services to support a seamless hybrid infrastructure that makes them a natural choice for financial institutions still invested in on premise hardware.
The downside of Azure? Just like other cloud services, Azure needs to be expertly managed, and this can be both labor-intensive and takes a bit to learn. Fortunately, Microsoft offers certification programs that help to train managers and other personnel. That’s because it requires platform-specific expertise, although this can be said for AWS as well.
Still, at a distant third in market share, Google still has some big pluses when it comes to SMB applications, including small to medium financial services companies. These benefits fall primarily into two categories: cost and flexibility.
The first is simple. If you have a small to medium-sized company, the chances are you are overpaying for some features in the offered business package in Azure or AWS that you will likely never use. While Google Cloud offers fewer features overall, the extras offered by Azure and, more specifically, AWS are needed primarily by enterprise-level clients with robust needs.
In that same vein, Google Cloud allows users to customize services to meet their specific needs. Not only are you not paying for something you don’t need, but that isn’t cluttering your dashboard with features you’ll never use. That flexibility makes for a more personal, company-specific application. Known for their intuitive UI, Google Cloud is seen as one of the lowest barriers to entry clouds currently available.
The primary con of Google Cloud? The number of features offered is just under half of the number offered by AWS. You pay less, but you also get fewer choices. For many businesses, this might not matter, but be sure to determine what your “must-haves” are before making a decision.
Snowflake, although a younger player on the field, was started by data experts, and that is reflected in the way it is packaged and offered. Snowflake’s Data Cloud is powered by an advanced data platform provided as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). “Snowflake enables data storage, processing, and analytic solutions that are faster, easier to use, and far more flexible than traditional offerings,” their documentation states.
You read that right. Snowflake requires less management because it is offered as Software as a Service. Snowflake also handles computing and storage separately. For businesses, this means these two can be scaled independently of one another, a level of flexibility not offered by any other solution. Data storage is virtually unlimited (which does have its drawbacks) and performance and security are excellent. Snowflake also now handles both structured and unstructured data.
Most important? Snowflake can be deployed on Azure, AWS, or GCP. The UI stays the same on all 3 platforms, allowing for a unified experience for Data Engineers and admins. This abstraction of the cloud provider layer allows for less technical or experienced customers to start taking advantage of Snowflake’s impressive data solution offerings much more quickly. Additionally, since Snowflake does not have to worry about maintaining the underlying infrastructure, they can spend more time on innovating their products and passing the benefits onto consumers in all 3 clouds.
The cons? Bulk uploads and migrating data can be tortuous and take a long time. There are also no data constraints, which sounds good. The service only charges users for what they use. However, it is easy to go over typical usage amounts, and not discover it until the bill arrives with a shocking sticker price.
The other con is integration, although there are some great options with IBM Cognos, Informatica, Power BI, Tableau, Apache Spark, and Qlik.
Which Data Solution is Right for You?
At the end of the day, the answer to this question comes down to what features you must have, what you can do without, and how quickly you feel you will scale. But it also comes down to personal preference. Are you already in the AWS ecosystem? Then AWS cloud services make sense for you. Do you operate in the Microsoft or Google services arena already? Then their solutions may be the easiest to integrate.
And if you’re looking for a nimble, up-and-coming, and ultra-flexible solution, Snowflake may be a good choice for you. Requiring less management, there are some sacrifices in integration, migration, and potential data or compute overages that could be significant.
All of these cloud services and data solutions are similar. But there are enough differences that you should carefully consider which one to use based on your situation.