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3 Moments That Defined the Rise of Alternative Cloud in 2021


If the past two years of cloud have felt like a wild ride, you’re not alone. The jolt of the pandemic drove many organizations to the cloud, forcing many to squeeze a decade’s worth of digital transformation into a couple months’ time. As a result, cloud computing has seen unprecedented adoption and growth, with overall spend increasing by 23.1% this year alone.

And it’s not just the biggest cloud players that keep getting bigger. Alternative cloud providers also made a big splash in 2021, seizing a far bigger piece of the cloud market pie than ever. Companies like Linode, DigitalOcean, and OVHcloud, among a small cadre of others, currently command about one-third of all spending on cloud, and they’re poised to play an even bigger role in 2022. As cloud users’ habits continue to shift towards simplicity, affordability, flexibility, and interoperability – and multicloud use rises – it’s no surprise alternative cloud providers are gaining traction.

2021 will be remembered as the year alternative cloud providers crashed the big providers’ party. Let’s look back on three pivotal drivers that defined The Alternative Cloud’s ascent from an outsider into a force that’s unlocking new value for developers and organizations around the globe.

Simplicity, Affordability, and Interoperability Drove Alternative Cloud Adoption

As the cloud industry matures, solutions are becoming more complex, more expensive and less business-friendly to customers and partners. But while cloud’s old guard continues to expand its portfolio of services and push users to spend more on those features, alternative cloud providers have delivered much-needed choice into the market, solving issues of complexity, cost, and competitive concerns for all but the largest consumers of cloud infrastructure services.

Earlier this year, analyst firm 451 Research examined the factors behind the rise of alternative cloud providers. These included Linode, Digital Ocean, Vultr, OVHcloud, and several others. It’s a space that required a new lexicon, and 451 Research Director Liam Eagle does just that in his report, “Examining the Value and Opportunity in Alternative Clouds.” He explains that simplicity, affordability, and the need for interoperability that supports multicloud strategies are the biggest contributing factors to alternative cloud growth.

In fact, as multicloud becomes the prevailing approach to cloud consumption, alternative cloud platforms have seen accelerated growth over the last year—and have become a vital portion of broader multicloud ecosystems.

While alternative cloud providers have long been popular among SMBs and independent developers thanks to their affordable cost, Eagle found that a growing number of enterprises have paired alternative cloud services with other tools, too. This is a key driver in why The Alternative Cloud evolved in 2021 as a preferred tertiary provider in multicloud deployments.

Erosion of Trust in Cloud’s Biggest Players

With many providers offering comparable tools, differences in cloud services today boil down to how providers package, price, and support them. And, as users increasingly start to consider how vendors demonstrate their suitability as reliable and trustworthy strategic business partners, cracks in the armor of cloud’s biggest players have started to show. This year, trust became a big concern in cloud decision-making, as heavy-handed tactics and shaky ethics have eroded some users’ confidence.

Snooping through partners’ data, attempting to upsell customers, and even stealing partner deals have marred brand trust among the Big 3 providers. According to research conducted by ClearPath Strategies, this has given one-fifth of developers good reason to doubt them. And while business needs are still the top determining factor in cloud choice, the importance of trustworthiness is trickling up. Users no longer have to sacrifice trust to gain performance and security.

Organizations that turned to alternative cloud providers reported less product and pricing complexity, lower and more predictable cloud costs (fewer “surprise” bills), and a more hands-on support experience. Credible cloud alternatives are changing the game by providing users with a path around the unwieldy influence of cloud giants and their behemoth tech parent companies.

Wider Skills Gap

Over the past year, the exponential growth of cloud adoption has exacerbated the need for technical skills to support it. At the heart of the issue is a major shortage of talent. Demand for cloud skills is at an all-time high, yet there simply aren’t enough cloud professionals to go around.

What’s more, cloud’s biggest players are sucking talent out of the room, leaving everyone but the world’s largest enterprises in the lurch, forced to manage cloud infrastructure on their own as market forces price them out of the cloud talent war.

However, alternative cloud providers have carved a unique position in the skills gap conversation. Offerings from alternative cloud providers don’t require extensive and specialized training or a fancy degree from one of the big cloud providers. Instead, their offerings are built on open source technologies and platforms like Linux, and only require the core engineering skills that every cloud programmer or engineer should already have.

As a result, engineering talent is more readily available, and cloud skills easier to come by. In addition, engineers working on alternative cloud platforms will have portable skills that they can then carry throughout their career, instead of being locked-in by specialization in just one cloud.

There’s every reason to expect that the talent gap will persist into 2022—perhaps beyond—adding longevity to this alternative cloud advantage. 

Advantages Set Stage for Alternative Cloud Growth

Simplicity, trust, and support are lining up to make 2022 a year of maturity for The Alternative Cloud. As organizations start thinking more deeply about optimizing cloud performance and cost, they will look to alternative cloud providers as viable players in their transformation game plan. The rise of multicloud paves the way for users to free themselves from walled-garden ecosystems and become more portable and platform-agnostic. And as alternative cloud options expand, the playing field becomes more level for users to make choices that are in their best economic and strategic interests.

By Blair Lyon, Vice President of Cloud Experience at Linode