Where are the cloud data centers?

This is a modified version of “Global location wars: Amazon vs. Microsoft vs. Google”, an article I wrote for InfoWorld this week.

With the public cloud, presence is a big deal. The number and location of cloud data centers has a major impact on latency — and because regulations may vary widely from country to country, global scale demands global buildout. Within Europe, for example, all data processing requires adherence to strict controls over where customer data resides.

Cloud geographies by provider. AWS (orange), Azure (blue) & Google (red).

A portfolio of geographically dispersed data centers is now table stakes for the big three public cloud providers: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform. Note that this is not a competition to build out the greatest capacity — AWS has a very long lead in that department. This is about a race to meet the public cloud needs of customers wherever in the world they may reside.

The interesting thing is how the business incentives differ between Amazon and Azure, and Google. The first two have cloud as a core business, and so it is customer demand driving the rollout of new locations.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen AWS and Azure both announce new and coming regions in the United Kingdom, Germany, India, and South Korea. Asia has seen significant expansion in the past few years, with AWS covering four geographies and Azure now in nine, but all providers seem to be lagging in Europe. AWS had a single region in Ireland for a long time, only recently launching Frankfurt. It’s about time we’re seeing Azure and AWS launch a London region, bringing them to three each.

The effect of customer demand can be seen in the activities of AWS and Azure in China. Both have specialized local offerings designed for companies in China that are quite independent from their global product. This has been going on for years, with little visibility to outsiders.

Google is a little different. They only have 4 regions enabled for Google Cloud even though they have many more data centers, but even then many are in locations which make sense for their advertising business model rather than a cloud vendor business model. Compare this to AWS’s 11 regions (with India, South Korea, and London announced) and Azure’s 20 regions.

If what senior vice president Urs Hölzle predicted that Google’s cloud revenue would surpass that of its ad businesses in five years is true, they are going to have to rethink what drives data center buildout. Now that VMware co-founder Diane Greene will head up Google Cloud, perhaps we’ll see a shift in priorities?