What Is A Cloud Service Provider

A cloud service provider is a company or third-party that provides cloud computing products and services to other businesses and individuals and charges for their services, mostly pay per user. In this article, we will learn what a cloud service provider is, what kind of services a cloud service provider provide, and who are the top cloud service providers.
Top cloud service providers Q4, 2020
Today, we are living in an era of digital and cloud transformation. Businesses are in the midst of migrating their IT infrastructure, storage, applications, databases, and data to the cloud. Cloud computing is one of the fastest growing technologies of 2021. As a matter of fact, global cloud services market grew by $10 billion in Q4, 2020 according to a report by Canalys. In year 2020, total cloud services market grew 33% to $142 billion, fastest than other IT sectors. The biggest players in cloud service, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud., all grew at a much faster pace than previously. As you can see from the above chart, the growth of AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud for Q4, 2020 was 28%, 50%, 58%, and 54% respectively.
These public cloud AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud are public clouds and their owner companies are AWS Inc., Microsoft, Google, and Alibaba respectively. These cloud companies are called cloud service providers, and their cloud services are AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud. These four are the biggest cloud service providers in the world. As you can see from the following chart, AWS leads the market share with 31% of total cloud services market. Microsoft Azure has 20% of market share followed by Google Cloud and Alibaba Cloud share 7% and 6% respectively.

So, what exactly is a cloud service provider?

A cloud service provider is a cloud computing company that provides cloud services for other businesses and individuals.
A managed cloud service provider is a cloud service provider that not only provides cloud services for you but also manages them for you. Managing cloud services includes routine maintenance, upgrades, fixes, and any other issues. You often need a managed cloud service provider if you are using cloud infrastructure services such as VMs and servers. For example, if you have your own VMs in Azure cloud that means you buys some VMs and their configurations but going forward, it is up to you want applications you install on them, how you configure them, and maintenance and upgrades etc. To do so, you will need either your own team or you can hire managed cloud service providers that can take care for the above services for you.

Whose cloud is it?

When you select a cloud, do you wonder, whose cloud is it anyway? Think of cloud as you are leasing IT resources from a cloud service provider and you pay per use or based on the resources you lease from the provider. While the applications and data hosted on cloud is yours, the cloud is still owned by the cloud service provider.
For example, if you lease a virtual machine (VM) and hard drive from Microsoft Azure, the VM and hard drive are owned by Microsoft, but you can use them for your leasing period. Once you are done with the lease term, you stop paying for the resources.

Cloud services and their types

So, what kind of services cloud service providers provide? Here is a list of service major popular cloud serve providers provide, Microsoft Azure in this case.
Cloud services and their types
As you can see from the above list, there are more than 200 categories and thousands of services cloud service providers provide. These services include hardware servers, virtual machines, disk drives, CDN, database servers, cloud based databases, compute services, and many more.
The cloud services are broken down into the following three major categories – IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. In this “aaS” stands for “as-a-Service” which really means some other company, a third party is providing some resources as a service. As a service often means, you pay as you contract for or lease or use.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
You can buy entire infrastructure as a service. That means you can move your existing IT into a cloud and have your physical servers and virtual servers hosted in the cloud and managed by your team or the service provider or both. In IaaS, you get IT infrastructure setup that includes computers, servers, networking, storage, and virtualization. What you end up managing is operating system, installation and licensing, data, middleware, applications, and routine maintenance and upgrades.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
In PaaS cloud service, in addition to hardware machines, VMs, networking, and storage, you will also get operating systems, middleware, runtime, and licensing, upgrades. All you’re responsible is for applications and data.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
In SaaS offering, you use existing applications online and pay per use and/or subscription service. Everything including the application and data is managed by the cloud service provider. Examples of SaaS applications are Microsoft Office 365, Teams, and Azure SQL.

Why do you need a managed cloud service provider?

You often need a managed cloud service provider when you do not have your own full-time IT resources. IT resources (cloud admin, architect, support engineer) can be costly. The purpose of cloud computing is to reduce the cost of full time IT resources, hardware, servers, and maintenance. A cloud costs you based on the usage.
What if you do not have a fulltime IT resources but you need help someone to manage your cloud resources such as VMs, databases, and storage. You can hire a managed cloud service provider that can charge you for the time the spend on your work. The managed cloud service provider makes sure that your cloud services are up and running smoothly.
There are three types of clouds – public, private, and hybrid. A public cloud is when it is hosted and managed by a cloud service provider and available to public. The most popular public clouds (or cloud companies) are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. Here is a list of Top 10 Cloud Service Providers in 2021.
A private cloud us when the cloud hardware and services are leased from a cloud service provider but hosted on-premises of a company. For example, you can get Azure stack and host Azure hardware within your company’s network. This type of cloud is available to private networks only. This is good for companies that do not want to put their data on public clouds.
Third type of cloud is hybrid cloud, that is a combination of both, public and private clouds. The reason you may need a hybrid cloud that some of the services and apps you may want to deploy in public cloud and some you may want to deploy in a private cloud.

Top cloud service providers

There are dozens of popular cloud service providers including Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba, IBM, Oracle, and several others. More and more large corporations are building their own private and public clouds. But if we must look at the top cloud service providers, Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud are top 3 among all. As a matter of fact, AWS and Azure are the only public clouds that are considered to be the complete clouds.

How to choose a cloud service provider

So, how do you know which cloud service provider is best for you? Here are some of the points to considered when choosing a cloud service provider.
  1. Cloud service type
  2. Capabilities and product offerings
  3. Technical expertise
  4. Cost
  5. Security and compliance
  6. Support
  7. Location
Cloud and cloud service type
First thing you need to ask yourself is, what type of cloud do you need. As I mentioned earlier, there are three types of clouds, public, private, and hybrid. Which type of cloud are you looking for? Unless you’re a large company, you are probably looking for a public cloud.
There are three types of cloud services, IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. As you saw earlier, you need to figure out what your needs are. Each of these cloud service types have their own pros and cons.
Once you know what type of cloud you need, you can then look at various cloud service providers and see which suits you the best.
Capabilities and product offerings
Each cloud service provider has its top offerings and some OK offerings. Some products and capabilities are better on one cloud service provider over other. You have to do your research and see which cloud service provider suits you the best.
Both AWS and Azure are most complete cloud providers and have majority of the same capabilities and product offerings. But there are some products that are better on one cloud service provider than the other. For example, your applications use SQL Server and you want to take advantage of intelligent cloud and database. Azure SQL may be the better option for you that is available in Azure cloud only. Another example is, if you want to use IBM Watson, that service may only be available on IBM cloud. Similarly, if your company use Google products, for you Google Cloud may be the better option.
Your experience and expertise
The key decision of selecting a cloud service provider is made based on your experience and expertise. And it may not be just one cloud. It can be multiple. As a matter of fact, most fortune 500 companies use more than one cloud service provider. Large corporations use clouds based on their offerings.
If you are mostly a Microsoft stack company, you are probably better off using Microsoft Azure cloud because you will find it familiar and it will be much easier for you to migrate to Azure cloud.
Cost is the most important factor most businesses move to a cloud. Depending your need of products and services, cost may vary from cloud to cloud. While all top three clouds, AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud pricing is neck to neck, there are some products that may vary from cloud to cloud. For example, you may find cost of sending bulk emails on AWS is much cheaper than Azure.
Security and compliance
Security and compliances are another reason. However, both AWS and Azure provide most of the security and compliance features but there may be a specific security need you may have that is supported by one provider and not on other.
Support and maintenance
Each cloud service provider has a different support and maintenance contract. You will have to look at your needs and compare which provider suits you better.
Some cloud service providers have more physical locations (zones and regions) than others. Microsoft’s Azure is available in more locations than any other cloud but AWS is not too far. Google Cloud is getting there. Having more locations is not a deal breaker but if you are looking for a local data center, you may want to check it out.


In this article, we learned about cloud service providers and understood what a cloud service provider is and who is the top cloud service provider.
In my next article, let us look at how to choose a cloud service provider.