In just a few short years, cloud computing has become a tech that affects everyone’s daily lives.
Our personal files are stored in the cloud. We maintain our friendships via apps in the cloud. Mobile phones and tablets run powerful apps via the cloud, giving rise to new devices like tablets, and killing off others, like the netbook and, perhaps one day, the PC.
IT departments went from distrusting the cloud to allocating billions of dollars to spend on using it. Instead of buying every app and server they need, they will rent them.
But none of this is happening on its own. It’s all being figured out right now by the companies building clouds.
Before we get to the list, let's define cloud computing. There are three types: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).
Cloud computing lets you rent the tech you want, paying a monthly fee for it. As this chart shows, SaaS means renting the just app. PaaS means renting everything but the app (often used by app developers). IaaS means renting just the hardware and tools to maintain the hardware (popular with startups and enterprises). Click here for a bigger version of the chart.
IBM and EMC are reportedly both courting cloud-computing company SoftLayer Technologies in an acquisition expected to exceed $2 billion.
SoftLayer is known as the largest privately held cloud-computing and Web-hosting service provider.
If EMC successfully buys SoftLayer that will be a boost to EMC's VMware. VMware is trying to get some new cloud-computing plans off the ground. One of VMware's biggest rivals, Citrix, is a big SoftLayer partner and customer.
IBM would prefer to nab SoftLayer's customers and data centres for itself.
Joyent competes with VMware, OpenStack and Citrix, too, with its own cloud operating system.
It's become a popular alternative for service providers needing big cloud data centres because it costs them less, Joyent cofounder Jason Hoffman told Business Insider.
Joyent says it has more than 30,000 customers, including big names like LinkedIn and its backed by Intel, Dell, EMC and and Spanish phone company Telefonica. VC Peter Thiel also invested.
Citrix makes software for clouds, competing with two main rivals, VMware and a consortium of vendors who built an open source, free cloud operating system known as OpenStack.
To compete with OpenStack, it gave its software, called CloudStack, to the Apache Foundation, the big non-profit group that manages many popular open source projects.
This move gives people a choice between buying VMware's vCloud and using OpenStack. Naturally, Citrix has its own commercial version, too. Plus, getting people to use CloudStack also helps Citrix sell more of its other data centre software that competes with VMware.
IBM has been a key player in a cloud tech called OpenStack for a long time. But in March, IBM upped the stakes in a big, big way.
It said it will use OpenStack for all the clouds it builds. This includes its own public 'smart clouds' which it sells as a service and every 'private cloud' it installs for in the data centres of its enormous base of enterprise customers.
OpenStack is a cloud operating system that competes with technology offered by VMware and Citrix. By backing OpenStack, IBM encourages more enterprises and service providers to use OpenStack, too.
At stake is a huge $206.6 billion market bu 2016, Gartner predicts.
Rackspace runs an IaaS cloud and made a name for itself by championing OpenStack.
Rackspace didn't want to pay companies like VMware for software it couldn't control. So it partnered with NASA after NASA invented some really great cloud software. It invited all the other players in and over 160 of them did, contributing code to make OpenStack work well and stay free.
Rackspace doesn't own OpenStack but its still a powerful player in the most powerful cloud consortium.
Google made big waves in cloud computing last year by launching its own IaaS service, the Compute Engine.
But even before that, Google was doing a bunch of stuff in the cloud including running a popular PaaS called Google App Engine, offering Google Cloud Storage and launching a new big data cloud app, Google BigQuery.
Plus there's consumer and business cloud apps like Google Drive and Google Apps. Its Chrome OS lead to Chromebook and Chromebox, PC-like devices that run all apps from the cloud, too.
The name Salesforce.com is almost synonymous with cloud computing. Salesforce.com proved that the world wants to buy software-as-a-service.
In 2012, Salesforce pushed into a bunch of new areas, spending more than $1 billion to acquire Radian6 and Buddy Media for its Marketing Cloud and in March, Salesforce.com raised another $1 billion in debt to pay for more shopping.
The company also has one of the most popular PaaS clouds for running your own home-grown applications: Heroku, bought in 2010 for $212 million.
Microsoft has a big enterprise cloud, too, Azure.
This is a PaaS cloud popular with the many developers who already write apps using Microsoft's coding tools. Microsoft just expanded Azure into the IaaS market, even letting users run Linux on its cloud, and promising to match Amazon's low prices.
Plus Microsoft offers many of its enterprise apps over the cloud, everything from its SQL Server database to Microsoft Office 365.
Until this year VMware didn't offer cloud services itself. It offered software called vCloud for building clouds.
It is one of the biggest players in the cloud software market, competing against a tech called OpenStack (run by a consortium of vendors, including IBM, Rackspace, HP) and Citrix.
But in March, VMware changed its mind and announced plans to launch its own public cloud. That's an interesting choice because VMware says about 200 services providers offer clouds built on vCloud, such as Verizon and CSC. Now VMware must carefully compete against them.
There's no question who the most important cloud player is: Amazon. Amazon basically invented the IaaS market.
Amazon's cloud offers a huge array of choices. It does everything from provide a bit of cloud storage for a few pennies a month to renting supercomputer-strength power for $5,000 an hour.
Amazon is now really going after the enterprise market, adding more security features to its cloud and hiring enterprise salespeople. It's not going to let VMware, Citrix and the OpenStack folks snap up enterprise customers without a fight.
It's amazing to think that an online retailer could have caused so much change in the IT industry and our daily lives. But it did.