The cloud has changed everything–except how we market it

The cloud has changed everything–except how we market it

Commentary: Though the cloud keeps changing how we build applications, the way we market it has hardly changed at all.


Image: GettyImages/da-kuk

A decade is the equivalent of a lifetime in terms of technology years, or that’s what we like to tell ourselves. This is particularly true of cloud computing, which was meant to change how we build and run applications. I decided to put it to the test by using the Wayback Machine to see what prominent tech companies were saying about cloud in October 2011, compared with their messaging today. TL;DR? As an industry we’ve been consistent in touting the same marketing messages… year after year.

It’s particularly interesting to see how enterprise incumbents and cloud insurrectionists have stayed consistent in their messaging over the past decade. Cloud was supposed to change everything, yet has hardly budged a few web landing pages.

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Selling the mainstream enterprise

Take, for example, Oracle. Go to its main landing page today (Figure A), and Oracle wants to sell you cloud, cloud and more cloud.

Figure A


Image: Oracle

This perhaps isn’t surprising, given that Oracle has work to do to catch up in market share, according to Gartner. And that market position today makes sense if we look back to what Oracle was talking about 10 years ago on server hardware it had acquired from Sun Microsystems in 2010 (SPARC Superclusters); Java training and conferences (again, a product of its Sun acquisition, though Oracle had been involved with Java for many years prior to buying Sun); and yes, a banner announcing Oracle OpenWorld where attendees can “discover how Oracle powers the cloud.” It’s unclear what Oracle meant by this, but perhaps it was just a teaser for the Oracle Public Cloud, which launched in 2011. 

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Meanwhile, over at in 2011, Big Blue was actively campaigning against Oracle’s SPARC (“Expensive ‘one-size-fits-all’ configurations”), as well as HP. The pitch? Find better total cost of ownership with IBM through a holistic approach to enterprise tech, including its mainframes. (At least, I think that’s what the banner said: hard to know since it required Adobe Flash to run and, well….) Today, IBM is still talking up its mainframes, but the website is mostly high-minded marketing about the ethics of AI and, for some reason, Malcolm Gladwell doing its Internet of Things pitch. 

But in both Oracle’s and IBM’s case, neither is particularly interested in selling the future. Both then and now, their marketing is focused on mainstream enterprise buyers that don’t want wholesale change. Build your cloud, yes, but do it with SPARC servers. Embrace AI, but be careful how. And so on. These aren’t disruptive messages, and that’s intentional. 

The exact opposite of what Amazon Web Services was pitching.

Get on the cloud

“Innovation, powered by Amazon” is the banner headline on the company’s October 2011 website. It took Microsoft ages to support Linux in Azure (2018), but AWS was touting Windows support a decade ago. Launched in 2006 with just Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), by 2011 AWS offered EC2 (compute), storage (S3 and EBS), networking (VPC and Route53), databases (SimpleDB and RDS) and had just launched ElastiCache. Unlike Oracle and IBM, AWS invited visitors to see “how AWS can help you save money versus your existing IT infrastructure.” The emphasis was very much on moving out of the private data center and into the public cloud. 

Today, AWS still pitches its cloud services (now at more than 200 and sure to add several more at re:Invent later this year), but there’s emphasis on running “AWS infrastructure on-premises for a truly consistent experience.” AWS, in other words, is learning to be boring, staid. Just like Oracle, IBM and other tech bellwethers.

Microsoft, for its part, today makes it harder to find Azure on its website than expected. Visiting its site you’ll see cloud products like Office 365, Windows and Xbox. Basically, the same things you could buy from Microsoft back in 2011 (though back then the company buried Xbox on the top navigation pane, too). Microsoft had only launched Azure in early 2010, so it took some digging around to uncover it tucked down under Windows Server, promising: “Windows Azure and SQL Azure enable you to build, host and scale applications in Microsoft datacenters.” ( didn’t exist until 2014.)

It was a comforting message for CIOs who didn’t want to leave their data centers–one that proved popular with CIOs who have long entrusted sensitive workloads to Microsoft. (Microsoft later scrapped the Azure brand co-mingling with Windows because, well, that wasn’t the OS developers wanted to run in the cloud.) Today, Microsoft continues that “we’ll help you figure out the cloud” messaging with an emphasis on security (“Be confident knowing that your data is reliable, compliant, and well-protected with Azure data governance and security innovations.”). 

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And what about Google? 

Today Google urges site visitors to “accelerate your transformation with Google Cloud.” Of the big three clouds, it’s the only one that has a commitment to open source on its landing page. It’s also the only one that seems focused on positioning itself as the place to go for cutting-edge tech like ML/AI with the tagline to “Solve your toughest business challenges here.” 

But what about in 2011? Back then, the company only offered three things: App Engine, Storage and Prediction API (“make your apps smarter by helping them identify patterns, recommend appropriate actions and automate repetitive tasks”). It’s a pretty bare-bones website but, intriguingly, that same focus on future use cases (through Prediction API) is present. 

There are other examples of companies that are basically the same, 10 years on (e.g., Red Hat then and now). The tech keeps changing, but perhaps not as fast we think. And, seemingly, the marketing messages we use to pitch that tech change even less frequently. 

Disclosure: I work for MongoDB, but the views expressed herein are mine

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