The cloud computing sales pitch is seductive because the cloud offers many advantages. There are no utility bills to pay, no server room staff who want the night off, and no crazy tax issues for amortising the cost of the machines over N years. You give them your credit card, and you get root on a machine, often within minutes.
To test out the options available to anyone looking for a server, I rented some machines on Amazon EC2, Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Windows Azure and took them out for a spin. The good news is that many of the promises have been fulfilled. If you click the right buttons and fill out the right Web forms, you can have root on a machine in a few minutes, sometimes even faster. All of them make it dead simple to get the basic goods: a Linux distro running what you need.
At first glance, the options seem close to identical. You can choose from many of the same distributions, and from a wide range of machine configuration options. But if you start poking around, you’ll find differences — including differences in performance and cost. The machines may seem like commodities, but they’re not. This became more and more evident once the machines started churning through my benchmarks.