GigaOM’s Top 50 Cloud Innovators List—the good, the bad and the muddy

June 6, 2011 Appirio

Michelle Swan

A couple weeks ago GigaOM posted its pick of the Top 50 Cloud Innovators, a list that was compiled from the site’s Structure conference. There’s quite an assortment of companies included in the list from social networking companies to infrastructure apps, and not surprisingly it garnered almost 15 pages of comments—most of which were disgruntled companies not included on the list.

In a space as fast moving and buzzworthy as cloud computing, it’s practically impossible to compile a list like this – much less a list on which everyone agrees. To help businesses and IT executives navigate the cloud, we went through a similar exercise a few years ago to create our own cloud ecosystem map. We revamped it last September, but it’s already well past time for another update. Trying to maintain this ecosystem map has given us first-hand knowledge into how difficult it is to create and keep something like this fresh in a landscape where every day some new cloud company pops up or some traditional technology company cloudwashes their existing hosted or on-premise offerings.

Our map focuses on the cloud “leaders”, those we’re seeing most often in our customer base. Focusing on the leaders is relatively easy compared to designating the “innovators”, so we don’t envy GigaOM’s task in compiling this list and we’re happy to see our strategic partners salesforce.com, Amazon and Google on GigaOM’s list. But what about all the other companies doing innovative things in the cloud? SaaS providers like Concur, Workday, Box.net or Jive? Or the customers who are using cloud services to transform their organizations like Ford (using Google) or RehabCare (using Salesforce and Apple)?

The problem with lists is they can’t possibly cover every company and still be useful, and they become muddied when you don’t adequately define the criteria for the list. GigaOM’s Top Cloud Innovator list focuses only on infrastructure which is only a fraction of the cloud market (and we’d argue probably not the most innovative), but the blog title just says “cloud innovators.” No wonder everyone wants on the list. It’s similar to how the Twittersphere blew up when Gartner published its Magic Quadrant on IaaS and web hosting. The purists had major issues with those two categories being lumped together, which actually led Gartner to introduce a new and separate Magic Quadrant on public cloud IaaS. And people are still confused.

Is the answer not to do these lists? Not at all. People just need to look at these lists for what they are – one group’s opinion, at one point in time, on a particular topic. Cloud computing is such a fast moving and nebulous (pardon the pun) space right now, that lists like these are needed. But what’s even more needed are partners, providers, brokers (call them what you will) who can help customers navigate the choppy waters and find the right path. And yes, by partner, we mean us. Sorry, had to say it. Because we weren’t on GigaOM’s list either.

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