Choosing the right cloud service has become a major dilemma for the modern small business. At the forefront of cloud technology, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are aggressively competing against each other for a bigger slice of the market. This fierce competition has resulted in three very diverse and competent cloud services.

Small business owners are spoiled for choice as each service offers state-of-the-art technology, a unique array of features, distinct and tailored configurations, alternate interfaces, compatibilities and elite customer service, all with competitive pricing.

In light of this, here’s a quick overview of the three big cloud services to make finding the best-fit solution a little bit easier for small businesses, as well as a look at how suitable cloud technology is for contemporary small businesses.

What do cloud services offer small business?

“In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer’s hard drive,” says PCMag’s Eric Griffith.

Cloud services help small businesses avoid the stress associated with managing technology infrastructure, provisioning servers and configuring networks. They additionally feature tailored applications to augment everyday business activities, communication and data use.

Cloud services are highly scalable and multifaceted. They can host, share and analyze your data, with state-of-the-art analytics that provide business and customer insights. They can also host your website and provide e-commerce platforms while facilitating application creation, network management, system monitoring, data logging and web diagnostics.

What are the options?

Essentially there are three main options when it comes to cloud server use: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure . Each offers its own unique variation of the cloud, and they aggressively compete with each other across all aspects of cloud technology, covering customer service, quality, speed, availability, usability, reliability and even pricing.

Cost difference

The most significant difference between platforms is pricing, where Microsoft comes in last at an estimated $14,300 per year for a standard eight-server web app package, compared to Amazon at an estimated $6,415 and Google at an estimated $6,092 for the same standard package.

The pricing difference between Amazon/Google and Microsoft is massive, with Microsoft’s cloud platform sitting at just over double the price for essentially the same service. As a small business, you likely would not need or be able to utilize all the features on offer to warrant spending $14,300 on Microsoft’s cloud technology.

Service choices

Google offers almost everything a small business would need in regard to cloud services, with the most competitive price on the market (based on an eight-server web application package). Google Cloud Platform is additionally run off the same supporting infrastructure used by the ever-popular YouTube and Google Search. It even offers support to existing Amazon Web Services users.

Google effectively rivals Amazon and Microsoft in all aspects of cloud technology and most critically through competitive pricing. Amazon and Google offer the best cloud services available in the market today, but choosing between the two – as they offer comparable features, prices and functions – is difficult.

James Watters, vice president and general manager at Pivotal, suggests Amazon has a “first-to-market” advantage since it launched its cloud service earlier than its competitors. Google is seen as having an advantage with “at-scale infrastructure,” giving customers a highly advanced and stable option for running apps.

ROI for cloud

Calculating return on investment (ROI) for cloud services compared to in-house means knowing the cost of the required equipment, its projected life span and the cost of capital – in other words, the cost of the equipment plus interest costs over the projected life span. The next task is adding estimated operating costs like floor space, electricity and staff to run servers.

Other costs in moving to the cloud include the time and money spent on migrating applications, training staff and the cost of third-party cloud services. Use an online cloud cost calculator, such as the one provided by Amazon, to make an initial comparison.

While these three cloud services offer many similarities, they do significantly differ on price. Currently, Amazon and Google offer the best value, but choosing between them may come down to user experience and industry preferences.