Best of 2011 - Cloud Services

It's been written countless times that the cloud is the future of Web tech and will possibly be the most important investment most businesses make in the near future - especially enterprise companies.

Of course, there are those with strong (and valid) opinions on the subject, both in favor of cloud adoption and stringently against it. However, as the debate ensues, there are many companies in the industry providing great services to customers of various sizes and requirements.

2011 saw Internet empires and hungry young companies alike playing a crucial role in the development of cloud technologies and, more importantly, services. Here are five of the best cloud service providers from the past 12 months.

Amazon Web Services
Most people just know Amazon as the online retail site, but Web professionals are aware of its other prominent role on the 'Net as one of the largest cloud service providers available.

This may be a somewhat controversial choice seeing as the service has some highly-noted mishaps this past year, but nonetheless it remains a leading innovator in the industry, including adding a "white glove" service for premium customers that will route your calls (and concerns) to the nearest engineering specialist.

AWS will scale to meet the application demands of its clients, "whether one server or a large cluster," offers a pay-as-you-go, low cost service, instantly deploys applications and allows for full open and flexible control of all of your data. Despite the blunders of 2011 (of which customers have understandable concerns), Amazon Web Services continues to be (one of?) the best cloud provider out there.

Box is probably the busiest provider on this list. It has been constantly innovating its product over the last year, especially in mobile applications, and has been able to carve out a significant segment of the market as a result.

While it may be most popular as a personal consumer service, Box has accrued and impressive list of businesses and enterprise-level companies as customers, including Proctor & Gamble, Six Flags, Taylor Made, Pandora, Clear Channel, the San Francisco Giants and more.

Businesses are helped to a host of features in areas like content management with desktop syncing and link-based file sharing, mobile access on Android and iOS devices, online workspaces, a host of administrative controls and easy integration into existing business software like Google Apps, Salesforce and NetSuite, as well as offering APIs for custom integrations.

In terms of revenue generated, Rackspace trails only Amazon Web Services. While that's not necessarily an indicator of competence, it does speak highly that so many users are willing to trust it over major brands like Microsoft and Google.

This year saw less in the way of innovation than most companies, the soft launch of OpenStack was notable and they released their impressive Hybrid Hosting option that provides both cloud and managed hosting in one service. Still, Rackspace has continued to impress with solid service and security; after all, there are currently over 100,000 companies currently working with Rackspace.

Rackspace's on-demand scalable servers come with up to 30 GB of storage, only require businesses to pay for what they use, are fully-customizable with root access and are completed by the company's "Fanatical Support."

Many have at least heard of Dropbox, and it has long been one of the more heavily-utilized cloud service providers available. (For instance, my own list of Dropbox Alternatives suggests that it has become the standard for business and personal cloud computing.)

Like Box, Dropbox offers a really impressive mobile service that is compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, iPhone, Android and Blackberry devices and still works even when the user is offline. The service also provides businesses with the ability to utilize the same tools they work with daily, get started in minutes, put all of their services on a single bill and manage and migrate accounts. Heck, you even get unlimited version history for all of your files hosted with Dropbox.

If the opinions of tech industry insiders around the globe are to be trusted, it looks like Evernote may be the next big thing in cloud computing. What sets this product apart is that it is more of a note-taking and idea-saving service than a traditional cloud storage platform. The idea with Evernote is that users can save important ideas in "notebooks" and then retrieve these ideas later, which is made simple thanks to a search function and the ability to tag things you save.

It also has mobile compatibility, so you can access your ideas from almost any mobile device, as "Evernote works with nearly every computer, phone and mobile device out there." What makes Evernote an especially convenient tool is that you can take notes everywhere you go and keep all of them in sync and readily available on any device you may use anywhere.