Lee Jackson| 247wallst

More and more Americans are storing their music, video, pictures and data in the cloud through various public cloud providers. For many of the companies that provide this service, it is not their core product offering.

While the public cloud is currently the second smallest of the five hosting segments in terms of revenue, it is the fastest growing. Most important for investors is the fact that this growth could very well continue for years.

The technology team at Cowen & Co. recently released an in-depth research report that took a look at the pricing structure and competitiveness of the leading public cloud companies. With such a large market opportunity and so many providers still entering the market, this has also resulted in a high level of product/pricing innovation that has created a highly dynamic market. Here are the top companies to buy when considering a technology investment with a public cloud component.

Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division is considered the top player in the public cloud business. The AWS division delivers a set of services that together form a reliable, scalable and inexpensive computing platform. The company recently announced its CloudTrail security system, which is designed to work with all third-party reporting dashboards and alert systems. This helps to keep all stored data safe and secure. The Thomson/First Call price target for the stock is $400. Amazon closed Thursday at $367.96.

Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) is another mega cap tech name with a public cloud offering. Google’s cloud service is geared toward high-performance requirements and is generally cheaper than the other major services. The Cowen analysts think that Google’s cloud product belongs in the second-tier of their business lines (like Play and Nexus) and may prove meaningful in the future and could offer value chain synergies with the core business. The consensus price target for the Internet giant is $1,100, and Google closed Thursday at $1035.23.

Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) has one of the top public cloud offerings for its customers. The Cowen team thinks its Azure service offers some of the best overall value, placing first or tied for first, versus their competition in three out of the four scenarios they analyzed. Specifically, Azure offered the best relative value for streaming/archiving applications due to very competitive storage and data transfer rates. Investors are paid a 3% dividend. The consensus price target for the software giant is $35. But Microsoft closed Thursday at $38.02.

Rackspace Hosting Inc. (NYSE: RAX) is targeting customers who require a certain level of support by bundling the embedded cost in its server pricing. The company is also more price competitive for customers who require very large storage I/O (input/output) since it includes storage I/O in its server pricing. The stock got hammered this week as net income dropped. This was due in large part to increased capital expenditures during the quarter. The cloud segment is an increasingly important growth driver for Rackspace as growth from its traditional Web hosting segment slows. So increasing capacity for cloud customers makes sense. The consensus price target for the stock is posted at $53.25. Rackspace closed Thursday at $41.67.

VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW) is a leader in cloud storage software, and its cloud computing service is a new offering for its customers. The company’s vCloud Hybrid Service has not been designed or marketed as a standalone public cloud as of yet. The Cowen analysts believe that on a pricing basis it is one of the more expensive offerings. The ability to tie its software solutions in with public cloud service may be a huge winner in the future. The consensus price target for the stock is $101. VMware closed Thursday at $77.24. Investors can also indirectly own VMware by buying the stock of storage giant EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC). The company owns over 43 million shares of the stock. EMC closed Thursday at $23.74.

Virtually hundreds of public companies, small and large, compete in the public cloud space. Investors looking for an exposure to the sector may do very well by staying with mega cap players in the industry. The deep pockets of these companies will keep growth and innovation on the front burner as the sector continues to expand at a rapid pace.


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