IDC research revealed statistics showing that 42.4 percent of global IT infrastructure spending is expected to be spent on traditional non-cloud IT infrastructure environments by 2023, down from 51.9 percent in 2018. Of course, no one is surprised at the growth of cloud infrastructure—including those businesses that have yet to embark on their cloud journey, which is clearly a shrinking subset.
Most of these organizations are still developing their cloud strategies, which are often held up by determining which is the best cloud platform for their needs. A closer look at AWS versus Azure will help to shed some light on the decision-making process.
Features and Services
AWS and Microsoft Azure offer similar basic capabilities around flexible compute, storage, and networking. They share the common elements of a public cloud: self-service and instant provisioning; auto scaling; and security, compliance, and identity management features. As businesses of all sizes look to implement new technology, both providers offer:
- Mature analytics offerings: Support for Hadoop clusters are provided by AWS (Elastic Map Reduce) and Azure (HDInsight)
- Serverless computing: Lambda for AWS, Functions for Azure
- Mobile app and HPC environment-building capabilities
- Strengths in machine learning and deep learning: AWS Machine Learning, Amazon Rekognition, Amazon Polly, and Amazon Lex, along with Microsoft's Azure Machine Learning Studio
- Docker support for containerization
- Security permissions based on user and action
Regardless of how your business will use the cloud, computing will be the biggest expense. That’s because the compute instances (which are basically virtual servers) are where your applications will run.
AWS offers Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances that can be tailored by a large number of options. Related services include Elastic Beanstalk for app deployment and the EC2 Container service. Azure's compute offering is centered around its Virtual Machines (VMs), with other tools such as Cloud Services and Resource Manager to help deploy applications in the cloud. Azure also offers an autoscaling service.
Both AWS and Azure offer more than 50 instance types, and both support all operating systems with thousands of image choices available (e.g., Ubuntu or Windows server images). Azure has a higher max CPU count—52 to AWS’s 40—and you can use almost double the memory with Azure. However, you probably don’t need that much of either.
Database-as-a-service (DBaaS) features are becoming popular among cloud providers. Both AWS and Azure can support relational DBaaS with AWS’s Relational Database Service (RDS) and Azure’s SQL Database. If you need to support NoSQL databases, both providers have their own offerings (Amazon DynamoDB and Azure CosmosDB), and can fully manage your cloud database. Both offer a variety of features depending on your database needs for flexibility and available time to troubleshoot issues.
There are multiple storage options for AWS and Azure. AWS storage options include but are not limited to persistent local storage, on-demand scalable file systems, fully managed file systems, and hybrid storage solutions. Azure offerings range from simple file systems, to persistent high-performance storage, to secure scalable storage for analytics, and more. Both offer backup services as well. Evaluating your current and future storage needs will be important in determining which provider is best.
Both AWS and Azure typically offer excellent networking capabilities with automated server load balancing and connectivity to on-premises systems.
When it comes to pricing, the good news is that prices have been continually falling for both providers. The bad news is that it can still be a complicated process to figure out how much either costs. Fortunately, the recent AWS shift from hourly pricing to by-the-second pricing for its EC2 and EBS services puts them in line with Azure. Although costs are roughly comparable between the two, making a clear comparison can still be tough (e.g., one unit of computing power on AWS might not equal one unit on Azure).
Both providers offer calculators that help estimate costs based on your needs, but you have to know how you want to use the services.
There are some good guidelines that can help businesses with pricing. Buying cloud computing on demand is more expensive than booking in advance, so that flexibility can save huge sums. Whereas AWS calls them reserved instances, Azure’s approach is to focus on enterprise agreements that they negotiate individually with companies.
Both AWS and Azure have the same guaranteed availability as part of their service-level agreements, both which are clearly noted. For computing instances, uptime is guaranteed at 99.95%. For storage purposes each provide has 99.9% guaranteed uptime.
Azure vs. AWS for Managing Applications
Companies turn to the cloud to host applications in a highly scalable environment. Comparing the advantages and drawbacks between AWS and Azure is important to get the whole picture.
Starting with AWS, the clear advantage Amazon boasts is the sheer number of services, including applications, that they provide to customers. The Amazon Machine Images catalog of enterprise applications is by far the largest of any cloud provider. Given that Amazon is not bound by any operating system, an added benefit is that the support for open-source software is greater. However, although AWS does support solutions such as container services, Elastic Beanstalk, Batch, and Lambda to deploy applications, the feature set on the application hosting side is not as robust as Azure.
For developers who wish to deploy applications on multiple servers, Azure offers much more capability in their deployment toolset: It allows for cloud services, container services as well as functions, batch and app services.
When it comes to enterprise application management, Azure still pulls ahead of AWS by working with Azure Active Directory (AD). When users sign on to their endpoint, all applications provisioned for their account are available. These applications are broken down into four different categories:
- Azure AD gallery applications—thousands of pre-integrated applications collected by Microsoft
- On-premises applications with Application Proxy—integrated on-premises web applications
- Custom-developed applications—applications created in-house to support your business needs
- Non-gallery applications—applications that are not found in the Azure gallery but that support single sign-on
The main drawback is that there is still a lack of support for open-source applications within the Microsoft ecosystem because of limited Linux options; however, Microsoft is trying to strengthen their partnerships.
Cloud Services for Your Business
A head-to-head comparison of AWS versus Azure shows some minor differences in approach and tools for end uses, but both are great choices for almost any business. The choice comes down to the wants and needs of each individual customer and the workloads they are running. Ultimately, most businesses will use a multi-cloud approach or multiple providers for different parts of their operational needs.
Making the right choices for a successful cloud strategy is still a complex process, and any good strategy must evolve over time. Consequently, it can pay to have consulting support from a skilled IT services provider to help your business determine today’s needs and plan for tomorrow.