Several months ago, IDC research revealed their statistics showing that combined IT infrastructure spending on private and public cloud platforms will eclipse spending on traditional data centers. Of course, no one is surprised including those businesses that have yet to embark on their cloud journey, which clearly is 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 vs. Azure will help to shed some light on making that decision.
Features and Services
AWS and Microsoft Azure Platform offer largely similar basic capabilities around flexible compute, storage, and networking. They all share the common elements of a public cloud: self-service and instant provisioning, auto scaling, plus security, compliance, and identity management features. As businesses of all sizes look to new technology, both providers offer:
- Mature analytics offerings: upport for Hadoop clusters are provided by AWS (Elastic Map Reduce) and Azure (HDInsight)
- Serverless computing: Lambda for AWS, Functions with Azure
- Mobile app and HPC environment-building capabilities
- Strengths in machine learning and deep learning: Amazon Machine Learning service, AWS Rekognition, Polly, and the Lex engine, along with Microsoft's Azure Machine Learning Studio
- Docker support for containerization
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 (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 on the cloud, and its Azure Autoscaling service.
Both AWS and Azure offer over 50 instance types, and both support any operating system needed 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.
Both providers offer robust relational-database-as-a-service features with AWS’s RDS (Relational Database Service) and Azure’s SQL Database. Each also offers NoSQL databases (Azure DocumentDB and Amazon DynamoDB). Comparing database services of AWS vs. Azure, AWS offers more options and more finely grained control, while Azure database services are easier to use. That aspect can point a business to which provider to use for specific parts of their cloud strategy.
AWS storage includes its Simple Storage (S3), Elastic Block Storage (EBS), Elastic File System (EFS), import/export large volume data transfer service, Glacier archive backup, and Storage Gateway, which integrates with on-premises environments. Microsoft’s offerings include its core Azure Storage service, Azure Blob block storage, as well as Table, Queue, and File storage. It also offers Site Recovery, Import Export, and Azure Backup.
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 cost. 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. While 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 what you want and 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. While AWS calls them reserved instances, Azure’s approach is to focus on enterprise agreements that they negotiate individually with companies.
AWS and Azure both have exceptional security on their clouds and offer:
- On-premises active directory integration
- Control over who can add/remove users
- Control over who can create/destroy/edit resources
- Government clouds and government-friendly cloud regions
Both AWS and Azure have the same guaranteed availability as part of their Service Level Agreement:
- 99.95% uptime for compute instances
- 99.9% uptime for storage
Tracking and Metrics
Without direct access to the machine or any hardware, tracking and metrics is important. Both offer a variety of solutions, but should be augmented with additional monitoring tools.
Cloud Services for Your Business
While a head-to-head comparison of AWS vs. Azure will show some minor differences in approach and tools for end uses, both are great choices for almost any business. What it comes down to are the wants and needs of each individual customer and the workloads they are running. Ultimately, most businesses will use multiple providers for different parts of their operational needs or a multi-cloud approach.
According to Gartner, a no-cloud policy will be as rare by 2020 as a no-internet policy is today. That being said, making the right choices for a successful cloud strategy is still complex and it must evolve over time. Consequently, it can pay to have consulting support from a skilled IT services provider to help determine today’s needs and help your business plan for tomorrow.