Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s AWS: Which cloud platform is right for you?
Cloud computing in 2018
Cloud computing has become more than a significant trend. It is the new normal and for good reason. The many benefits offered by the cloud have made it an irresistible choice for businesses. Microsoft’s Azure and Amazon’s AWS cloud platforms are the top choices when it comes to enterprise-level IaaS. According to Right Scale's 2018 State of the Cloud Survey of the latest cloud computing trends, AWS continues to lead in public cloud adoption. But Azure continues to grow quickly, reducing AWS’s lead, especially among enterprises:
- In 2018, 64 percent of respondents currently run applications in AWS, up from 57 percent in 2017 (12 percent growth rate).
- Overall Azure adoption, however, grew more quickly from 34 to 45 percent (32 percent growth rate) to close the gap with AWS. As a result, Azure adoption has now reached 70 percent of AWS adoption, up from 60 percent last year.
Choosing a cloud provider
Each cloud provider offers a different set of features/capabilities to suit different requirements – so you first need to know and understand your specific requirements. Operating officially since 2006, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is closing in on its 12-year anniversary, giving it a head start over Microsoft Azure, which entered the market in 2010. Menlo Technologies has prepared this quick and up-to date cloud comparison to help you choose which cloud platform is right for your business.
Be sure to subscribe to the Menlo Blog for more comprehensive information about cloud computing with Amazon, Microsoft and other cloud platforms.
About Amazon Web Services (AWS)
AWS is an umbrella offering that includes various branded IaaS and PaaS solutions. The largest and best-known of these is the EC2 IaaS solution. Amazon owns the largest data centers in the world. The AWS Cloud operates in 53 Availability Zones within 18 geographic Regions and 1 Local Region globally, with announced plans for 12 more Availability Zones and four more Regions in Bahrain, Hong Kong SAR, Sweden, and a second AWS GovCloud Region in the US.
AWS has a diverse customer base and a broad range of use cases in enterprise and mission-critical applications. It has the largest share of compute capacity of all other providers in the market. This has enabled AWS to attract an ecosystem of open-source tools, and over a thousand technology partners that have licensed and packaged their so ware to run on AWS, integrated their so ware with AWS capabilities and deliver add-on services.
AWS also has a tiered and competency-badged network of partners that provide application development expertise, managed services and professional services such as data center migration. That ecosystem, along with AWS’s training and certification programs, makes it easier to adopt and operate AWS in a best practice fashion.
About Microsoft Azure
Microsoft Azure encompasses integrated IaaS and PaaS components that operate together. Microsoft has been rapidly rolling out new features and services and has a vision of infrastructure and platform services with leading stand-alone offerings that seamlessly extend and operate in conjunction with an on-premise Microsoft infrastructure. Microsoft has become less reliant on its Windows franchise, and Azure’s support for Linux and other open-source technologies is improving. Azure is generally available in 36 regions around the world and has announced plans for 6 additional regions.
Azure is not the size of AWS, but Microsoft has been working hard to match Amazon’s services and flexibility. Many organizations consider it a contender and base their vendor decision on factors other than technical capabilities. The Microsoft brand, existing customer relationships, history of running global-class consumer internet properties and deep investments in engineering and innovation have enhanced its status as a strategic cloud IaaS provider.
Comparing the Basics
- The core features of AWS include Compute, Storage and Content Delivery, Databases and Networking. All operate under Amazon’s comprehensive admin controls which include identity management, auditing, encryption key creation/control/storage, monitoring and logging, and more. AWS also gives its customers powerful analytics (Amazon EMR is the company’s Hadoop framework, and Kinesis can do data stream processing in real time) and tons of application services and deployment options.
- In 2017, AWS launched 1,430 significant new features and services, up from 1,017 in 2016. One of the most noteworthy-- AWS removed its 5 Gbps limit and improved performance for network connections to and from Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances. This speeds up connections between EC2 instances and Simple Storage Service (S3) resources, as well as connections between instances in different availability zones. Network bandwidth is now up to five times faster for instances with enhanced networking capabilities.
- Azure covers these same areas under Build Infrastructure, Develop Modern Applications, Gain Insights from Data and Manage, Identify and Access. Both AWS and Azure provide analytics and the ability for real time stream processing. Azure has its own Hadoop implementation, HDInsight, and Apache Storm can do real time stream processing along with the powerful IOT Hub. Users can get virtual machines (VMs) off the ground quickly and give their employees what they need to build and deploy apps. Storage and database options abound, as well.
- Azure’s ‘Basic’ service level removes auto-scaling and load balancing for clients who don’t require such services, such as those running test environments and batch processing applications. For Windows-centric development or hosting, Azure offers slightly better options – Visual Studio, .NET and Windows programming languages such as VB and Visual C++ are all fully supported and well integrated.
- Azure added features recently as well, including making its service endpoints and firewalls available for its cloud service Azure Storage at no additional billing to its customers. Service endpoints provide a direct connection from a network to an Azure service, such as storage, securing the data for the customer.
“These features (service endpoints and firewalls) are now available in all Azure public cloud regions and Azure Government,” says Alan Stephenson, Azure senior program manager,“As part of moving to general availability, these are now backed by standard Service Level Agreements,”
Microsoft has also made improvements to their Azure Active Directory (AD) Application Proxy service and added Business to Consumer (B2C) features making publishing easier for IT professionals. The new Azure AD improvements follow closely upon policy, printing and user perks unveiled earlier. On the Azure AD Application Proxy service side, publishing apps is now easier for IT pros. They now have the ability to use wildcard characters within the Azure AD Admin Center's user interface.
Both AWS and Azure have a wide range of storage options:
AWS and Azure each offer a broad range of databases purpose-built for specific application use cases.
- Amazon Aurora
- Amazon RDS for MariaDB
- Amazon RDS for SQL Server
- Amazon RDS for MySQL
- Amazon RDS for Oracle Database
- Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL
- Azure Cosmos DB
- Azure Table Storage
- Azure SQL Database
- Preview: Azure Database for MySQL
- Preview: Azure Database for PostgreSQL
What's new with AWS and Azure databases?
AWS recently added Amazon Aurora Serverless to its fleet of database options. This serverless database is in preview and enables users to automatically and quickly scale up and scale down database instances based on application usage. Users can even scale all the way down to zero. With Amazon Aurora Serverless, significant cost savings can be achieved for databases where the load is variable or occasional. AWS is also offering in limited preview a new fully managed graph database, Amazon Neptune, which supports a number of popular graph models.
At the Microsoft Build 2017 conference in Seattle, Scott Guthrie announced the preview for managed database service for PostgreSQL and Azure Database for PostgreSQL. Azure Database for PostgreSQL is a managed database service that makes it easier to build apps without the management and administration burden. The service uses community edition of PostgreSQL and seamlessly works with native tools, drivers and libraries. At the start of preview, we are offering support for PostgreSQL versions 9.5 and 9.6.
Azure vs AWS: 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. One unit of computing power on AWS, for example, might not equal one unit on Azure.
Price Calculators for AWS and 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. AWS provides a price calculator here, Microsoft here. Both providers offer free introductory tiers with incentives for startups.
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.
Azure vs AWS: Networking
Amazon’s Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs) and Azure’s Virtual Network (VNET) allow users to group VMs into isolated networks in the cloud. Using VPCs and VNETs, users can define a network topology, create subnets, route tables, private IP address ranges, and network gateways.
There’s not much to choose between AWS vs Azure on this: they both have solutions to extend a users on-premise data center into the public (or hybrid) cloud.
AWS vs. Azure: Analytics
The challenge of big data and analytics is that they deal with remarkably large data sets and perform complex computations on that data. Analytics requires substantial computational power, memory, and storage capabilities. To handle the complexities of the big data analytics, cloud technologies use several programming models and technologies.
Amazon offers Elastic MapReduce, while Azure’s big data offering is called HDInsight. Amazon EMR facilitates run third-party- distributed frameworks such as HBase, Apache Spark, Flink, and Presto on top of it. Amazon also offers QuickSight, which is a BI tool that enables businesses to identify opportunities through their structured and unstructured data – but not necessarily big data.
Microsoft's Power BI, it should be noted, was recently positioned by Gartner as a Leader in the Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms for the 10th year in a row. And for the second year in row, Microsoft is placed furthest in vision within the Leaders quadrant.
Azure vs AWS: Customers
Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods continues to add intrigue to the Cloud Wars:
- Wal-Mart is unhappy with Amazon and has reportedly told its developer partners not to use Amazon Web Services to host their cloud applications. Wal-Mart, a loyal customer of Microsoft Azure, has reportedly told developers to get their apps off of AWS and onto Microsoft Azure if they wanted to continue doing business.
- While Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a big lead in the cloud infrastructure market, Microsoft is investing heavily to catch up. Whole Foods deployed Microsoft's Azure Active Directory software to let its 91,000 employees easily sign into cloud-based applications, according to a case study on Microsoft's website.
- Target is the latest major retailer to start shopping for an AWS alternative, according to a report by CNBC. Target maintains that they continue to use multiple cloud providers.
Cloud Wars aside, a high-profile user base may not be the main reason for choosing either cloud provider. But it can help more cautious organizations understand how the public cloud is benefiting others in their sector. This is clearly a strong-point of AWS. It has increasingly taken on large customer deals, leading to the intriguing situation of a company that was once simply an online bookseller to now rival the largest players in IT.
Netflix is a long-standing customer which recently claimed it would soon be shutting the rest of its data centers in a final move to the cloud. But aside from web pioneers, Amazon’s real success has been in convincing more traditional businesses to move to the cloud. Other major customers include: Airbnb, Aon, Channel 4, Financial Times, Dow Jones, Kurt Geiger, Lonely Planet, Nasdaq, Nike, Nisa Retail, Pfizer, and the Royal Opera House.
Microsoft perhaps has less high profile Azure users, with most of the messaging from the vendor appearing to be around its widely used SaaS tools. But the Redmond firm has also notched up some notable customer wins, including Walmart, Verizon, Heineken, GE Healthcare, Pearson, Ford, NBC News and 3M.
AWS vs Azure: The Bottom Line
Azure and AWS both have global footprints and continue to compete in terms of their cloud feature sets:
- AWS tends to lead in terms of the variety of its infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offerings
- Azure has a strong platform as a service (PaaS) portfolio, according to Girish Phadke, technology head for Microsoft and cloud platforms at Tata Consultancy Services, which partners with both AWS and Microsoft.
"While AWS has more granular configurations and pricing models available in the IaaS space, Azure provides a richer collection of PaaS services," Phadke said.
AWS and Azure are best in class products from companies that have defined and dominated the tech industry. Both vendors continue to invest and improve their product areas in an agile fashion with regular feature releases. Ironically, this back and forth feature release scenario can make it difficult to score the offerings due to the velocity of change.
Amazon Web Services
- AWS has built a reputation for providing flexibility, allowing its customers to pick and choose and build the cloud services they need. AWS has historically been the go-to choice because of its outstanding quality, first to market plethora of choices which keep increasing trust in the company.
AWS is strong for use cases that run well in virtualized environments, and for applications that are potentially challenging to run in a multi-tenant environment, including highly secure applications, strictly compliant or complex enterprise applications that require special attention to architecture.
- Microsoft has created a stack of products which are well integrated and may bring a faster time to market for some applications. Azure doesn’t offer as many products as AWS, making their offerings easier to navigate.
Microsoft is becoming a legitimate player in the market. Larger enterprises are now becoming more comfortable with the idea of the cloud infrastructure concept. Those enterprises pilot with Microsoft because IT departments are very comfortable with them as a vendor. Microsoft offers a good set of features and services and have been investing heavily into Azure such that the two options are somewhat neck and neck. Microsoft ’s platform and services can be more integrated, including Cortana Intelligence Suite, whereas some AWS services are disparate and may require higher engineering costs to implement and support.
Be sure to subscribe to the Menlo Blog for more comprehensive information and updates about cloud computing with Amazon, Microsoft and other cloud platforms.
About Menlo Technologies
Menlo Technologies is a global services company specializing in cloud integration, data analytics and mobile technology that will transform the way you do business. We’ve built strategic partnerships with top- tier pioneers in the tech industry including Microsoft , Amazon Web Services, Dell Boomi, and Looker. Our global delivery model provides a framework for exceeding customer expectations in all dimensions – quantity, time and cost.