Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft’s Azure offer similar features and work well as stand-alone public cloud solutions in most scenarios, or in conjunction with one another. However, AWS is often perceived as more suitable for start-ups and mid-sized businesses, whereas Azure is seen as fitting for enterprises.
The public cloud war between Amazon and Microsoft has been simmering since Microsoft entered the market with Azure in 2010. Amazon’s earlier entry into the market – in 2006 – means AWS is considered the leading full public cloud offering, with Microsoft as a formidable challenger. This competition is good news for businesses, as it fuels service improvements and price drops.
However, it can be confusing to compare the two services due to the large volume of terminologies, product names, specs and usage measurements that Amazon and Microsoft employ.
Digging beneath the naming conventions, what are the real differences between Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure?
AWS and Azure offer similar services and features for compute, storage and networking. However, depending on your requirements, you may favour one particular option.
AWS offers scalability for web services and database technologies, whereas Azure offers comprehensive backup and data recovery options.
Amazon, through its core compute EC2 offering, has a slight edge on Microsoft’s corresponding Virtual Machines (VMs), as instances can be added and terminated on demand, according to pre-configured policies.
AWS has unprecedented capacity and its network stretches across multiple locations worldwide. These locations are comprised of ‘Regions’ and ‘Availability Zones.’ EC2 instances can be launched in different locations and failures are insulated among Availability Zones.
Azure also has global reach, operating in 20 regions around the globe, enabling users to create ‘Availability Sets’ to achieve redundancy during downtime. Like AWS, it offers the option to retain your service in one geographic region.
It can be difficult to compare pricing for AWS and Azure because there are so many variables involved and they use different methods of calculating your usage.
AWS bills instances per hour, whereas Azure bills per minute. Both providers offer on-demand instances and cheaper reservations or fixed-terms on instances. To appeal to large enterprises, Microsoft offers discounted pricing and flexibility for organisations that commit to Azure long-term.
On the whole, their prices are roughly comparable and they both provide transparency with price calculators.
Whereas AWS supports a number of Linux OS distributions, Azure’s compatibility with Linux-based platforms isn’t as inclusive, although Microsoft is demonstrating an increasing openness to third party software.
Notably, support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) is absent from Azure, but there is community support for CentOS distributions. For an overview of the Linux distributions that are supported by Azure, click here.
Azure is often seen as superior to AWS when employing a hybrid approach – leveraging the public cloud whilst retaining some data on premise. Microsoft has invested heavily in this area, seeing it as a gap in the AWS offering. It provides a ‘private cloud in a box’ on premise solution with a common set of management tools for a seamless hybrid approach. Azure completely integrates with other Microsoft products that businesses use, such as Active Directory, System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) and System Center Operations Manager (SCOM).
AWS, on the other hand, is focused on a public cloud only offering and, unlike Azure, does not offer its cloud management software for use on premise. However, the Direct Connect Service can be used to establish a dedicated network connection to an on premise data centre, like Azure’s corresponding ExpressRoute service.
Azure attracts enterprises that rely on other Microsoft products already – Windows Server, Exchange, Office 365 etc. And with enterprise discount agreements and a strong hybrid offering, it’s clear to see why Azure is often regarded as a natural choice for larger organisations.
But AWS is a formidable public cloud with an extensive range of features for businesses large and small. It’s frequently the case that either solution will achieve your business’ cloud requirements. And it’s not uncommon for enterprises to use a combination of AWS and Azure, using specific services of each solution that are most suited to the existing technology and expertise of the business.