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How AWS and Azure differ

October 10, 2017 | Ken Leoni

Differentiating between AWS and Azure used to be a straightforward exercise. However, both technologies continue to mature and the technological gap between them is shrinking. With that said, there are some differences you will want to be aware of. 

It is all about timing

Timing has greatly influenced AWS and Azure's approaches to cloud computing.The detailed history of the cloud is probably best saved for another day. Suffice it to say that what started as solution to limit infrastructure scaling costs at Amazon has mushroomed to a multi billion-dollar industry.  Microsoft, the late comer, introduced Azure some four years later and has up until recently been playing catch up.

Timing has greatly influenced each of their approaches to cloud computing.

AWS

Amazon’s four-year head start on Microsoft has allowed AWS to establish a significant beachhead in the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) market.  Open source has always been central tenet for Amazon, much of their underlying architecture  is Linux based, in addition AWS offers a good deal of open source tools and integration.  The maturity of AWS has allowed Amazon to support:

  1. A large ecosystem of open source tools

  2. A rich feature set of Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service capabilities

AWS certainly hasn’t shied away from targeting the Windows environment with EC2 for Windows as well as with its Active Directory Integration

Azure

Microsoft was admittedly a late comer to the IaaS market, some would say to a fault. That ship certainly has been righted with Azure. Microsoft recognized more and more organizations were operating Windows environments from the cloud, and this forced Microsoft’s hand.

Azure plays to Microsoft’s strengths, as they:

  1. Own the underlying ecosystem and can readily optimize and integrate

  2. Have a target rich base of enterprise customers to which Azure can be incentivized, especially those with an Enterprise Agreement is in place

The once dreaded Linux nemesis is now supported within Azure, which makes Azure a competitive offering for developers as well.

 

Differentiation between AWS and Azure is not complete without an understanding of each company’s narrative.

AWS was born out of necessity as Amazon looked to reduce the cost of scaling out its infrastructure. Amazon seeded the market and that head start has allowed them to deliver incredible functionality and capture an overwhelming market share (both Open Source and Windows).

Being late to market meant that Microsoft’s first focus with Azure was providing a seamless experience for its enterprise customers running Windows.

Amazon and Microsoft both address Windows and Open Source markets, however one could certainly argue that their platform emphasis is quite different.

 


Key Differences

AWS  - A mature and feature-rich cloud platformAWS

  • Web Services - A mature and feature-rich cloud platform that offers the widest range of services and capabilities. Amazon continues to make its web service offerings more comprehensive as it staves off increased competition. AWS continues to be a technological tour de force.

  • Management – AWS comes stocked with a large number of management features. However it can take significant amount of time to learn how to take advantage of the technology’s power and flexibility. It can also be a daunting process to put all the pieces together. The good news is that there is a quite a bit of AWS core competency and expertise in the marketplace. Amazon continues to support a robust AWS Partner Network.
  • Hybrid Infrastructure – If we consider Amazon’s history, their initial business strategy was based on organizations fully embracing public cloud - hybrid cloud environments weren’t given attention. However, there are lots of organizations that are not ready or will never be ready to relinquish on-premises computing. There are some limited options for implementing hybrid cloud within AWS including VMware Cloud on AWS (offered by VMware) or using a combination of web services like Storage Gateway and Direct Connect.  Supporting a hybrid infrastructure is especially challenging for Amazon because they do not have control over the entire ecosystem.
  • Open Source –AWS has embraced Linux and the open source community from the get-go, giving it a significant head start over Azure. Organizations can readily take advantage of open source software in the AWS Marketplace. If your organization is committed to open source the move to AWS really has no risk.
  • Pricing – Amazon offers pay-as-you-go pricing, it is complicated proposition as web services each have unique priced models. For example, EC2 (Windows) is priced per hour and there are 4 different ways to pay for the instances. Being the market leader, the AWS value proposition is to provide a mature, stable, and highly flexible platform. AWS doesn't compete based on being the least expensive cloud provider. In order to take full advantage of AWS pricing  (meaning pick the right plan!)  it is important to understand the characteristics of your applications’ workload.

Azure

Azure is fast catchinng up to AWS
  • Web Services - Delivers integrated services for compute, storage, data management, networking, mobile, developer tools, management tools, IoT, and more - fast catching up to AWS.
  • Management – An organization that is currently familiar with managing Windows, SQL Server, Active Directory, or any other Microsoft technology will find the transition to Azure relatively easy.
  • Hybrid Infrastructure – Azure is compelling for those operating hybrid cloud. One of the advantages of being late to market is that Microsoft's strategy was not based on conjecture, but rather one where the market was actually going. In addition

    Microsoft need only target the AWS functions that garner the most market acceptance.

    Azure was built from the beginning with a hybrid cloud strategy in mind. Azure Stack, (on-premises Azure) offers a unique set of capabilities that AWS has yet to match.
  • Open Source – Microsoft is aggressively closing the gap when it comes to supporting open source technology, one need not look any further than the Azure Container Service that allows for DC/OS, Docker Swarm, or Kubernetes. In addition, Microsoft has partnered with bitnami to make deployment of open source applications much easier with prepackaged server images. Developers should also note that Microsoft has beefed up Azure’s presence on GitHub.
  • Pricing – Azure is pay-as-you-go and varies depending on the web service. For example, Virtual Machines are billed per minute and can vary based on whether the server is a Reserved VM Instance or leveraging hybrid licensing. If a Microsoft Enterprise Agreement (EA) is already in place, it not only provides Microsoft a competitive advantage because of incumbency, but it also benefits the customer. Aside from the license cost savings associated with an EA, organizations can also take advantage of additional training, consulting, and technical support.

 

Conclusion:

The differences between AWS and Azure are becoming increasingly blurred. Ultimately a decision of one over the other will be based on the IT strategy your organization is pursuing and the kind of expertise it currently has, wants to build, or wants to engage.

  • If your organizations competency leans heavily towards open source or if it needs, flexibility, AWS is the likely choice. If your organization is already heavily invested in the Microsoft Technology Stack and is intent on running a hybrid infrastructure, Azure is compelling.

  • Trying to price compare the two is a difficult proposition, the pricing models are complicated and an apples-to-apples comparison is next to impossible. For example, if you want to compare EC2 up against Virtual Machines there is no matching configuration.

  • The chasm that once existed between AWS and Azure is shrinking. Both technologies are formidable. If you’re looking for a reason to buy one over the other you’ll find it - as AWS and Azure each offer unique attributes that can be advantageous to your organization.

Want to learn more?

Download our AWS vs Azure comparison matrix -  Amazon and Microsoft each offer cloud technology and services that are excellent in their own right. Which attributes and capabilities are a better fit for your organization?

Download the comparison:   AWS vs Azure