Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure are truly the two heavyweights of cloud services. Both are considered the two the most important players in the cloud computing industry, yet each is aimed at a slightly different audience. I’m going to compare the two this week, showing their core features, hybrid approach, licensing and reputation among customers, with the hope of helping you decide which is better for your company.
As I teen growing up in Utah, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to watch boxing in person. But I loved to watch the amateur boxing on Saturday afternoons on ABC. During these matches, they would publicize the heavyweight fights that took place in the evenings. Of course, this was before pay-per-view took over, so the fights were available to almost everyone with a TV set. If Howard Cosell announced the fight, I knew it was a heavyweight match that often pitted Ali against Foreman or Frazier. I loved the idea of seeing the two best heavyweight boxers stand toe-to-toe and duke it out for 15 rounds. The excitement was in the ring, and whoever won was almost an afterthought.
The technology industry is no different: we love a good battle between heavyweights.
When Microsoft decided to make sure its Internet Explorer would not play second fiddle to Netscape Navigator, we witnessed what happens when a small company kicks a multi-billion dollar company in the shins. Within a few years, Internet Explorer had a 90+% market share, and the battles of the browsers was essentially over. Yahoo and Google battled for search supremacy for a few years, and we all know how that ended. And while we still have a few minor skirmishes taking place (iOS vs. Android, SAP vs. Oracle), the largest technology battle has moved to the cloud.
There’s no question there’s a lot at stake, and both companies have invested billions and hired thousands of engineers to round out their offerings. Gartner valued this market at $16.5 at the end of 2015, which is an increase of nearly 33% over 2014. There no doubt this is a battle that’s going to play out over many years.
Amazon AWS And Microsoft Azure, Cloud Contenders
Amazon is the true cloud pioneer, and it struck first with Amazon Web Services (AWS) which is launched in 2006. AWS is actually a group of cloud products that provide customers with services ranging from storage to content delivery to application services and analytics. I’m not going to cover each AWS product in detail, but Wikipedia does a good job of keeping track of the ever evolving list of products Amazon AWS offers, which is at 70 today. In terms of sheer number of cloud services, AWS holds a substantial lead over Azure. But that comes with a few compromises that I’ll get to.
Microsoft announced Azure back in 2008, but didn’t officially release it until 2010. Microsoft took a more cautious approach with Azure starting with an extended beta period before rolling it out to the public. So while Azure has been playing catch up to AWS, it’s done so with a number of well-known companies such as Boeing, Pixar, and NBC who signed up for the beta rollout. Azure also provides a offering of cloud services that number around 50 today.
AWS And Azure Features
Both AWS and Azure cover the basics of enterprise cloud services quite well. The core features of AWS include Compute, Storage and Content Delivery, Databases, and Networking. Each of these operate under Amazon’s comprehensive admin controls. 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. Both make it easy to spin up VMs on demand, deploy apps and setup storage and DB options without much trouble.
There’s not a lot of difference between AWS and Azure when we’re talking cloud basics, so I’m going to call out a few differences that might push you towards one or the other.
If your business requires a hybrid cloud approach to cloud services, Azure has embraced these options a lot more than AWS. Azure allows companies to utilize on-premise servers and extend them to the cloud. Developers appreciate the the hybrid cloud because their apps can live on local servers as well as the cloud. Azure also offers certain parts of an application to remain on-premise while interfacing with other parts that have migrated to the cloud. Amazon has yet to embrace the hybrid approach beyond mentioning they are considering it for the future.
Amazon AWS has a significant lead in helping a number of government agencies move some of their operations to the cloud. Amazon calls this service GovCloud. The goal here is to provide the US government with a place to store sensitive workloads and projects. There’s not a lot of information about this product, but we know it must be compliant with a number of protocols ranging from HIPPA to ITAR in order for the government to consider it as a legit player in the cloud.
Microsoft is taking a similar approach with Azure, having cordoned off part of its cloud and calling it Azure Government. But it’s not nearly as mature, and that gives Amazon AWS a major advantage in this area. If you have a considerable investment in Microsoft products, it might wise to take a “wait and see” approach with Azure Government. Otherwise, AWS is your best option today.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Microsoft would tailor Azure to meet the needs of its corporate customers. These are the customers purchasing large quantities of Office, Exchange and Windows Server products. So if you rely on Microsoft Active Directory, you’re bound to find Azure a better fit for the way you work because it integrates so well into other Microsoft products. The challenge comes when you’re using a mix of Microsoft and non-Microsoft software.
To its credit, Microsoft has given Azure support for a number of Linux flavors that includes Oracle and SUSE. But Azure doesn’t include support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is a popular option for businesses, and that’s probably not going to change for the foreseeable future. So if you’re invested in RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux), then Amazon AWS is your best option.
Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure Reputation Among Customers
Amazon AWS has built a reputation for allowing its customers to pick and choose and build the cloud services they need. This approach has served it well and has attracted the type of customers that appreciate this level of flexibility, even if they have to put in a little work to make it run as they need. In some ways, AWS might feel like shopping at Home Depot. If you need something, they are bound to have it, but you might spend some time searching for it.
Microsoft Azure has taken a slightly different approach in making its stack of products simple to use, as long you use them the way Microsoft has designed them to be used. Azure doesn’t offer as many products making their offerings easier to navigate. So if Amazon AWS feels more like Home Depot then Azure feels a lot like Ace Hardware. You won’t have as many options to choose from, but that’s not always a negative trade-off if simplicity matters a lot to you.
There’s little doubt both Microsoft and Amazon are in this game for the long haul, and we are still in the early stages of cloud computing. Companies like Google, Rackspace and Verizon may become top-tier players over the next few years. Google has proven they can hire world class talent and Rackspace and Verizon has been in the networking and storage business for a while now. But as of today, AWS and Azure are the top dogs of cloud computing.
Amazon AWS appears to be throwing a wider net in recruiting customers to its platform. It’s been especially aggressive not only in releasing new products, but lowering prices whenever it feels a competitor is encroaching upon its territory. In the same vein that Amazon wants to be the largest retailer with its Amazon.com storefront, it feels like AWS has similar goals in bringing the largest number of cloud services to the most customers at the lowest prices.
You might have noticed that I didn’t mention pricing. That was intentional because comparing the two services on pricing feels like a fool’s game. Both offer competitive pricing and have shown a penchant for lowering prices when the other releases a competing product. You’re better off spending your time comparing the needs of your company with their offerings and going with the company who can best meet them, rather than who has the lowest price.
So which service is better? The one that best meets the needs of your company. Amazon AWS offers the most cloud services, but if you require a hybrid approach then Microsoft Azure is a better choice. Both companies provide excellent developer and IT resources along with top-notch support. But Amazon has been in the game a few more years than Microsoft and it shows in their offerings, engagement and customer base.
But don’t count Microsoft out. If there was any question how committed they are the cloud, that was cleared up when the Microsoft board promoted Satya Nadella to CEO. What did Nadella do before he became CEO? He was VP of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group.
We all win when there’s healthy competition, and cloud services is one area that’s certain to remain competitive for many years.