Buyer’s Guide: Microsoft Azure vs. Amazon Web Services
You’re Living In The World Of The Cloud
Are you lost in the cloud?
The cloud is one of the biggest technological industries worldwide — public cloud adoption is at 91% and private cloud adoption is at 72% as of 2019.
However, the cloud is still an intimidating topic for many business owners, leaders and managers.
Because it can be extremely complicated. From the nature of the cloud to its many applications and features, you could spend weeks trying to evaluate options for your organization and still be at a loss.
That’s why I wrote this guide — to help leaders like you understand the pros and cons of the cloud computing world’s two leaders: Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Why Do You Need Microsoft Azure Or Amazon Web Services?
The fact is that public cloud spending is growing three times faster than private cloud spending, at a rate of 24% vs. 8%.
Why are businesses choosing to work with companies like Microsoft or Amazon for their cloud? Because it’s easier and more cost-effective than the alternative (handling it on your own).
Key benefits include:
- Outsourced Infrastructure: You get Microsoft or Amazon to handle the hardware component of your cloud, and all of the expensive maintenance that comes with it.
- Extended Support: Instead of having your in-house team or outsourced IT company take care of your infrastructure, the experts from Microsoft or Amazon handle it for you.
By working with a cloud provider like Microsoft or Amazon, you get increased flexibility, scalability, and availability, without having to maintain your own infrastructure. In other words, there’s no point in building and managing a Tier-3 data center when you can pay someone else to do it for you.
That’s why millions of users worldwide have chosen to work with Microsoft or Amazon for their cloud needs — who will you choose?
Cloud Basics & Key Terms
In the course of this Buyer’s Guide, we will discuss a range of cloud-specific terminology:
- Virtual Machine (VM): In computing, a virtual machine is an emulation of a computer system. Virtual machines are based on computer architectures and provide the functionality of a physical computer. Their implementations may involve specialized hardware, software, or a combination.
- Virtual Hard Disk (VHD): VHD and its successor VHDx are file formats representing a virtual hard disk drive. They may contain what is found on a physical HDD, such as disk partitions and a file system, which in turn can contain files and folders.
- Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2): Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.
- Software as a Service (SaaS): SaaS is a software licensing and delivery model. The software is centrally hosted, licensed, and offered on a monthly or annual basis. SaaS is the standard delivery model for most applications.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS): PaaS provides a platform for users to develop, run, and manage applications. It eliminates the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure for the applications.
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): This model allows you to access an IT infrastructure on an outsourced basis and provides hardware, storage, servers, data center space, and software if needed. It’s used on-demand rather than requiring you to purchase equipment. That means you don’t have to expend the capital to invest in new hardware.
Cloud Leaders Head To Head
Microsoft Azure: The Basics
Azure is Microsoft’s enterprise-grade cloud computing platform. You and your team can rely on this solution to help you cut costs by hosting off-site, as well as benefit from a totally scalable configuration that fits your needs.
This service offers both PaaS and IaaS options, and benefits from Microsoft’s extensive infrastructure capabilities.
Amazon Web Services: The Basics
AWS offers one of the most expansive and popular cloud computing platforms in the world, delivering 175 fully-featured services to millions of customers. It offers an extensive toolset that continues to grow and innovate for the good of its users. This service offers PaaS, IaaS and SaaS.
Azure Vs. AWS: An Overview
On the surface, these two options can seem fairly similar. They have a number of components and service elements in common, including self-service, security, instant provisioning, and auto-scaling.
And while AWS, at a glance, may offer greater depth of service (with 175 distinct solutions), quantity doesn’t always mean quality — and after all, Azure is backed by worldwide computing industry leader Microsoft.
As with so many things in the world of IT, it’s the details and the minor contrasts between the two that make the biggest difference for users like you.
In order to determine which option is right for you, it’s important to know what you’re looking for, and which provider is offering it. We’ll achieve this by examining both options in a side-by-side comparison in terms of six key categories, as well as the pros and cons of each.
Computing power is a basic consideration for evaluating one cloud option over another. The bottom line is that you need to know the choice you make will support your organization’s needs when they are at their highest.
The key difference between Microsoft and Amazon is the way in which they scale to deliver more computing power as needed:
- Microsoft Azure: As configured by the user, a third-party cloud service provider, or Microsoft itself, Azure creates a VM based on a selected VHD. This provides scalability (the access to additionally needed computing resources) through virtual sets. Azure VMs pair with other tools to help deploy applications on the cloud.
- AWS: Based on EC2, AWS users have the ability to:
- Configure their own VMs
- Choose pre-configured machine images (MIs)
- Or customize MIs
This provides users with the freedom to determine the size, power, memory capacity, and number of VMs they wish to use, based on their requirements, allowing for optimal compatibility with a range of options.
In the cloud world, storage is a close second to computing when it comes to key considerations. How does one option organize storage and what limits does it have?
In this case, Azure and AWS have fairly similar offerings:
- Microsoft Azure: Microsoft offers temporary, block and object storages, and virtual network capabilities to create isolation in the cloud. It’s important to understand the two classes of storage offered:
- Hot Storage: Hot storage is more expensive, as the assumption is that users will access and use it more often. It’s ideal for data that you will actively access and update.
- Cool Storage: Cool storage is less expensive, but users incur additional read and write costs. This is ideal for archived, long-term storage of records you may only need to access for audits or store for posterity.
- AWS: This provider’s storage is based on Machine Instances (MI), which are VMs hosted in their infrastructure. AWS offers temporary, object and block storage (separate or attached to an instance), as well as virtual private clouds to create isolated networks.
Whereas both options offer as much storage as you need (of course, at a higher and higher cost), each has a specific limit on the size of stored objects: 4.75TB for Azure, and 5TB for AWS.
Both options are easily integrated with NoSQL and relational databases, delivering high availability and durability.
Furthermore, Azure offers an extensive range of database capabilities:
- SQL-based options including SQL Database, Database for MySQL and Database for PostgreSQL.
- Data Warehouse service
- Cosmos DB and Table Storage for NoSQL
- Redis Cache for in-memory service
- Server Stretch Database for hybrid storage service designed specifically for organizations that use Microsoft SQL Server in their own data centers.
That’s not to mention, unlike AWS, Microsoft does offer an actual Backup service, as well as Site Recovery service and Archive Storage.
AWS offers a relational database service (RDS) that supports a range of popular database engines:
- Amazon Aurora
- Microsoft SQL
This means that, if you’re locked into one of these databases, that gives that option a clear advantage for you.
Security should always be a top priority and must be on your list when considering a change in your IT, especially one as fundamental as the cloud. Using a public cloud service, even when creating private clouds, assumes a certain degree of risk.
That’s why you need to ensure that the necessary security standards are in place with your choice of cloud.
Designed around the principals of the Security Development Lifecycle, Microsoft has made embedding best-practice security requirements in everything they create a mandatory part of their software development process.
Based on a virtual network, users have the ability to create isolated networks, in addition to subnets, private IP ranges, route tables, and network gateways. Cross-network connectivity is granted via a VPN gateway.
Azure Active Directory has built-in security features including authentication tools, access control, and identity management in addition to their own top-notch network and system security.
Certifications include ITAR, DISA, HIPAA, CJIS, FIPS, and more. Security is provided so that only screened persons can access the cloud.
AWS delivers both security and flexibility, meeting the high standards of military, international finance, and other highly regulated sectors that rely on AWS. This service keeps user data secure with 230 distinct security, compliance and governance systems.
Using a virtual private cloud (VPC), AWS allows users to create isolated private networks. API gateways allow for cross-premises connectivity, and elastic load balancing during networking allows for seamless operation
Using a VPC allows users to create subnets, private IP ranges, route tables, and network gateways.
Certifications include ITAR, DISA, HIPAA, CJIS, FIPS, and more. Security is provided so that only screened persons can access the cloud.
As far as your CFO is concerned, this is likely priority number one. At the end of the day, you have to know how your cloud service is priced, and how your organization’s use will cost you.
To start, you should know that both options provide free introductory tiers, which would allow you to try out the service before committing any of your IT budget to it.
Furthermore, if you’re in the process of moving from onsite infrastructure to the cloud, you’ll also benefit from a superior pricing model. Whereas Capital Expenditures (CapEx), on-premise IT solutions, are paid for upfront and see a gradual return over the following months and years, Operating Expenses (OpEx) are “pay-as-you-go”. You only pay for the cloud month by month, which vastly reduces the window between investment and return.
However, once you do decide on one option or the other, you’ll find stark differences in their pay-as-you-go pricing:
- Microsoft Azure: Service is charged by the minute. You can also choose between monthly or pre-paid charges, with longer commitments allowing for greater discounts.
- AWS: Service is charged by the second, with instances purchasable:
- On-demand (pay for what you use)
- Spot (bid for extra available capacity)
- Reserved (reserve an instance for 1-3 years with upfront costs based on use)
It’s also important to note that, as the apparent industry leader, AWS is generally the more expensive option. It’s been in the game longer than Azure and offers more capabilities, and so, pound for pound, it often costs more.
Of course, pricing is notoriously difficult to specify in terms of dollars and cents when it comes to the cloud. It all depends on your needs and usages.
One business’ cloud expenses can be wildly different from the next, depending on what type of instances it needs, whether they’re on-demand, whether they benefit from a one-year commitment’s discounts, and so on.
Don’t forget to consider how much help you’ll need, and how it may cost you.
You need to factor in whether you have a cloud service provider, an outsourced IT team, or even an internal IT team. You need to know whether they have certifications in or experience working with one cloud platform or the other.
This will help you gauge how much support you’ll need, in line with how each provider charges for that support:
- Azure: Users are billed a flat monthly rate. If your organization is more likely to require support on a regular basis, you can easily make this monthly rate worth your while.
- AWS: Users are billed on a sliding scale tied to monthly usage. That means, if you need a lot of support, you’ll pay a lot more, and vice versa. More sophisticated and IT-mature organizations that can handle support internally will benefit from lower support costs with Amazon.
Microsoft Azure: The Pros And Cons
Advantages Of Microsoft Azure
- Integration: The key benefit of Azure is that it is designed for Microsoft users. If you’re already a Microsoft-based organization, Azure will seamlessly integrate into your current environment, drastically lowering the complexity, cost and timeline of a migration. Your users will adapt to using it more quickly, as it is all in-line with the ubiquitous Microsoft experience.
- Pricing: Between its by-the-minute pricing model and flat-rate support offering, Azure is more cost-effective to use for most organizations.
Disadvantages Of Microsoft Azure
- Limitations: Azure simply can’t compete with AWS’ depth of service. It does what it does well, but it doesn’t fill quite as many distinct roles as its competitor.
- Enterprise Capability: As the younger of the two services, Azure is not as prepared to support Enterprise environments. Larger, multi-location and multi-national businesses may not get the flexibility they’re looking for from Azure right now.
Amazon Web Services: The Pros And Cons
Advantages Of Amazon Web Services
- Extensive Capabilities: Whether it’s the 175 cloud-based solutions offered, or the integration with six different popular databases engines, AWS greatly outpaces Azure in terms of depth of service. If you’re already dependent on one of these engines, or in need of a solution AWS offers, it has a distinct advantage over its competitor.
- Enterprise-Ready: As an early player in the global cloud computing space, AWS benefits from a head start in developing enterprise capability.
Disadvantages Of Amazon Web Services
- Cost: Because of its by-the-hour pricing, and its considerable market share, AWS is priced like an industry-leader. It may not fit into the budget of small and medium-sized businesses entering the world of the cloud.
Microsoft Azure vs. Amazon Web Services: Which Is Right For You?
At the end of the day, there isn’t a clear winner in this head-to-head. One isn’t obviously better than the other. In many ways, they offer highly comparable capabilities — where they differ will come down to what your organization needs.
In a nutshell, here’s a high-level summary of what each has to offer, through the lens of what your organization may be looking for:
- Microsoft Azure: If your organization already relies on Microsoft solutions, and is looking for a cost-effective entry point into cloud computing, then Azure is almost certainly the better choice for you.
- AWS: If you’re an expansive corporation, with a large budget for IT, that utilizes one of AWS’ six database engines, then AWS may be better prepared to handle your needs.
If you’re still undecided or would like help in your evaluation, reach out to our team.
NST Will Guide You To The Right Cloud Platform
NST helps clients evaluate their options and determine which solution best meets their needs.
No matter where you are with the cloud, our team of IT specialists are able to provide troubleshooting assistance or strategic advice, helping you to leverage the power of these cloud technologies to their benefit.
- Migration Management: If you’re not sure which solution is right for you or how to migrate all of your workstations over, we’ll walk you through the entire migration process, handling each step of the way to make sure it goes smoothly.
- Comprehensive Support: We offer onsite and remote support to help you resolve any sort of configuration and/or troubleshooting issues right away. If we’re not able to remotely resolve the issue, we’ll come onsite to help you out
- Employee Training: A vital component of the success strategy of any software offering is the ability for a business’ employees to understand it well enough to utilize it to its fullest potential. We’re here to walk your staff through any new features or applications.
Schedule a complimentary consultation with NST to determine if Microsoft Azure or AWS is the right fit for you.