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When you have your walking meeting to make a decision between committing your company’s data and files to Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, it’s a strategic decision—even though you can change your mind at a later date and move it all elsewhere. Only you don’t want to do that within the next few years if you can help it; the headaches of moving and integrating large (even medium-size) data sets is akin to moving all your stuff from one house to another: It can be agonizingly slow, tedious and expensive.
So here’s the main thing to remember when making this momentous decision: Azure speaks enterprise Windows; AWS speaks multiple “languages,” such as Kubernetes, Lambda and Dynamo DB.
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What we’ll do here is compare at a high level and in a few different ways these two most globally popular cloud storage and computing services, so as to help you sift out the one that suits your company as the most cost- and feature-efficient available.
What is AWS?
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud service platform from Amazon, which provides services in different domains such as compute, storage, delivery and other functionality which help the business to scale and grow. AWS utilizes these domains in the form of services, which can be used to create and deploy different types of applications in the cloud platform. These services are designed in such a way that they work with each other and produce a scalable and efficient outcome. AWS services are categorized into three types: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). AWS was launched in 2006 and become the most-purchased cloud platform among currently available cloud platforms. Cloud platforms offer various advantages such as management overhead reduction, cost minimization and many others.
AWS Pros and Cons, Based on User Feedback
PROS: Amazon's single biggest strength really turned out to be the fact that it was first to market in 2006 and didn’t have any serious competition for more than two years. It sustains this leadership by continuing to invest heavily in its data centers and solutions. This is why its dominates the public cloud market. Gartner Research reported in its Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service, Worldwide, that "AWS has been the market share leader in cloud IaaS for over 10 years." Specifically, AWS has been the world leader for closer to 13 years, or ever since it first launched its S3 (Simple Storage Service) in fall 2006.
Part of the reason for its popularity is certainly the massive scope of its global operations. AWS has a huge and growing array of available services, as well as the most comprehensive network of worldwide data centers. Gartner has described AWS as “the most mature, enterprise-ready (cloud services) provider, with the deepest capabilities for governing a large number of users and resources."
CONS: Cost and data access are Amazon's Achilles heels. While AWS regularly lowers its prices—in fact, it has lowered them more than 80 times in the last several years, which probably means they were too high to begin with. Many enterprises find it difficult to understand the company's cost structure. They also have a hard time managing these costs effectively when running a high volume of workloads on the service. And customers, beware: Be sure you understand the costs of extracting data and files once they are in AWS’s storage control. AWS will explain it all up front for you, but know that it’s a lot easier to start a process and upload files into the AWS cloud and access apps and services than to find data and files you need and move them to another server or storage array.
In general, however, these cons are outweighed by Amazon's strengths, because organizations of all sizes continue to use AWS for a wide variety of workloads.
Read user reviews of Amazon Web Services
What is Microsoft Azure?
Azure is a cloud service platform designed and built by Microsoft and launched in 2010. It competes directly with AWS by providing services in domains such as compute, storage, database, networking, developer tools and other functionality which enables organizations to scale and grow their businesses. Azure services are categorized as platform as a service (PaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). They all can be used by developers and software employees to create, deploy and manage services and applications through the cloud. Services can include financial, human resources, scientific, retail, media and numerous other use cases.
Azure, thanks largely to Microsoft’s deep and wide installed base of business applications throughout the world, has emerged fairly quickly as one of the largest and most successful commercial cloud service providers. It offers a wide range of integrated cloud services and functionalities, such as analytics, computing, networking, database, storage, mobile and web applications that seamlessly integrate with enterprise environments in order to achieve efficiency and scalability.
Azure Pros and Cons, Based on User Feedback
PROS: Microsoft came late to the cloud market (in fact, four years after AWS) but gave itself a jump start by taking its popular on-premises business software–Windows Server, Office, SQL Server, Sharepoint, Dynamics Active Directory, .Net and others–and repurposing it for the cloud.
Azure’s growth in the market is largely due to an obvious familiarity factor: So many enterprises deploy Windows and other Microsoft software, and employees generally are familiar with the look and feel of Microsoft apps. Because Azure is tightly integrated with these other applications, enterprises that use a lot of Microsoft software often find that it also makes sense for them to use Azure. For example, moving an email from Outlook to storage in Azure is merely a single-click move. This builds loyalty for existing Microsoft customers. Also, if you are already an existing Microsoft enterprise customer, you can expect significant discounts off service contracts. Those are often non-trivial savings; just ask any CFO.
CONS: Gartner has had some reservations about the makeup and design of the platform. "While Microsoft Azure is an enterprise-ready platform, Gartner clients report that the service experience feels less enterprise-ready than they expected, given Microsoft's long history as an enterprise vendor," the researcher said. "Customers cite issues with technical support, documentation, training and breadth of the ISV partner ecosystem."
This doesn’t happen with all customers, but there are enough unsatisfied users that their objections must be taken into account.
Read user reviews of Microsoft Azure
With a vast tool set that continues to grow all the time, AWS' capabilities are impressive. Yet its cost structure can be confusing, and its singular focus on public cloud rather than hybrid cloud or private cloud means that interoperating with a data center isn't AWS' top priority.
Azure presents a very capable cloud infrastructure. If you’re an enterprise customer, Azure speaks your language; few companies have the enterprise background (and Windows support) as Microsoft. Azure knows you still run a data center, and the Azure platform works hard to interoperate with data centers; hybrid cloud is a true strength.
AWS' storage services are the most advanced, mature and longest-running; its Simple Storage Service (S3) launched in fall 2006. Nonetheless, Azure's storage capabilities are also extremely reliable.
Azure is open to hybrid cloud systems; AWS is less open to private or third-party cloud providers.
AWS has more features and configurations, and it offers a lot of flexibility, power and customization with support for many third-party tools integration.
Azure is easy to use if you are familiar with Windows, because it is a Windows platform. It’s relatively easy to integrate on-premises Windows servers with cloud instances to create a hybrid environment.
AWS EC2 users can configure their own VMS or pre-configured images.
Azure users need to choose the virtual hard disk to create a VM, which is pre-configured by a third party; users need to specify the number of cores and memory required.
AWS offers temporary storage which can be assigned when an instance is started--then destroyed when it is terminated. S3 is for object storage. Azure offers temporary storage by block storage through page Blobs for VMs and Block Blobs for object storage.
AWS offers virtual private clouds, so that user can create isolated networks within the cloud.
Azure offers virtual network through which user can create isolated networks, subnets, route tables, private IP address ranges--same as in AWS.
AWS uses its own servers to perform the calculation, processing and computing on all data sets. It can scale to thousands of processing nodes with the aid of cloud service providers based on its own requirements (not the customer's, by the way). AWS uses Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) as a primary solution for scalable computing and for management of software containers with Docker or Kubernetes, where it uses UCS Container Service and the EC2 container registry.
Azure: For computing purposes, Azure uses virtual machines (VMs) and to scale, to big extent, uses VM-scale sets. For software management, in Docker containers is uses Container Services (AKS) and Container Registry for Docker.
AWS offers solutions with its ow Elastic Beanstalk Batch, Lambda, container service and others. However, it doesn't at this time have many options on the application-hosting side of the business.
Azure has intentionally tried to make the application deployment process as easy as possible for its customers. The service has multiple app deployment tools, including cloud services, a container service, batch and other services.
AWS offers database functions in both SQL and NoSQL packages. AWS also has its own relational database as a service by using RDS; for NoSQL instances, it uses its own Dynamo DB and caches it with Elastic Cache.
AWS’ second-most important service is storage. It uses the S3 (Simple Storage Service), the world's first and oldest cloud storage service. The service provides complete documentation and tutorials, if customers can find the time to read them all. AWS also offers an archive service called Glacier, used for infrequent data S3 data access. And yes, it's called Glacier for a good reason; it's awfully slow.
Azure uses Storage Block blob (a configuration of open storage arrays) which is comprised of block storage and uploads large blobs of files and data efficiently. It uses cool storage and archive for archiving data.
AWS offers different partners for interconnection service networks that connect with data centers using different tools. AWS uses a virtual private cloud for networking and an API gateway for cross-network connectivity. It also uses Elastic load balancing during networking processes.
Azure uses a virtual network for content delivery and a VPN gateway for cross-premises connectivity. For load balancing during content delivery, it manages with both the load balancer and the gateway.
Pricing: An Important Differentiator
One area where there is a notable difference between the two market leaders is in pricing. AWS uses a pay-as-you-go model and charges customers per hour—and they pay for a full hour, even if they use only one minute of it. Azure also follows a pay-as-you-go model, but it charges per minute—a way more exact pricing model than AWS. Google Cloud also follows a to-the-minute pricing process.
Many experts recommend that enterprises evaluate their public cloud needs on a case-by-case basis and match specific applications and workloads with the vendor that offers the best fit for their needs. Each of the leading vendors has particular strengths and weaknesses that make them a good choice for specific projects.
This is a high-level comparison of two of the three major cloud service leaders here in mid-2019. We will be updating this article with new information as it becomes available, and eWEEK will also be examining in closer detail the various services—computing, storage, networking and tools—that other vendors offer.
eWEEK is creating a new series of articles which examine all sectors of IT and present up-to-date research and analysis on the leading companies in each space. It's all designed for enterprise buyers of hardware, software, services and cloud products to have more and better information in hand when the time comes to make an investment.