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AWS vs Azure: The Cloud Computing Arms Race

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AWS vs Azure: The Cloud Computing Arms Race

A Revolution in Computing

There isn’t a business on the planet that’s not interested in saving money and minimizing risk. But traditionally, when it came to launching an IT project, expenses and risk were the only guarantees. From server purchases to salaries to energy expenditures to software maintenance costs, there were a number of challenges that had to be overcome. First of all, a business had to achieve a high level of success in order to cover these major expenses. And, on top of that, they had to be prepared to spend even more money mitigating risks — or solving problems. For example, in the event that an organization’s website received a sudden surge of visitors, its servers may not have the capacity to handle it, leading to wasted opportunity.

Enter cloud computing

Cloud computing has ushered in an entire new industry that has catapulted IT endeavors of all kinds, offering infrastructure as a service, hardware for rent, software, hosting, storage, databases, servers, mobile app design, software modernization, cloud application development, software testing services, machine learning, big data, any custom web application, and more. AWS, Azure, and the rest of the industry have greatly reduced the startup cost for using countless services like these by allowing clients to use their resources and pay for only the services and capacity they need, when they need it. Instant hyperscalability allows clients to adjust their capacity in mere minutes, across a multitude of geographic locations.

There are countless of cloud computing companies vying for market share in this relatively new industry. But let’s take a look who’s leading the arms race. AWS, which was the first to launch its services back in 2006, is currently the king of the infrastructure as a service market. Its revenue tripled to $35 billion in from 2016 to 2019, and it holds a whopping 40 percent of the market, claiming the majority of cloud clients in the world. Some of its high-profile clients include the likes of Spotify, Pinterest, Adobe, and Airbnb. Microsoft Azure, which launched in 2010, however, is close second. Azure currently holds 30 percent of the market in its own right, and it’s the preferred choice of 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies. The Microsoft service is projected to surpass AWS’s market share in the near future. Other smaller companies accounting for the remaining 30 percent of the market include Google Cloud, Rackspace, and IBM Softlayer.

Keep in mind that both of these frontrunner services offer fantastic value to companies in need of efficient, low-cost computing, so one couldn’t do wrong choosing either. Both are fairly evenly matched in terms of data sovereignty, security, and compliance with government regulations. The company that any individual client chooses depends on a variety of factors: features, pricing, user-friendliness, reliability, and the company’s specific wishes and preferences. In fact, due to the many technical differences they feature, many companies use both services in combination.

What are some of those technical differences? With AWS, users can configure their own virtual machines or select among pre-configured machine images, customizing the size, memory, and power they possess in addition to the different regions and zones they are available in. When operating Azure, however, the user selects a virtual hard drive, which can be configured in advance by Microsoft or one of its partners based on the customer’s chosen number of cores and the amount of memory. Furthermore, the security methods differ from each other: AWS provides security based on user-defined roles, while Azure does so by enabling permissions for the whole account.

Where AWS Wins

As a service that has had a long time to mature on the market, AWS has built the most extensive selection of services — more than 160 compared to Azure’s 100. These include computing, storage, databases, mobile software development, android app development, iOS app development, analytics, quality assurance testing, a dedicated development team, networking, rapid application development, enterprise applications, DevOps as a service, the Internet of Things, web and mobile application development tools, and tools for software product development.

Unlike Azure, AWS also has a strong ecosystem of third parties providing integrated services. AWS is currently superior in reliability, as well. Its clients report better customer care and experience fewer power outages. Azure had its last major outage in 2019, while AWS hasn’t had a major power outage since 2017.

On top of that, AWS has been more accepting of the open source model. Linux computers, for instance don’t work as well with Azure. Here is a brief list of additional features that might encourage a company to choose AWS:

  • AWS has a greater breadth of IoT features, offering greater performance for mobile environments.
  • AWS’s EBS storage operates at lightning speed for big data, while Azure’s standard storage has issues with it, requiring users to pay for Azure’s premium storage.
  • Only AWS offers long-term data archiving through Amazon Glacier, which Azure does not yet offer.
  • AWS allows the client to choose software’s programming language.
  • AWS machines can be accessed separately.
  • A minimum of information is lost in the event of storage and server transfer.
  • Azure’s servers have frequent glitching problems, which incur additional expenses for the client.
  • AWS offers more responsive software support.

Where Azure Wins

Most big businesses, especially those that are heavily regulated, prefer to minimize risk by starting off with only a portion of their services on the public cloud, keeping the rest on their premises. Microsoft Azure handles these hybrid operations much more smoothly than AWS. Until recently, AWS opposed the entire principle of combining on-premise and cloud-based operations, only beginning to accommodate such requests in 2018 with Snowball Edge. Therefore, it is not quite as mature as Azure Stack in transferring on-premises operations to the cloud or providing simultaneous operation across multiple public clouds.

Microsoft, as a legacy software company itself, has a greater awareness of an enterprise’s legacy software migration needs, rendering these migrations smooth and hassle free. It has also taken advantage of the fact that it has clients using a variety of its services already, including on-premises systems such as Windows Directory and Windows Server, and transferring these clients’ licences to Azure with very little fuss.

AWS’s sophistication and extensive list of services is also a double-edged sword. They are a headache for companies who have a hard time managing them. The necessary learning curve is inconvenient for companies that aren’t technical experts and just want to get the ball rolling.

Here are a few additional perks to using Azure:

  • Azure provides better reach when it comes to cloud development, software testing, and other options for government agencies.
  • Azure offers its services in many more regions in the world at 53, with 140 availability zones to AWS’s 60.
  • Azure offers greater depth when it comes to IaaS and PaaS services.
  • Azure’s elastic load balancer is equipped to provide for all incoming requests, unlike AWS’s.
  • Azure has more available data centers.

Pricing

Thanks to the competition between these cloud computing giants, the cost of their services continues to decline, and many companies are eligible for significant discounts on larger volume orders. Both AWS and Azure offer always-free and free-for-a-year services, after which clients are charged. AWS offers 20 services that are free for a year compared to Azure’s 8, but Azure offers a few more always-free services.

Though their prices are fairly evenly matched, Azure’s pricing is more flexible and straightforward. While AWS requires that clients pay as they go, Azure offers a free monthly rate. If users wish to pay as they go with Azure they can as well, but they will incur an additional free. Nevertheless, Azure users who put at least $200 on their accounts will get access to all Azure’s the services for a month. Azure users have a clearer understanding of what they’re paying for and are provided customer support for a flat rate. AWS, in contrast, can build up a major monthly bill for companies that use it a lot. In their pay as you go model, clients are charged by the minute, while Azure charges by the hour, rounded up.

Conclusion

The “right” system to choose will depend on a company’s own desires and circumstances. Both Azure and AWS provide robust systems that will make launching IT projects far more possible and far more convenient by allowing them to scale at any time, strategically restrict their power consumption, and launch operations in a multitude of geographic locations across the world in no more than a few minutes. This takes the work and risk off the company’s shoulders so that it can focus on the business, itself, rather than the systems. If the event that the client is not completely ready to take the leap, it can do what most companies do and make a gradual transition. Neither system is objectively better than the other — it just depends on each company’s specific needs.

Publication date: August 17, 2020

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