AWS vs Azure: Which Is Best for Your Organisation?

October 27, 2016 Patricia Johnson

Due to the increased agility and reduced costs offered by moving applications from data centers to the cloud, the infrastructure as a service (IAAS) market has really taken off. Gartner even estimated that the market was worth $16.5 billion in 2015 alone. And the lion’s share of that turnover was won by two cloud providers. Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS.

With Amazon AWS being around since 2006, it had a four-year head start over its competitor. In this time, Amazon AWS has matured to have over x10 computer capacity than its 14 closet rivals put together. However, Azure is growing, and growing fast. In the 6 years since it was established, Microsoft has invested $15 billion in its cloud network, establishing data centers all over the world.

So, let’s find the answer to the question which is on the tip of everyone’s tongues. ‘AWS vs Azure. Which cloud provider comes out on top?’

#1 Pricing

Unsurprisingly, for many price is one of the main factors to consider when choosing a cloud provider.

The first thing to know is that due to the hyper-competitiveness of the cloud market, prices are on a downwards trend.

However, due to the huge variety of services on offer, an in-depth price comparison between AWS and Azure is near impossible. Therefore, I recommend that you check out both Microsoft Azure’s Pricing calculator and Amazon AWS’s Pricing calculator.

Yet, we can make a broad comparison of AWS and Azure’s basic pricing structures.

Free Tier

When it comes to AWS vs Azure, both offer enticing free tiers.

With AWS’s 12-month free tier, you’re provided such services as an Amazon EC2 t2.micro instance which you can run over 700 free and paid software products for up to 750 hours per month.

AWS also offers some non-expiring services, the highlights being up to 25GB storage in its Amazon DynamoDB and a whole range of CloudWatch metrics, alarms and requests.

For a full list of expiring and non-expiring services, click here.

As for Azure, all the offerings under its free tier have no expiration. Therefore, you can enjoy such features as App Services (which include 1GB of disk space, 500 active mobile devices per day and 10 Logic Apps Definitions) for as long as you want. Furthermore, upon signing-up, Azure will give you $200 to build up your cloud, as long as you spend the funds in the first 30 days. If you want a full rundown of everything included in Azure’s free tier, click here.

The biggest takeaway regarding AWS vs Azure free tier is that AWS gives you access to an EC2 Instance usage which you have full control over, while Azure’s App Services allow you to raise computers only for running your apps.

Subsequently, it’s a close call between AWS vs Azure when it comes to free services. AWS give you more control, while Azure's free tier doesn’t expire. Either way - if you’re looking to run a cloud with any real capacity, you’re going to have to part with some cash.

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Paid Services

Azure charges for usage by the minute, whereas AWS rounds up to the hour. While AWS might seem more expensive, this cloud provider also has some pretty flexible pricing options.

As opposed to Azure, AWS offers more than just a pay-as-you-go pricing structure. Firstly, AWS offers Reserved Instances which allow you to reserve instances for either a 1 or 3-year term, and save up to 75% along the way. This is a good option for users who require a steady state usage for their applications.

AWS also offers Spot Instances. Spot Instances allow you to bid on spare Amazon EC2 computing capacity, giving you the opportunity to save up to 90% off the On-Demand price.

#2 Cloud Computing Instances

The number and capacity of instances are undoubtedly one of the main comparison points in the battle of AWS vs Azure.

As it stands, AWS offers 54 instances types to Azure's 52. Also, AWS has a massive 67,137 image choices, compared to Azure's 2,843.

When it comes to the number of OS supported, AWS supports 11 OS while Azure currently supports 9. However, it's really a tossup between the two, as both support a wide range of open source and Windows operating systems.

Also, if you’re CPU capacity is an issue for you - the max CPUs for an AWS EC2 instance is 128, and it’s 32 for an Azure VM instance. Therefore, if you its critical that your instance pack a punch to support compute-intensive processes such as graphic apps and complex algorithms, AWS currently offers more.

However, when talking about memory, Azure takes the cake. The max RAM capacity for a VM is 488GB compared to 244GB for an EC2. Subsequently, if you have an obscene amount of data to store and you want to access it quickly on-demand, go with Azure.

To be honest, when it comes to compute-capacity, both are heavy hitters, and there's little difference between the two. After all, who seriously needs more than 2,843 image choices or 244GB of RAM.

#3 Deployment

Central to any organisation looking to achieve an agile software development environment is continuous deployment. Therefore, you need to be confident your cloud provider will give you the boost you need to get your products to market before your competition.

As you have probably guessed by now, the competition between AWS vs Azure is pretty tight here as well. You can deploy using both MSDeploy or Powershell for Azure and AWS, and you can also deploy to an autoscaling group and from Visual Studio with both cloud providers. However, in this round of AWS vs Azure, Azure comes out on top.

Azure offers a staging deployment slot, ensuring all instances of the slot are 'warmed up' before swapping the deployment slot into production. This not only eliminates any downtime when you deploy your app, but also no requests are dropped when you swap operations. All in all, Azure makes setting up a continuous delivery environment as easy as pie.

#4 Database

Other points to consider in the battle between AWS vs Azure is how many databases each supports, how easy it is to back up your data and if any data warehousing services are offered.

AWS supports 6 Relational Databases, while Azure supports 2. One of the noticeable exceptions in regards to Azure is Oracle. However, this doesn’t mean you can't run an Oracle server on Azure, you just have to set up a VM and manage it yourself. In regards to NoSQL engines, both support 2, and there's little to choose between them.

When it comes to backing up your data and managing your SQL Server as a Service, Azure is the easier option. Of course, AWS also allows you to perform these functions, it's just that Azure's interface is more intuitive and less of a hassle to set up.

To cut long story short, if you just want an SQL Server in the cloud and you don’t want to worry about managing it, my money’s on Azure.

#5 Statistics/Metrics

When you're in the cloud you're working remotely. Therefore, when things go wrong, you need to know fast, so that you can resolve the issue.

Both AWS and Azure have custom dashboards which allow to quickly and easily monitor the metrics and analytics essential for measuring the performance of your app.

Both AWS Cloudwatch and Azure Portal also give you notifications and alerts when there are any app issues, as well as tracking your CPU usage.

#6 Support and Reputation Among Customers

Specs aside, a good indication of who wins the battle of AWS vs Azure is the level of support each cloud offers, and the provider’s reputation among its customers.

When it comes to whitepapers and webinars, on average, AWS produces 12 webinars and 5 whitepapers per month, while Azure’s offerings might seem less prolific. However, I’m going to give credit where credit’s due: their weekly podcast Azure Fridays on Channel 9 is great! They have a whole host of developers coming onto the show, explaining the ins-and-outs of the service in a fun and engaging way.

As for reputation, AWS has become widely known for giving its customers the freedom to pick, choose and build their cloud services. Microsoft Azure has taken a different approach. Rather than having a huge array of features, it focuses on making the products it does have as simple and easy to navigate as possible. So, if I was going to use a car analogy, AWS feels like building a car from scratch, while Azure is like building a kit car.

A final thought. Over its years of operation, AWS has built up a great reputation with its customers for its huge range of features and services. However, Azure is becoming a big hit with existing Microsoft users, as it links well with key on-premise systems such as Windows Server, System Center and Active Directory.

AWS vs Azure - Which Cloud is for You?

So, now we’ve deep dived into what each cloud has to offer, let’s have a quick overview of how they stack up:

 

As you can see, there’s not a whole lot to choose between AWS vs Azure. I recommend all organizations take a good look at their specific requirements. The cloud provider you choose really does depend on your use case scenario.

If you’re looking for a cloud provider with a wide array of features so that you can build your VM yourself, a longer track record in the market and a flexible pricing structure which lets you wheel and deal on cost, you might think AWS is a better choice. 

However, if your organisation is already familiar, invested and satisfied with other Microsoft products, has a strong focus on continuous deployment and wants to get their cloud up and running without getting into the nuts and bolts, the consensus says go with Azure.

So there you have it. A run-down of AWS vs Azure. Now all you need to do is choose which one is the best fit for your organisation.

 

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