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There has been an explosion of cloud technologies in the past few years. Today, many organizations are migrating business-critical resources to cloud environments due to the many advantages offered by cloud service providers. The two largest public cloud providers housing most production workloads today are Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.
Amazon AWS has been the market leader for some years now and has had a considerable lead in years past as the defacto cloud provider. However, Microsoft Azure has made impressive gains and is experiencing exponential growth in adoption. So, as you consider the cloud provider of choice, why might you choose Azure and not AWS? This post will look at Azure vs. AWS and take a look at a comparison of the two.
Why choosing your cloud service is important
One of the significant decisions businesses must make after deciding to begin moving business-critical infrastructure, data, and services to the public cloud is which public cloud service this will be. Many factors can weigh into this decision. For example, businesses may spin up proof of concept environments to test various Azure and AWS services. Or, they may look to Gartner and other reviews of services to make a decision.
There is no question that if you look at both Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS, both offer an impressive list of services and solutions. These allow companies to meet the challenges placed upon them in the highly competitive business world that demands businesses to operate with the cloud’s scalability and agility.
Choosing either Azure or AWS means aligning your business with either cloud service and the services and solutions provided. It is an important consideration to make. Once business-critical resources are housed in the cloud, migrating these to another cloud service provider or repatriate resources on-premises can be very difficult.
It represents a type of vendor lock-in. However, at least to some degree, vendor lock-in is unavoidable when it comes to cloud services. Each cloud vendor has its specific tooling, dashboards, services, infrastructure offerings, features, capabilities, and limitations. Why is this important? Considering vendor lock-in is essential as it directly affects the workflows for processes, procedures, and automated solutions. All of these factors must weigh into the decision to choose a specific cloud vendor.
Multi-cloud solutions (using more than one public cloud service) are a growing trend among many organizations. However, most businesses have a primary public cloud at the very least where they choose to house the bulk of their business-critical services. So, selecting that primary cloud service provider is crucial.
From a technology perspective, both AWS and Azure will most likely deliver the technological capabilities and features needed for most organizations. Both have an extremely robust offering that continues to grow daily with new announcements, enhancements, and other capabilities added. Among the different considerations that need to be made from a technology perspective, choosing a public cloud vendor often comes down to a business decision. The overall business can be affected either positively or negatively, depending on the cloud vendor selected.
Common questions about Azure vs. AWS
Let’s take a brief look at the following questions commonly asked when comparing Azure vs. AWS:
- Is Azure better than AWS?
- How is Azure different from AWS?
- Is Azure easier than AWS?
- Is Azure bigger than AWS?
Is Azure better than AWS?
Determining if Azure is better than AWS is a subjective question. It comes down to the features, capabilities, costs, and ultimately, the alignment of a business with one vendor or another. As we will discuss, there are compelling reasons for some organizations to choose Azure over AWS. However, this will most likely come down to a business decision for most companies.
How is Azure different from AWS?
Microsoft Azure is Microsoft’s public cloud environment providing Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions to businesses. It differs from Amazon AWS in that it is a separate cloud environment with its own set of management tools, services, solutions, tooling, and automation workflows. Azure and AWS are standalone solutions provided by each respective vendor.
Is Azure easier than AWS?
Again, this is subjective to each organization. Companies familiar with Microsoft’s on-premises solutions, services, and infrastructure will most likely have a shorter learning curve aligning with Microsoft Azure. Amazon AWS provides its own set of infrastructure services and solutions. For many IT admins supporting on-premises infrastructure, Azure is more straightforward than AWS due to existing familiarity with Microsoft solutions.
Is Azure bigger than AWS?
The short answer is no. While Microsoft Azure provides a hyper-scale cloud offering growing exponentially, according to a report by Canalys, Amazon AWS is still the market leader. The report’s breakdown of spending on cloud services worldwide was the following:
– Amazon AWS – 32%
– Microsoft Azure – 19%
– Google – 7%
– Others – 42%
Additionally, AWS is “larger” in other ways:
– It has more cloud products and services
– It has a larger overall cloud network (more points-of-presence)
– It provided the most cost-efficient machine on the OLTP benchmark from Cockroach Labs Derivative TPC-C
Why Azure and not AWS?
Comparing Azure vs. AWS should include several essential criteria for making the right choice for your business. While we can’t compare all these in a single comparison between Azure and AWS, we can look at at least some of the reasons your business may choose Microsoft Azure over Amazon AWS. Keep in mind that one cloud vendor may be better for one company over another as certain public cloud vendor services may align from a business, technical, and operational perspective. Let’s consider the following reasons why your company may choose Azure vs. AWS:
- Familiarity with Microsoft
- Enterprise licensing benefits
- Solid Azure integration
- Hybrid solutions
A review of these critical areas may help shed light on why organizations may choose Microsoft’s Azure public cloud environment over Amazon AWS.
1. Familiarity with Microsoft
There is no question. When you think of operating systems and software in the enterprise datacenter and on-premises environments, you think of Microsoft. Microsoft has been a “household” name in the enterprise for decades now with its on-premises servers, client operating systems, and office productivity apps. In addition, Microsoft Windows Server has been a staple of running back-office applications, services, applications, and storing business-critical data.
Microsoft Windows Server 2019
End-user clients typically run Microsoft Windows client operating systems such as Windows 10 and use business productivity applications such as Microsoft Office and its familiar applications, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Access, etc.
Microsoft Azure represents an extension of this familiarity with Microsoft solutions and products when choosing a public cloud environment. Microsoft has done a great job of extending the products and services into its Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) environment and also Office 365, now Microsoft 365. They also have provided familiar Microsoft solutions as Software-as-a-Service solutions. These include Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft SharePoint. Both Exchange and SharePoint are prevalent on-premises server solutions that provide email and document sharing services for many organizations in their on-premises data centers.
Aside from end-users and other’s familiarity with Microsoft solutions and products, including interfaces, workflows, and other tools they have grown used to, IT admins are arguably more familiar with Microsoft products and solutions than any other. Operating very complex environments consisting of multiple Windows Servers, Microsoft Server solutions such as Exchange, SharePoint, and file services, and supporting dozens if not hundreds of Windows clients is generally familiar to IT professionals. In addition, many organizations are using Microsoft Hyper-V as their virtualization platform used to house workloads. The same virtualization technology powers Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft’s Active Directory Domain Services (ADDS), commonly referred to as Active Directory, has been servicing businesses’ identity and access management needs for decades now. With Microsoft Azure, enterprises have access to Active Directory in Azure Active Directory (AAD), which provides access to familiar Active Directory concepts and features.
Microsoft Active Directory Domain Services (ADDS) on-premises
Below is a look at the Azure Active Directory blade logged into the Azure portal. It contains the familiar users and groups and other very familiar constructs such as devices, user settings, and security.
Microsoft Azure Active Directory in the Azure portal
Azure Active Directory (AAD) also can implement “Group Policy-like” features using the Office Cloud Policy Service. In addition, it contains over 2100+ user policy settings that help enforce robust security policies for end-users to access cloud environments.
Microsoft Office Cloud Policy Service
As businesses look to migrating services, solutions, and data into the cloud, this familiarity comes into play. A lack of experience with a product or solution generally equates to reduced productivity, more end-user support issues, and an overall lack of satisfaction. While it can be challenging to place a dollar amount on these intangibles, it undoubtedly leads to increased costs to the business.
The list above of familiar on-premises Microsoft tools, Servers, and solutions helps to emphasize the benefits that some organizations gain by sticking with Microsoft when migrating to the public cloud. If organizations are reluctant to migrate services and solutions to the cloud due to learning new skills and using new toolsets, migrating to Azure helps soften this process with the built-in familiarity with Microsoft products and solutions from on-premises implementations.
When comparing Microsoft Azure public cloud to Amazon AWS, Microsoft has an offering that is nonexistent in Amazon AWS – business productivity applications (Microsoft Office 365 now Microsoft 365). As mentioned in the previous section, end-users have used Microsoft’s business applications for decades now. Microsoft Office has been a staple of the enterprise and continues to dominate business applications today.
Microsoft Azure provides the infrastructure and IAM backend using Azure Active Directory for Microsoft’s SaaS implementation of Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office 365, now Microsoft 365, is an entirely Software-as-a-Service offering that gives organizations the ability to provide access to the familiar Microsoft Office apps in an as-a-Service format. Microsoft also allows organizations to access the Microsoft suite of applications in a fully installable format, aligning with legacy Microsoft office installations. Many businesses still prefer this type of installation for power users as these offer more features and functionality than the cloud versions.
Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft 365 provide installable versions of Microsoft Office apps
As part of the Microsoft Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscription offerings, businesses get a cloud-hosted email solution using Exchange Online and the document sharing of SharePoint Online. File storage is taken care of with OneDrive for Business. Microsoft also has an all-inclusive collaboration, and productivity platform as part of their Software-as-a-Service cloud running on top of Azure called Microsoft Teams. Teams provides all of the collaboration and communication tools in a single interface that allows businesses to empower end-users no matter where they are and what device they are using to connect. Microsoft Teams has seen explosive growth and adoption since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Microsoft Teams collaboration and productivity platform
Businesses thinking of migrating resources to the cloud, including email systems, file storage, and document sharing, certainly will want to look at Microsoft’s SaaS solutions for business productivity found in Office 365 and now Microsoft 365. These Microsoft SaaS environments, as mentioned earlier, are backed by Microsoft Azure. Organizations who transition to SaaS offerings also can eliminate physical infrastructure or even Infrastructure-as-a-Service housed in the public cloud by going the SaaS route.
Amazon AWS has no competing product to compete with Microsoft’s SaaS applications. With the tremendous integration of Microsoft’s other on-premises and cloud solutions with Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft 365 offerings, organizations can have a cohesive toolset for business productivity, even with a highly distributed workforce.
3. Enterprise licensing benefits
Microsoft provides compelling licensing benefits for customers who purchase an enterprise license agreement. With the enterprise license agreement (ELA), most businesses are already in an ELA with Microsoft for Windows Server, Windows clients, SharePoint, Microsoft Office, System Center, SharePoint, and other solutions. Azure is one of the services that enterprise customers can add to their enterprise license agreement. With a contractual commitment to spending in Azure, organizations can receive hefty discounts ranging from 15-45%, depending on how much they spend. Discounts are generally higher the more the business spends on Azure services.
Organizations can also manage several Azure subscriptions under a single ELA, which can ease managing multiple Azure subscriptions. In addition to steep discounts, the enterprise license agreement also allows businesses to access specific premium-level offerings in Azure that cannot be accessed with the simple pay-as-you-go Azure offering. An example includes Azure Active Directory Premium.
For many organizations who are already in an enterprise license agreement with Microsoft, this can help to simply expenditures on cloud resources. These businesses can leverage their ELA that already covers their other Microsoft services and solutions to pay for their Azure cloud.
4. Solid Azure integration
Highly integrated cloud solutions make using cloud resources much easier and much more appealing for businesses. Microsoft Azure resources are highly integrated into other Microsoft products and solutions. For example, if you look at the modern versions of Microsoft Windows Server, Microsoft has provided integration with an increasing number of Azure services and solutions.
Microsoft is heavily embracing hybrid solutions that use components on-premises and in the Azure cloud environment. Using tools such as Windows Admin Center provides a tool that helps bridge the gap between resources that live on-premises and those housed in the Azure cloud.
It also goes the other direction. Microsoft has worked feverishly to extend the Azure cloud to on-premises environments to strengthen Azure integration for on-premises workloads. A case in point. When you look at Windows Admin Center, Microsoft’s next-generation server management platform, you see strong integration with Azure services. Microsoft realizes that most businesses cannot place all resources in the Azure cloud. So instead, they are providing the services and tools that allow extending the Azure cloud to on-premises. Note the following:
- Azure hybrid center – one-stop-shop to setup Azure service integration with on-premises servers
- Azure Backup – Backup your on-premises workloads to Azure
- Azure Extended Network – With just a few clicks, IT admins can create a virtual network connection “plugged” right into their Azure network
- Azure File Sync – Synchronize files with Azure and store less frequently accessed files in the cloud and cache frequently accesses resources locally
- Azure Security Center – Unified security management and advanced threat protection integration between on-premises and the Azure cloud.
Azure integration directly available in Windows Admin Center
For businesses that think about this aspect of functionality for their already “mostly Microsoft” infrastructure solutions on-premises, this is a tremendous consideration. This fluid Azure integration provides next-generation tools that help businesses solve many of the complex challenges they face with on-premises environments, such as seamless updating of Windows resources, scalable file storage, and security considerations.
Again, Amazon AWS has no comparable solution to match the Azure integration with Windows infrastructure on-premises in enterprise datacenters today. Organizations that are primarily a “Windows shop” will most definitely be swayed by the robust integration features available for their on-premises server infrastructure.
5. Hybrid Solutions
This topic of hybrid solutions dovetails into the previous section with Azure integration from on-premises environments. Microsoft has beaten Amazon to the game of providing hybrid on-premises solutions that offer the same look and feel of the Azure cloud. It allows businesses to manage their cloud infrastructure and on-premises infrastructure with the same management experience, tooling, and automation.
The premiere Azure solution for offering this hybrid solution is Azure Stack. Azure Stack allows companies to extend services and capabilities from the data center to the edge. It provides the platform to build, deploy, and run hybrid and edge computing applications with the same experience, consistently.
Azure Stack is comprised of three different solutions from Microsoft:
- Azure Stack Edge – Azure Stack Edge is deployed as an Azure-managed appliance for AI and ML workloads in the edge
- Azure Stack HCI – The Azure Stack HCI solution provides the next-generation on-premises virtualization platform for organizations. It combines certified Azure Stack HCI hardware with management and hybrid integration with the Azure cloud.
- Azure Stack Hub – The Azure Stack Hub solution allows businesses to run their own autonomous cloud on-premises. It can be run partially or entirely disconnected from the Internet or the Azure public cloud environment.
Amazon was a bit behind the curve in launching its competing solution, Amazon Outposts, to the market. However, in principle, Outposts is very similar to Azure Stack. They both provide hardware solutions that are purchased to implement on-premises. Organizations buy directly from Amazon with Outposts and from certified hardware vendors for Azure Stack. Ultimately, it will be up to each business on which solution meshes more seamlessly with their current infrastructure requirements.
It will most likely come down to the public cloud with which the organization is aligned. For example, customers who have bought into Microsoft Azure and heavily invested with Windows Server solutions will naturally benefit from Azure Stack. Likewise, those with AWS will undoubtedly look at AWS Outposts for on-premises hybrid platforms.
It is an exciting time to migrate to cloud environments as there are many robust solutions, services, and infrastructure benefits there for businesses. Both Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS offer powerful cloud solutions for organizations, and both are leading the pack when it comes to features, value, market share, and other metrics. Comparing Azure vs. AWS leads to many different points of discussion.
Businesses will want to select their cloud vendor of choice very carefully as migrating infrastructure to and from cloud environments is not a trivial task. Also, repatriating from cloud environments back to on-premises data centers can be costly and challenging as well. Organizations must realize selecting one public cloud over the other leads to vendor lock-in to a certain extent as applications and processes may be customized to integrate with the specific cloud services, tooling, and automation workflows of the cloud environment selected.
While Amazon AWS holds the lead over Microsoft Azure in terms of market share, overall services, and other metrics, there are undoubtedly strong reasons why businesses may choose Azure and not AWS. The strong familiarity, Software-as-a-Service offerings, licensing benefits, Azure integration, and hybrid solutions offered by Microsoft can certainly tip the scales in favor of selecting Azure for many organizations.
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