While many organizations have already moved at least some of their business workloads to public cloud infrastructure, some of you are just beginning the journey. The benefits are clear: elimination of capital expenditure on infrastructure, instant access to applications and data from any device wherever a user is on the network, additional agility to create and remove infrastructure as needed, improved collaboration and productivity, better security, unlimited storage and simple backup and recovery, and of course the cost advantages of paying only for the highly scalable resources you actually consume. Sounds great, but the next big question is which cloud provider should you choose.
While there are many other cloud service providers in the market (think Google, Rackspace, IBM SoftLayer, OpenStack, etc.), currently AWS and Azure are leading the pack in public cloud adoption. In fact, cloud management and automation vendor, RightScale, found in its 2017 State of the Cloud Report, that 57 percent of respondents are using AWS, while 34 percent have adopted Azure. It's worth noting that, Azure is closing in on AWS's lead with a 14 percent increase in customers since 2016, whereas AWS's growth rate remained flat at the same time. While Google maintains a strong position in third place and has increased its customer base from 10 percent to 15 percent since 2016, let's take a deeper dive into AWS versus Azure and how you can make the best choice between the two to meet your unique business needs.
Make no mistake, choosing a cloud provider is a big and important decision, and while AWS and Azure offer many similar services, there are some differences that you must consider based on your business needs and resources. Some key areas to focus on when choosing between the two include:
- Cost. Frankly, both offer competitive and transparent pricing that is quite similar, and both companies provide cost calculators that help you determine which one might be more in line with your IT budget. Also, keep in mind that the use of certain services from both providers might help you reduce the cost of your infrastructure.
- Location. Proximity to the data center is critical for many companies, particularly those in highly regulated verticals that must keep their data in a certain country or region for compliance. This also has an impact on latency when accessing applications and content. Both providers offer a list of world-wide locations that have proximity to any of the customer sites.
- Hybrid. Most companies take a measured approach when migrating to the cloud by only moving some workloads, especially when they already rely upon legacy on-premises applications.
- Licensing. While simplified licensing is one of the main reasons you may want to migrate to the cloud, you may have already paid for expensive licenses. Both companies offer license mobility, but with some different limitations. Microsoft, for instance, offers license mobility for qualifying application servers but not for Windows Server itself, so if you are running an on-premises Windows Server with SQL Server and then spin up a virtual machine in the cloud, you will end up paying for two licenses. To be eligible for AWS license mobility with Microsoft Server applications, you must be covered under the Software Assurance (SA) program and make sure that the server applications you want to run in the cloud are on AWS' list of approved ones.
- Open source. AWS was built from the ground up to support open source frameworks and communities, whereas Microsoft is only recently catching up. Plus, Microsoft's open source capabilities work best when using Microsoft development tools leaving you with a more limited choice than what AWS offers. If your team has open source expertise, AWS might be the way to go.
- Microsoft shops. Dovetailing on the previous point, if your IT team is already steeped in Microsoft tools, they make it quite easy for administrators that are already familiar with those to migrate workloads to Azure. That said, AWS does support Windows, SQL Server and other tools that .NET developers use, so if there is a specific feature on AWS that you require, it is possible.
- Government. Although AWS has been around a lot longer than Azure and has more government customers, both companies are certified to meet the compliance needs of these organizations.
- Specific services. While both companies don't have an exactly equal set of services, they do provide very similar ones. When choosing between the two, you must perform a comprehensive analysis of what your specific business requirements are and determine which cloud has the ones better suited for your unique needs. Note that AWS has some advantage over Microsoft as they have been investing time and money in developing services that will make it easy to manage your workloads on the cloud. In the end, you need to determine which available services are relevant for your business needs from each provider, their cost and the complexity of using those.
- Flexibility. In the end, it doesn't have to be an either/or choice. You can deploy some workloads to AWS and others to Azure. After all, the cloud is about flexibility and choice to enable your business to run more smoothly and cost-effectively.
While the operational and cost benefits of moving workloads to the cloud are clear, getting there isn't quite as simple as you might think. Not only are there many cloud service providers with similar and competitive offerings to choose from. Integrating legacy systems and applications with cloud infrastructure creates serious operational complexities and compatibility problems throughout the journey.
Overall, selecting the right provider for your organization requires a detailed assessment of your needs and requirements to ensure your Cloud provider can support those. Running workloads on the cloud can be a very satisfactory experience, providing that you have it optimally configured through the use of best practices.