The Cloud is based on remote servers and the market is dominated by Azure and AWS. Find out about the differences and similarities between these two cloud infrastructure providers.
AWS stands for Amazon Web Services. It is a cloud platform that is one of the main income generators of the Amazon conglomerate. Azure is another successful cloud platform, created by Microsoft. Two of the largest technology businesses in the world, Amazon and Azure each have completely different origins and only come up against each other in competition in the Cloud market.
AWS and Azure are the two largest cloud platforms in the world, according to market analysts. By 2020 AWS had 32 percent and Azure had 19 percent of the world cloud computing market. The next largest contenders in Cloud computing are far behind. Google Cloud has a 7 percent market share and Alibaba Cloud has 6 percent of the market.
An important indicator of how the market will evolve is that Google has overtaken Alibaba over the last two years. Google Platform has risen from a 4 percent market share in 2018 while Alibaba Cloud has fallen from a 2018 market share of 7.7 percent. Another market factor to note is that AWS has a larger cloud business than Azure, Google, and Alibaba combined.
Market dominance could mean that AWS has nowhere else to go in order to hold onto its market lead. In 2018, AWS had 47.8 percent of the cloud market and Azure had 15.5 percent. The Cloud market is expanding in value rapidly, so although AWS’s market share is shrinking, its revenue is still increasing. However, Azure and Google Cloud Platform are winning new customers at a faster rate.
The Cloud Computing Market
The bedrock of the Cloud sector is the business of renting space on servers. Software providers are moving their delivery systems over from software that needs to be installed by the customer on an in-house server to hosting that software.
The growing “Software as a Service” model includes hosting servers and storage space with the software. The software provider has the responsibility of maintaining and updating the software and customers get account space on the cloud servers with segmented access to the software which is run constantly.
Many SaaS providers don’t maintain their own servers. The underlying infrastructure of these services is provided by a third-party cloud service provider. So, many more businesses are customers of AWS and Azure without realizing it.
Azure has one of the largest software providers in the world as a captive partner – its parent company Microsoft. So, those who subscribe to Office 365 on the cloud are also Azure customers.
AWS supports many large businesses around the world and that includes rival services. For example, AWS offers its own native website monitoring system, called AWS CloudWatch. SolarWinds has a rival system, called Pingdom but the SolarWinds services are hosted on AWS servers. AWS offers website hosting – a field where the market leader is GoDaddy. However, all of GoDaddy’s infrastructure is provided by AWS.
Azure and AWS Comparison
Azure and AWS are both business brands – they are not names known to many consumers. Both systems cater to the full range of business from very large multinationals down to owner-operated startups. Both systems rely on serving businesses that need online servers either for processing or for data storage.
Cloud servers are remote, off-site facilities. While that model is an advantage for file backups, traditional businesses get nervous about the loss of control and security when they move their data onto servers owned by other businesses. Therefore, in order to make their services attractive enough to overcome resistance to the new model, AWS and Azure needed to bring their prices down to a much lower level than the cost of running on-site servers.
The stiff competition in the Cloud market has brought down prices to make server space very cheap. Both companies operate on a rental model with a metered rate based on the number of bytes occupied on a storage server or the number of bytes processed by a server’s processor running software.
Another method all of the major Cloud providers use to attract new business is the addition of extra services. This is particularly the case with Amazon, which has produced a very long menu of packaged services, such as web hosting and load balancing and extra features for its hosting customers, such as the CloudWatch system monitoring service. In order to compete effectively with that long list of Amazon Web Services, competitors, such as Azure and Google Cloud Platform have had to add on services of their own.
AWS and Azure Platform as a Service Comparison
Fundamentally, both AWS and Azure compete on the provision of server space both for storage and for processing.
AWS’s servers used for processing are called EC2 – which stands for Elastic Compute Cloud. It is a virtual private server. A client rents a certain amount of space on an AWS server and can install software or add-on services from a list of applications that are provided both by AWS and by third-party software producers.
With EC2, the user has exclusive use of a segment of the server that includes its own operating system, so there is no possibility that clients on the same server can get into each other’s directories.
The Azure version of EC2 is called Virtual Machine. Both the Azure and EC2 services operate in the same way. The segmentation that creates a client’s exclusive space can be shifted to expand or reduce the amount of server space available. They are both implemented with a hypervisor.
In both cases, the user can occupy several segments, which are called instances. The overall space rented by a user can be subdivided and the boundaries between these instances can be moved on demand or automatically in accordance with the requirements of the processes running on each instance. Both services also offer support for containers.
Both systems also offer a serverless model, which executes software without specific server space being rented to support them.
The table below lists all server processing services offered by both AWS and Azure.
|Processing server space (CPU and RAM)||EC2 Instances||Virtual Machines||Virtual Private Servers|
|VM size adjustment||Auto Scaling||Virtual Machine Scale Sets||Automatic|
|VMWare branded hypervisor||VMWare Cloud on AWS||Azure VMWare Solution||Specifically deploy VMWare|
|Server clusters||Parallel Cluster||CycleCloud||Coordinate actions on several servers|
|Container services||Elastic Container Service (ECS)||Container Instances||User containers instead of a VM|
|Secondary container service||AWS Fargate||Container Instances||AWS has two architecture options for container usage|
|Docker image storage||Elastic Container Registry||Container Registry||Store Docker-formatted images|
|Kubernetes services||Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)||Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)||Use Kubernetes from the cloud platform|
|Microservices||App Mesh||Service Fabric Mesh||Fully managed service, no server space rental required|
|Serverless||Lambda||Functions||Pay per process|
Businesses have different uses for storage space which results in some systems being accessed constantly with a requirement for services with very rare access events for storage. For this reason, storage definitions are divided into three categories:
- Hot – for frequent access
- Cool – for infrequent access
- Cold – for very rarely accessed storage space
As well as there being three types of access, there are three configurations for storage:
- Block storage – a specified amount of space, like a hard drive
- Object storage – stores data as objects and associates descriptor to each object group (metadata)
- File Storage – a classic file store with a directory structure
As a rule, block storage is faster than file storage. Businesses mostly use block storage in association with a processing account on a cloud platform. Object storage is good for storing large amounts of data of the same type, such as a group of images. The identifiers of each object are kept apart as a list and each identifier is linked to an area of memory within a data pool. Object storage is faster than file storage but requires data types to be separated into different stores.
Below are the storage services offered by AWS and Azure.
|Block storage||Elastic Block Storage (EBS)||Managed Disks||Virtual server disks for use with corresponding VM service|
|Object storage||Simple Storage Services (S3)||Blob storage||For cloud applications, content distribution, backup, archiving, disaster recovery, and big data analytics|
|File storage||Elastic File System (EFS)||Files||Allows a directory structure|
|Archiving||S3 Infrequent Access (IA)||Storage cool tier||Cool storage with less frequent access for archiving|
|Deep archive||S3 Glacier||Storage archive access tier||Lowest cost for space higher cost for retrieval. Intended for legally obliged archives.|
|Backup and recovery||Backup||Backup||Includes a data restoring mechanism|
|Hybrid storage||Storage Gateway||StorSimple||Knits cloud storage into onsite IT systems|
|Onsite caching||DataSync||File Sync||Copies kept onsite and on the cloud|
Edge and Network Services
AWS and Azure both offer services to networks, which could be onsite or virtual, using Internet connections. These services include a group of functions, which are termed “edge services” – utilities that are traditionally provided onsite through an appliance but can be delivered as cloud services.
|Virtual networking||Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)||Virtual Network||Creates a private network over the Internet|
|WAN security||VPN Gateway||VPN Gateway||Connection privacy and security between sites or connecting to remote workers|
|DNS management||Route 53||DNS||DNS server management|
|Traffic management||53||Traffic Manager||Reroutes traffic according to requested applications and also manages server clusters|
|Private line||Direct Connect||ExpressRoute||Manages leased lines to cloud resources (not over the Internet)|
|Load balancing||Elastic Load Balancer (ELB)||Load Balancer||Network load balancing at Layer 4 (TCP/UDP)|
|Load balancing||Application Load Balancer||Application Gateway||Layer 7 load balancing including SSL offloading|
|Web application firewall||Web Application Firewall||Web Application Firewall||Protects web hosts and their web services from hacker attack|
|Network firewall||Web Application Firewall||Firewall||General network inbound traffic protection plus outbound HTTP/S checking|
|DDoS protection||Shield||DDoS Protection Services||Network/web protection from overload attack|
AWS and Azure Web Services
The Web application firewall services provided by AWS and Azure could also be included in this category. Here, we list the web hosting and website management services offered by both AWS and Azure.
|Managed web hosting platform||Elastic Beanstalk||App Services||Supports web service provision|
|API publishing||API Gateway||API Management||Hosts APIs and makes them available both internally and externally|
|Content Delivery Network (CDN)||CloudFront||Content Delivery Network||Caches site content on servers around the globe|
|Website accelerator||Global Accelerator||Front Door||Distributed web applications for faster delivery and failover|
|Web application development support||LightSail||App Services||A managed platform for web application development and access|
AWS and Azure Security Services Comparison
Both AWS and Azure offer security, authentication, and access rights management systems. These services don’t only apply to accounts hosted within the same platform. Businesses that don’t use the AWS virtual servers can still take out an account in one of the security services to manage and secure their onsite resources – the same with Azure.
|Authentication||Identity and Access Management (IAM)||Azure Active Directory||Cloud version of Active Directory|
|Access management||Identity and Access Management (IAM)||Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)||Access controls managed by user groups|
|Domain services||Directory Service||Azure Active Directory Domain Services||LDAP-style domain services|
|Account management||Organizations||Subscription Management with RBAC||Security policies per user type|
|Multi-factor authentication||Multi-Factor Authentication||Multi-Factor Authentication||Supplementary identity checks|
|Customer account management||Cognito||Azure Active Directory B2C||IAM for external users|
|Security and access policies||Organizations||Policy||Resource access policies|
|User account policies||Organizations||Management Groups||User category management|
|Server-side encryption||S3 Key Management Service||Azure Storage Service Encryption||Encryption for server storage|
|Encryption key management||Key Management Services (KMS)||Key Vault||Encryption key control|
|Hardware security modules||CloudHSM||Key Vault||Hardware-based encryption keys|
|Security assessment||Inspector||Security Center||Automated vulnerability scans|
|SSL certificate management||Certificate Manager||App Service Certificates||Internet/web security certificates|
|Advanced threat protection||GuardDuty||Advanced Threat Protection||ATP for on-premises and cloud systems|
|Security auditing||Artifact||Service Trust Portal||Compliance auditing and reporting|
|Security configuration||Trusted Advisor||Advisor||Analyzes system configuration|
AWS vs Azure Prices
Both AWS and Azure have a blended price tariff for their fundamental services of processors and storage. This makes a direct comparison difficult because the relative cost of each service will change on a usage case basis. Under some usage pattern scenarios, AWS is cheaper but the same service can be more expensive than the Azure equivalent in other usage patterns.
The price landscape gets even more complicated by variations in price depending on where your service is provided.
The most straightforward pricing structure available is for block storage. On AWS, its EBS price depends on where the server is. Here is a list of prices for provisioned storage in general purpose SSD as quoted for a number of sample regions:
|Region||Price per provisioned GB per month|
|US East (Ohio)||0.1|
|US East (Verizon)||0.15|
|US West (Los Angeles)||0.12|
|US West (Verizon) – San Francisco Bay Area||0.15|
|US West (Oregon)||0.1|
|Africa (Cape Town)||0.1309|
|Asia Pacific (Hong Kong)||0.132|
|Asia Pacific (Mumbai)||0.114|
|Asia Pacific (Tokyo)||0.12|
|Asia Pacific (Sydney)||0.12|
|South America (Sao Paulo)||0.19|
The amount you pay is calculated per second that you hold onto that space. It can be released at any time during the month – you don’t have to pay for it for the entire month if you only hold it for part of a month.
The Azure equivalent to an AWS EBS SSD service is the Standard SSD Managed Disk.
Azure charges for the entire rented disk for the entirety of the month. Prices also vary depending on where the cloud server is located.
|Region||Price per GB per month 4 GB Disk||Price per GB per month 1 TB Disk|
|US (All regions)||0.075||0.0768|
|South Africa West||0.1275||0.12902|
|Asia Pacific Southeast Asia||0.075||0.0768|
|Germany West Central||0.075||0.0768|
Although the price per GB per month is lower with Azure, AWS gives the option of cutting costs for EBS by not charging for periods when it is not in use. This is just one example of how different charging policies practiced by AWS and Azure make a direct price comparison of the two services difficult.
AWS vs Azure: Strengths and Weaknesses
Both Azure and AWS offer very similar services. Although there is a very long list of services for each of the cloud providers, this is only a partial look at all facilities available from AWS and Azure. For example, brevity excluded the possibility of listing all of the database options available from AWS – Azure only offers one DBMS, which is Microsoft SQL Server.
In both cases, having a long list of options can be off-putting. The complexities of working out the cost of service get even more complicated when examining different types of storage that have access frequency, reserved space, and occupied space price elements.
AWS and Azure are the two market leaders in cloud systems and their comprehensive list of services only serves to win them more customers. The fact that many of their services are available to all, not just renters of their virtual servers, means that these two companies compete in many different markets, such as vulnerability scanning, load balancing, and web application firewalls. This could account for the success of these two businesses in attracting a larger number of customers than the other providers in the Cloud infrastructure market – not all of the customers of AWS and Azure are renting server space.
AWS vs Azure Verdict
AWS doesn’t require long term contracts for its services, nor does it expect deposits, while Azure offers its services on contracts of a minimum of a year. AWS charges for its services monthly in arrears on a metered usage basis and doesn’t require any money upfront. AWS also offers a level of storage space for free each month. Therefore, for cash-strapped startups and small businesses, the AWS service would be the better option. Larger businesses that will fully utilize all of the services that they subscribe to would get a better price from Azure.