Azure vs AWS

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.

Azure vs AWS

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.

Processing Power

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 InstancesVirtual MachinesVirtual Private Servers
VM size adjustmentAuto ScalingVirtual Machine Scale SetsAutomatic
VMWare branded hypervisorVMWare Cloud on AWSAzure VMWare SolutionSpecifically deploy VMWare
Server clustersParallel ClusterCycleCloudCoordinate actions on several servers
Container servicesElastic Container Service (ECS)Container InstancesUser containers instead of a VM
Secondary container serviceAWS FargateContainer InstancesAWS has two architecture options for container usage
Docker image storageElastic Container RegistryContainer RegistryStore Docker-formatted images
Kubernetes servicesElastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)Use Kubernetes from the cloud platform
MicroservicesApp MeshService Fabric MeshFully managed service, no server space rental required
ServerlessLambdaFunctionsPay per process

Cloud Storage

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 storageElastic Block Storage (EBS)Managed DisksVirtual server disks for use with corresponding VM service
Object storageSimple Storage Services (S3)Blob storageFor cloud applications, content distribution, backup, archiving, disaster recovery, and big data analytics
File storageElastic File System (EFS)FilesAllows a directory structure
ArchivingS3 Infrequent Access (IA)Storage cool tierCool storage with less frequent access for archiving
Deep archiveS3 GlacierStorage archive access tierLowest cost for space higher cost for retrieval. Intended for legally obliged archives.
Backup and recoveryBackupBackupIncludes a data restoring mechanism
Hybrid storageStorage GatewayStorSimpleKnits cloud storage into onsite IT systems
Onsite cachingDataSyncFile SyncCopies 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 networkingVirtual Private Cloud (VPC)Virtual NetworkCreates a private network over the Internet
WAN securityVPN GatewayVPN GatewayConnection privacy and security between sites or connecting to remote workers
DNS managementRoute 53DNSDNS server management
Traffic management53Traffic ManagerReroutes traffic according to requested applications and also manages server clusters
Private lineDirect ConnectExpressRouteManages leased lines to cloud resources (not over the Internet)
Load balancingElastic Load Balancer (ELB)Load BalancerNetwork load balancing at Layer 4 (TCP/UDP)
Load balancingApplication Load BalancerApplication GatewayLayer 7 load balancing including SSL offloading
Web application firewallWeb Application FirewallWeb Application FirewallProtects web hosts and their web services from hacker attack
Network firewallWeb Application FirewallFirewallGeneral network inbound traffic protection plus outbound HTTP/S checking
DDoS protectionShieldDDoS Protection ServicesNetwork/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 platformElastic BeanstalkApp ServicesSupports web service provision
API publishingAPI GatewayAPI ManagementHosts APIs and makes them available both internally and externally
Content Delivery Network (CDN)CloudFrontContent Delivery NetworkCaches site content on servers around the globe
Website acceleratorGlobal AcceleratorFront DoorDistributed web applications for faster delivery and failover
Web application development supportLightSailApp ServicesA 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.

AuthenticationIdentity and Access Management (IAM)Azure Active DirectoryCloud version of Active Directory
Access managementIdentity and Access Management (IAM)Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)Access controls managed by user groups
Domain servicesDirectory ServiceAzure Active Directory Domain ServicesLDAP-style domain services
Account managementOrganizationsSubscription Management with RBACSecurity policies per user type
Multi-factor authenticationMulti-Factor AuthenticationMulti-Factor AuthenticationSupplementary identity checks
Customer account managementCognitoAzure Active Directory B2CIAM for external users
Security and access policiesOrganizationsPolicyResource access policies
User account policiesOrganizationsManagement GroupsUser category management
Server-side encryptionS3 Key Management ServiceAzure Storage Service EncryptionEncryption for server storage
Encryption key managementKey Management Services (KMS)Key VaultEncryption key control
Hardware security modulesCloudHSMKey VaultHardware-based encryption keys
Security assessmentInspectorSecurity CenterAutomated vulnerability scans
SSL certificate managementCertificate ManagerApp Service CertificatesInternet/web security certificates
Advanced threat protectionGuardDutyAdvanced Threat ProtectionATP for on-premises and cloud systems
Security auditingArtifactService Trust PortalCompliance auditing and reporting
Security configurationTrusted AdvisorAdvisorAnalyzes 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:

RegionPrice 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 Area0.15
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
Europe (Ireland)0.11
Europe (London)0.116
Europe (Frankfurt)0.119
Europe (Paris)0.116
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.

RegionPrice per GB per month 4 GB DiskPrice per GB per month 1 TB Disk
US (All regions)0.0750.0768
South Africa West0.12750.12902
Asia Pacific Southeast Asia0.0750.0768
West India0.08250.08448
Japan East0.0750.0768
Australia East0.10250.10445
West Europe0.0750.0768
UK South0.08250.08448
Germany West Central0.0750.0768
France Central0.08250.08448
Brazil South0.16250.16589

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.

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