IBM Cloud vs AWS

Picking the right cloud hosting platform can be a daunting task. If you’re torn between IBM Cloud vs AWS, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll take a deep look at both platforms to help you pick the one that’s right for you.

IBM Cloud vs AWS

IBM Cloud Overview

IBM first got its start in virtualization technology all the way back in the 1960s for software testing and development. Although they were one of the earliest adopters of this technology, they didn’t launch their public cloud platform until 2011. SmartCloud Enterprise by IBM offered both public and private cloud services with Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and was IBM’s first venture into a public-facing Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

IBM currently has over 170 products and services covering a range of uses from blockchain to artificial intelligence. This wide suite of products labels IBM Cloud as a full-stack cloud platform. Currently, IBM Cloud has just over 60 data centers and has computing services across six regions and 18 availability zones.

Let’s take a quick look at a few of the services IBM Cloud can offer.

Computing & Hosting – IBM Cloud offers a full range of computing and hosting options from bare metal servers to serverless architecture. Products like VM Horizon focus on delivering a fully managed secure virtual desktop, while Cloud Foundry can deploy and scale apps without manually configuring servers. The platform also has a dedicated Kubernetes service designed for small operations or global coverage.

Machine Learning – IBM Cloud currently has 20 AI products that can handle natural-language-processing tasks, visual recognition, and data model forecasting. IBM Watson Personality Insights can identify personality traits from text, while tools like Tone Analyzer can measure emotion and context through written form.

Storage – IBM Cloud covers both object and block-based storage options with a range of hot and cold options for your data. IBM Cloud Backup is suited for enterprise-level backup and disaster recovery while also offering mass data migration capable of moving petabytes of data securely.

Databases – IBM Cloud offers a wide variety of database hosting options covering NoSQL, SQL, PostgreSQL, Elasticsearch indexing, and even DBaaS through IBM Hyper Protect.

Networking – Offers load balancing, VPS, cloud-DNS, virtual private cloud, and even physical gateway appliances like Juniper vSRX and IBM Virtual Router.

Today the landscape is ripe with competition from AWS and other leaders in the cloud computing space. It’s clear that IBM Cloud is working diligently to increase it’s productized offerings, and expand its global infrastructure.

Amazon Web Services Overview

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a subsidiary of and offers a full-stack suite of cloud services for both the public and private sector. With over 175 services AWS has quickly become a household name among enterprises and small businesses alike.

AWS has about 75 data centers scattered around the world covering five regions and 77 availability zones. In addition to geographic locations, AWS reports they also have seven dedicated wavelength zones for providing wide scale 5G services to IoT and other industries. AWS proves it has ample and competitive coverage when compared to IBM Cloud and other competitors.

Below are a few core services AWS offers.

Computing & Hosting – Through 11 different products, AWS offers flexible networking tools to cater to a variety of needs. Virtual Private Servers (VPS) can be hosted and launched in the cloud while Amazon EC2 lets you scale those services in a predictable way. AWS also has a feature called Wavelength, which can deliver ultra-low latency applications for 5G devices, which is great for IoT.

Machine Learning – Offers AI and ML services without the need to train an algorithm. Tools like DeepLens can analyze and identify events through a video feed while Amazon Comprehend can ingest massive amounts of text and provide insights and relationships based on patterns and anomalies. There are a few unique tools such as DeepRacer which allows you to program scale model vehicles and DeepComposer which enables machine learning to use a musical keyboard.

Storage – Like Google Cloud, AWS offers a series of flexible storage ranging from high-performance file-systems, to low-cost archive storage. AWS also offers CloudEndure and AWS backup which act as disaster recovery and AWS service synchronization.

Databases – Features products that can manage and host SQL and NoSQL databases as well as provide in-memory caching through Amazon ElastiCache. Amazon RDS allows for additional flexibility for other databases such as PostgreSQL, Oracle, and MariaDB.

Networking – Allows for the creations of isolated cloud resources with Amazon VPC and granular control of your applications with AWS Web Application Firewall. Other features include a Content Delivery Network (CDN), load balancing, application hosting, and cloud DNS.

Big DataAmazon Braket offers a fully managed quantum computing service geared towards massive datasets used for research and discovery. A combination of classic and quantum algorithms can be run against massive datasets with those results being available in an Amazon S3 bucket.

Both IBM Cloud and AWS do an excellent job at creating ready-to-deploy services from their extensive collection of capabilities. Let’s dig a bit deeper into what storage options each platform can provide.

Storage Capabilities

Cloud services not only have to be accessible, but they also have to be fast. Outside of an internet connection, one of the biggest metrics that will impact your service performance is disk speed. We’re looking for hosting providers that can offer multiple storage solutions ranging between long term archival storage, and instant access. Let’s see what both IBM Cloud and AWS have to offer.

Block storage refers to the disk drives that your applications and services use to read and write data. These are the physical disks your virtual services and applications use to store and retrieve information.

Block Storage Features IBM Cloud AWS
Volume Size 1GB to 12TB 1GB to 16TB
Replication Built-in redundancy Built-in redundancy
Encryption 256-bit AES 256-bit AES
Volume Duplication Yes, with snapshots. Yes, with snapshots.
Max IOPS 48,000 20,000 (Provisioned) Max 75,000 per instance

Both IBM Cloud and AWS offer close to the same level of performance and availability. At this time AWS offers slightly better Input/output operations per second (IOPS) and allows for a slightly larger volume size. Of course, there is much more you’ll want to take into consideration when comparing IBM Cloud vs AWS.

Object storage is designed to store unstructured data such as loose documents, images, videos, and sometimes backups. Both AWS and IBM Cloud have separate storage options depending on how often you need to access this data. Hot storage is designed to allow for quick retrieval of your data at any time, while cold storage is for archival data and backups that need infrequent access.

Object Storage Features IBM Cloud AWS
Object Limit Unlimited Unlimited
Size Limit 10/TB per object 5/TB per object
Hot Storage Platform IBM Cloud Standard S3 Standard
Cool Storage Platform IBM Cloud Vault S3 Infrequent Access
Cold Storage Platform IBM Cloud Cold Vault Glacier

Both platforms offer hot, cool, and cold storage options and come with their own versions of “intelligent tiering”. This feature analyzes your data’s usage and moves it between the three types of storage based on when it was last accessed, or rules you can define on your own. This helps free up your time and avoid having to audit which bucket your data is being stored in every month.

It’s worth noting IBM Cloud offers 50% more max data per object than AWS. If your cloud usage heavily revolves around moving massive blocks of unstructured data, this could be a noteworthy detail.

Next, let’s look at each platform’s overall reliability, SLAs, and support options.


Both AWS and IBM Cloud offer very high service availability. IBM Cloud commits 99.99% service level availability for multiple instances of a platform across a public environment. AWS offers virtually the same.

When the cloud does go down (and it eventually will) each platform offers their own form of credit you can apply to your service based on the monthly uptime that was lost.

AWS credits accounts based on the monthly deviation for their 99.99% SLA. If that uptime drops below 95% in one month, they offer a full 100% credit back towards your account. AWS also requires you to submit a claim to receive these credits along with log files showing the outage.

AWS Monthly Uptime Percentage Service Credit Percentage
Less than 99.99% but equal to or greater than 99.0% 10%
Less than 99.0% but equal to or greater than 95.0% 30%
Less than 95.0% 100%

IBM Cloud takes on a similar approach but uses downtime minutes to calculate it’s credits. In order to be compensated for this downtime, you must submit a claim within 60 days, and be able to verify your downtime through server logs. Below is a breakdown of its compensation based on monthly hours of downtime.

IBM Cloud Downtime Credit Percentage
≤ 2 hours None
> 2 hours 20%
> 6 hours 40%
> 10 hours 60%
> 14 hours 80%
> 18 hours 100%

IBM Cloud has a status dashboard that allows you to view current issues as well as planned maintenance windows and security bulletins. You can also view historical outages and sort them by date, or by which service was impacted.

AWS also offers a status dashboard where you can view historical and current outages. AWS provides a bit more context than IBM by simplifying the logs and showing the total downtime generated by each incident.

As of recently, AWS has suffered from widespread outages within its US region impacting its Kinesis Data Stream. IBM Cloud isn’t immune to outages either as it suffered a similar global outage in the summer of 2020.

It’s clear both platforms are committed to high SLAs and back them with credit compensation to your accounts. With AWS hitting 95% uptime per month equals 36.53 total downtime hours. If you compare that to IBM Cloud’s 100% credit at 18 hours downtime, that is a noticeably better credit offer.

Both platforms offer their own versions of free and premium support plans. AWS offers free support through access to their knowledge base, support forums, a service and health dashboard, and a review of their repair notes.

AWS has three tiers of paid support plans, Developer, Business, and Enterprise. Each tier costs a fixed amount or is based on a percentage of your monthly AWS usage. The Developer tier only allows for email access to cloud support during business hours and response times for issues regarding impacted systems in 12 hours or less.

The equivalent IBM Cloud support plan labeled “Advanced Support”, features 24 x 7 access to technical support through cases, phone, and text chat. Response objectives in this tier range from 1-4 based on severity, and range from less than one hour, to less than eight depending on the impactfulness of the issue.

At the premium tiers both AWS and IBM Cloud offer response times to business-critical issues in under 15 minutes, as well as access to either an account manager or a concierge team. Support at this level will cost no less than $10,000 per month with IBM and $15,000 per month with AWS. Both platforms incorporate monthly usage to calculate support costs.

Billing & Pricing

Almost all cloud-based services bill based on data usage, and both IBM Cloud and AWS are no different. An exact dollar amount will revolve around what services your organization uses, and how much data you are storing or processing with those services.

Let’s take a look at IBM Cloud’s pricing plans.

IBM Cloud Pricing

The most accurate way to get an understanding of your total cost with IBM Cloud is to use their Cost Estimator tool. Inside you can add any combination of the 177 services IBM Cloud offers to your pricing summary. Inside you can see right away what the monthly cost will be based on your choices.

For instance, when choosing options for a bare metal server you can add or remove hardware, change server locations, and even modify your billing from hourly, to monthly, or to contractual. These variables all influence your total monthly cost and update as soon as a change is made. You don’t even need to sign up with an IBM account to use this tool.

IBM Cloud has a free option called a Lite account that grants you limited use for over 40 different services. With a Lite account, you’re allocated 256 MB of free runtime memory to operate your applications. Building and deploying apps is also free. There is no expiration on this account, and no credit card is required.

IBM Cloud offers four ways you can pay for your service:

Pay-as-you-go – You’re billed monthly based on the resources that you use. There are no contracts or long term commitments.

Subscription – Provides more predictable billing and lower rates in exchange for a longer-term commitment to the IBM Cloud platform.

Payment Plans – Offers financing and flexible payments for hybrid and multi-cloud environments. This helps improve ROI on complex projects involving multiple cloud providers by utilizing leasing options and deferred payments.

Reserved Instances – Allows you to pre-purchase resources through one to three-year commitments at a discounted rate. This is ideal for organizations that know they will use the resources in the future. Reversed instances also guarantee those resources will be available to you in the future.

AWS Pricing

AWS also utilizes a pricing tool called the Simple Monthly Calculator. Here you can pick and choose what services you will be using, and the calculator outputs the results. There is no login required to use the Simply Monthly Calculator.

AWS also offers a free tier, creatively named “AWS Free Tier”. Inside you’ll get limited access to over 85 products and services. Depending on what service you use will depend on what kind of “free” access you have. A credit card is required to sign up for AWS Free Tier.

Always Free – These offers are always 100% free and are available to all tiers.

12 Month Free – These services are free for 12 months, and then you will be billed the following month.

Trials – Short free trials that start the date you activate the product or service. You are billed after the trial expires.

AWS also has pay-as-you-go and Reversed Instance options that work nearly the same as IBM Cloud. There is also volume-based pricing which incentives you to use more and pay less. For instance, the more space you use in your S3 storage, the less you end up paying per GB.

Comparing both estimator tools, IBM’s Cost Estimator was much easier to use and featured a more intuitive interface. AWS also requires you to input your credit card information while signing up for the free tier account.

If your account goes over the free limit, you will be billed. While most organizations understand how trials work, this can cause unexpected bills if you’re not careful.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Here’s a quick list of strengths and weaknesses on both sides.

IBM Cloud Pros

  • Robust security.
  • Flexible payment options with a free tier.
  • Rigid SLAs with credit compensation.
  • State of the art hardware.
  • Competitive global coverage.
  • Easy to use interface and product catalog.

IBM Cloud Cons

  • Slightly less global coverage than AWS.
  • Slightly fewer products than AWS.
  • Cost can be higher for smaller database deployments.
  • Documentation can be vague at times.
  • Costly support.

AWS Pros

  • Robust security.
  • Flexible payment options with a free tier.
  • Competitive global coverage.
  • Rigid SLAs with credit compensation.
  • Slightly better global coverage than IBM Cloud.
  • Slightly more products than IBM Cloud.
  • Offers up and coming 5G services.

AWS Cons

  • Slightly less rewarding credit compensation than IBM Cloud.
  • Costly support.
  • Free trial requires a credit card.
  • Interface can be confusing and hard to use at times.

IBM Cloud vs AWS – Who Wins?

When comparing IBM Cloud vs AWS, it’s a close call between both platforms. AWS and IBM Cloud have a vast amount of resources and data centers that offer global coverage. Both are great choices, with IBM Cloud leaning to be a slightly better option in some cases.

Smaller organizations looking to test their applications and services on IBM Cloud will find its no-strings-attached trial and simple interface welcoming. The option to move into a pay-as-you-go model from the free trial feels natural once you’re ready.

AWS is a solid option for larger companies who may have experience hosting applications in the cloud already. The free trial account offers three flexible options allowing you to sample and test 85 AWS services.

Who do you think wins when comparing IBM Cloud vs AWS? Have you used either platform? Let us know in the comments below.

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