AWS vs. Azure: What’s Best For Your Organization?

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Let’s talk cloud. And let’s look at the numbers: Amazon Web Services, or AWS, remains the leader in public cloud services in terms of revenue, with Microsoft trailing a fairly far – but closing – second. Google, the third major player in the field, is such a distant third that right now, few businesses give them serious consideration except for specialized workloads.

So, if your business is deciding where to host a particular cloud workload, which service does your org opt for? It’s a decision made more interesting by the fact that your company can really make this decision on a per-workload basis – there’s little need, and indeed little incentive, to commit arbitrarily to one provider or the other. Let’s take Google out of the picture for now, and look at AWS vs. Azure and explore six things your company should consider:

AWS vs. Azure: What doesn’t matter

Frankly, for most of the core criteria IT managers tend to focus on – cost and availability – neither AWS nor Azure offers a clear winner. They’re both really close to the same. In certain edge-case scenarios, one might edge out over the other. AWS, for example, has slightly different billing increments for virtual machine run times, and so for on-and-off workloads, you can see a pricing difference between the two. But on the whole, they’re really, really similar.

AWS vs. Azure: Location, location, location

One of Microsoft’s present strengths is a larger network of data centers, spread throughout many of the world’s major countries and jurisdictions. Jurisdiction is crucial for many organizations, who may have legal reasons to keep their data – and their customers’ data – in a particular country or region. That broad network of datacenters also helps provide more local egress points, which can improve the user-perceived performance of your cloud-hosted services.

AWS vs. Azure: Integration with on-prem resources

Microsoft also has a bit of a leg up on certain workloads – identity, site recovery, backup, database availability and others – that are designed to work with a hybrid infrastructure. That’s triply true when you’re already committed to Microsoft’s on-premises products, like Active Directory and Windows Server. Microsoft has also been expanding the footprint they support for on-prem integration, letting you – for example – replicate VMware vSphere virtual machines into Azure for site recovery purposes, and letting you run Linux workloads in Azure. But this is only advantage for those kinds of workloads; basic virtual machine (IaaS) services are about the same either way. I’ve seen plenty of customers commit to AWS for their public-facing workloads, while using Azure for more “internal IT” workloads.

AWS vs. Azure: Availability of specific services

If you need a specific service – Elastic Beanstalk, Azure Active Directory or whatever – then obviously you’re going to go with the provider that offers it. Neither AWS nor Azure provide a completely equal set of offerings. However, it’s important here to focus on the business need and not the feature name. For example, while Azure doesn’t have something precisely like Elastic Beanstalk, it does offer a combination of services, including Azure Automation, which can do more or less what Elastic Beanstalk does. So look at what you need to do, and then figure out which provider offers the best fit for the need.

AWS vs. Azure: Ease of management

If you have a team that’s well-versed or certified in either AWS or Azure management, then that’s a strong reason to stick with that provider. But, and this is important, do not let the skills or familiarities of your team bog you downhave your team skill up if need be. The two providers are similar enough conceptually that people can learn to manage both, and that gives you, as a business, the ultimate flexibility. Both services offer APIs for easier integration and automation, both offer web-based management consoles (I personally find Azure’s to be a bit more polished, but my Linux friends prefer the “grittier” AWS look) and both have decent documentation and a solid ecosystem of training options (including Pluralsight, of course).

AWS vs. Azure: So which does your business choose it?

As you can see from the main criteria I’ve outlined, the answer to “AWS or Azure?” is “it depends on the workload.” And that’s really the lesson, here – you don’t need to commit entirely to one or the other, and can in fact choose the best-of-breed on a case-by-case basis. I’m making a big deal of that because obviously neither vendor encourages that approach, and quite frankly IT people tend to get…well, “religious” about their technology choices. “We’re an AWS shop!!!” becomes a rallying cry, when in fact there’s little in the way of technical or business reasons to commit so wholeheartedly on an across-the-board basis. Choose the right tool for each job, individually.

Don JonesContributed by: Don Jones, Director of IT Operations at Pluralsight. Don’s broad IT experience comes from 20 years in the business, with a strong focus on Microsoft server technologies. He’s the author of more than 45 technology books, including titles on administration and software development, and writes monthly columns for the industry’s leading periodicals. He’s an in-demand speaker at technical conferences and symposia worldwide, and is widely recognized as one of the top trainers in the Microsoft sector.


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