AWS vs Azure is a question you’ll bump into often when it comes to cloud computing. Both their cloud ecosystems offer countless benefits from superior compute power, scalability, and security to unrivaled cost-effectiveness and carbon footprint reductions.

The cloud computing industry has grown rapidly, exploding into a vast array of cloud providers, technologies, products, and services. Even a simple cloud deployment offers hundreds of options. It’s strange to say, but it’s an issue of too much choice!

To complicate things further, many providers use unique terminologies for similar offerings. The same tech will have different names, muddling like-for-like feature comparisons. Hence, you need a guide to help make difficult decisions simple.

In this article, we’re going to help you decide between the two giants of cloud computing: Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. You’ll learn about their core products, services, pricing models, and customer support structures.

Excited? Let’s get started!

Why AWS vs Azure

Every industry has its market leaders—a select few companies that rise above the rest, setting the benchmark for excellence.

If you’re exploring cloud products and services, then Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services are the three providers who’ve become synonymous with “cloud,” with Alibaba Cloud joining the fold recently.

Before rising to prominence in the cloud market, Amazon and Microsoft were global leaders in their respective fields. Each was uniquely renowned for a history of innovation, excellence, and market dominance.

Embarking into the cloud frontier, they had the ideal technological foundation, expertise, and financial resource to develop industry-leading cloud computing platforms. Both providers have led the creation of new cloud products and services since the technology’s emergence.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services have again been named Leaders in Gartner’s most recent Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure and Platform Services. Both feature highest in the top-right corner of the Leaders quadrant, awarded on Ability to Execute and Completeness of Vision. AWS takes the honor of a first place, securing the top spot for the tenth consecutive year.

2020 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service

2020 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service, Worldwide (Image source: Gartner)

AWS and Microsoft Azure Dominate Cloud Market Share

According to the latest research from Canalys and Synergy Research Group, Microsoft Azure and AWS combined control more than 50% of worldwide cloud infrastructure services spend. This is a trend that seems only set to continue, with both providers seeking to further strengthen their foothold in the market through investment and innovation in their cloud platforms.

Top Four Cloud Infrastructure Providers

Worldwide Cloud Infrastructure Services Spend, Q3 2020 (Source: Canalys)

Despite the Coronavirus pandemic causing a global economic decline, the cloud computing market is defying the odds, with Gartner’s most recent forecast predicting growth of 6.3% in Worldwide public cloud revenue in 2020.

The pandemic has necessitated the need to work remotely, creating an explosion in remote working and leading to an astonishing 94% increase in the Desktop as a Service (DaaS) market. It’s similarly forcing countless organizations to begin or accelerate their digital transformation journeys to survive. Against this backdrop, you can expect AWS and Azure to continue their growth.

Regardless of whether you’re seeking IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS, you’ll discover a competitive cloud solution from Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Both providers have evolved to offer hundreds of cloud products and services, allowing them to compete across the vastness of the cloud market—their continued innovation adding new cloud solutions that create new and lucrative revenue streams.

Amazon Web Services Revenue in 2020

AWS reached an annual revenue run rate of over $40 billion at the end of 2019. Their 2019 Q4 Earnings Release reported AWS sales revenues of almost $10 billion.

As 2020 unfolded and the severity of the pandemic took hold, we began to see a significant impact on the growth rate of AWS. The Q1, Q2, and Q3 earnings release statements for 2020 showed the YoY growth rate dropping below 30%—a marked decline over the previous 3 years when growth was consistently between 40-50%.

Of course, this is not a doom and gloom scenario. Andy Jassy, the AWS CEO, kicked off the recent Amazon Web Services re:Invent Conference by announcing that the company had now surpassed $40 billion in annual revenue. As of November 2020, AWS added an incremental $10 billion in revenue in the 12 months prior—its faster ever.

Microsoft Azure Revenue in 2020

While Amazon specifies its AWS revenue, Microsoft only reports on Azure’s growth rate. This lack of specificity frustrates most cloud pundits, as we simply can’t directly compare the size of AWS and Azure.

Microsoft does, however, report on a grouping of products that Azure forms part of called “Intelligent Cloud.” When Microsoft released their Q4 2019 Earnings Release statement, they reported Azure revenue growth of 62%, with Intelligent Cloud posting revenue growth of 27% to $11.9 billion.

Against the backdrop of the pandemic, Microsoft continued to report impressive growth for 2020. Its Q1, Q2, Q3, and Q4 earnings release statements reported quarterly growth for Azure at 59%, 47%, 48%, and 50%, respectively.

As we move into 2021, Microsoft reported its commercial cloud run rate had reached $66.8 billion, with CEO Satya Nadella citing digital transformation and cloud demand as the driving force behind Microsoft’s impressive results.

Amazon Web Services vs Microsoft Azure Features Comparison

Comparing the AWS and Azure cloud platforms is no simple task. As traditional systems have moved from on-premises to cloud, both providers have expanded their service offerings to include over 25 different cloud solution categories.

Today, AWS and Microsoft Azure offer hundreds of competitive cloud solutions encompassing countless products and services. There is a wealth of choice with categories spanning compute, storage, database, security, robotics, machine learning, and even quantum technologies. To avoid getting lost in the details while comparing apples to apples, you’ll need a basic level of knowledge and understanding of the two technologies.

Thankfully, products and services from the Amazon Web Services Platform and Microsoft Azure Platform are mostly grouped under the same category headings. To help you accelerate and simplify the decision-making process, we’ve taken the time to compare the most commonly sought-after cloud products and services across several business-critical categories.

As experts in delivering our clients market-leading WordPress hosting solutions, we have first-hand experience using these types of cloud services. On top of discussing building a cloud deployment, we’ll also take a detailed look at the key considerations that accompany these services, like customer support, global infrastructure, billing, and pricing structures.

Use the navigation below to move between the sections:

Compute Features

Compute resource is the foundation on which you’d build your cloud deployment. The decisions you make in this category will directly influence the speed and performance of your platform. Including the systems you run on it and the services your employees utilize. So, you must choose the right configuration for your business needs.

You also need to factor in compute cost, as it forms two-thirds of the average enterprise cloud spend, according to ParkMyCloud CEO, Jay Chapel.

Comparing Amazon Web Services vs Microsoft Azure compute capabilities, we are focused primarily on virtual machines (VMs). Forming your cloud environment’s backbone, VMs emulate physical computer systems’ functionality and power almost any workload you can think of.

Both AWS and Azure adopt a similar approach to VMs. However, as you dig into two services, you’ll discover they use different terminology for their individual compute offerings.

Amazon Web Services compute offering is known as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). Microsoft, on the other hand, refers to its compute product as Azure Virtual Machines. The table below maps key compute differences between AWS and Azure:

Feature Amazon EC2 Azure
Virtual machines Instances Virtual machines
Images Amazon Machine Image VM Image (both boot-disk-only and full machine)
VM templates AWS Cloud Formation Azure Resource Manager
Automatic instance scaling Auto Scaling Azure Autoscale
Supported VM import formats RAW, OVA, VMDK, and VHD VHD
Deployment locality Zonal Regional (equivalent to Cloud Platform zones)
Preemptible VMs Yes Yes
Incremental snapshots Yes Yes

Virtual Machine Features

As you explore VM-instance deployments in Amazon EC2 and Azure, you’ll discover the providers share many similar—if not identical—features. These include:

Virtual Machine Access

You’ll find that both Azure and AWS adopt a similar approach to VM access of Linux and Windows machines.

For Linux machines, if you want SSH-based terminal access, Amazon EC2 and Azure both require you to include your own key SSH key. In addition to this, neither provider supports SSH browser access.

When it comes to VM access for Windows machines, Amazon EC2 and Azure support access through standard Remote Desktop Protocols (RDP).

Where they do differ slightly is in the provision of additional access pathways. Azure offers additional access to Windows machines via Microsoft PowerShell, while Amazon EC2 provides additional Windows machine access through its IPv6 address and Session Manager.

Virtual Machine Instance Types

To simplify and accelerate the process of deploying your VM setup, Azure and Amazon EC2 both offer a wide range of predefined instances.

Each VM instance type is configured with a specific virtual CPU, RAM, and network components. Whether opting for Microsoft or Amazon, there are hundreds of virtual machine types available to choose from.

Both providers build flexibility into the process, allowing you to customize your configuration. You can reconfigure core elements of the predefined instance, including the number of CPUs and available RAM, giving you the power to scale your VM resource capabilities up or down to match your organization’s unique requirements.

Both providers offer extreme high-end specifications to support the most demanding workloads. They currently max out with the following specifications:

To further simplify the process, both providers group VM types into categories optimized and configured for their planned usage. These VM categorizations include general-purpose, memory-optimized, compute-optimized, storage-optimized, graphics processing (GPU), and high performance.

We’ve compiled the following table, which lists the up-to-date machine types for both services as of January 2021.

Machine Type Amazon EC2 Azure
General Purpose a1.medium – a1.metal

t4g.nano – t4g.2xlarge

t3.nano – t3.2xlarge

t3a.nano – t3a.2xlarge

t2.nano – t2.2xlarge

m6g.medium – m6gd.metal

m5.large – m5d.metal

m5a.large – m5ad.24xlarge

m5n.large – m5dn.24xlarge

m4.large – m4.16xlarge

A1 v2 – A8m v2

B1LS – B20MS

D2a v4 – D96a v4

D2as v4 – D96as v4

D2 v4 – D64 v4

D2d v4 – D64d v4

D2ds v4 – D64ds v4

D2s v4 – D64s v4

D2 v3 – D64 v3

D2s v3 – D64s v3

D1-5 v2 – D5 v2

DS1-5 v2 – DS5 v2

DC1s v2 – DC8 v2

Memory-optimized r6g.medium – r6gd.metal

r5.large – r5d.metal

r5a.large – r5ad.24xlarge

r5n.large – r5dn.24xlarge

r4.large – r4.16xlarge

x1e.xlarge – x1e.32xlarge

x1.16xlarge – x1.32xlarge

u-6tb1.metal -u24tb1.metal

z1s.large – z1d.metal

E2 v3 – E64 v3

E2 v4 – E64 v4

E2a v4 – E96 v4

E2as v4 – E96as v4

E2d v4 – E64d v4

E2ds v4 – E64ds v4

E2s v3 – E64s v3

E2s v4 – E64s v4

D11 v2 – D15 v2

DS11 v2 – DS15 v2

G1 – G5

Gs1 – Gs5

M8ms – M128ms

M32dms v2 – M192idms v2

M32ms v2 – M192ims v2

M208s v2 – M416ms v2

S96 – S576m

S223 – S896oom

DS11-1 v2 – M128-64ms

Compute-optimized c6g.medium – c6gd.metal

c5.large – c5d.metal

c5a.large – c5ad.24xlarge

c5n.large – c5n.metal

c4.large – c4.8xlarge

F2s v2 – F72s v2

F1 – F16

F1s – F16s

Storage-optimized i3.large – i3.metal

i3en.large – i3en.metal

d2.xlarge – d2.8xlarge

h1.2xlarge – h1.16xlarge

L8s v2 – L80s v2

L4s – L32s

GPU p4d.24xlarge

p3.2xlarge – p3db.24xlarge

p2.xlarge – p2.16xlarge

inf1.xlarge – inf1.24xlarge

g4dn.xlarge – g4dn.metal

g3s.xlarge – g3.16xlarge

f1.2xlarge – f1.16xlarge

NC6 – NC24

NC6 Promo – NC24r Promo

NC6s v2 – NC24s v2

NC6s v3 – NC24s v3

NC4as T4 v3 – NC64as T4 v3

NP10s – NP40s

NV6 – NV24

NV12s v3 – NV48s v3

ND6s – ND24s

ND40rs v2

High performance n/a H8 – H16m

H8 Promo – H16mr Promo

HB120rs v2

HC44rs

Note: Azure and Amazon EC2 regularly add new VM types. For a complete list for each service, see Azure Linux Virtual Machines, Azure Windows Virtual Machines, and Amazon EC2 Instance Types.

Virtual Machine Images

VM images accelerate your deployment by providing a pre-configured VM setup that includes an operating system, along with the supporting server and database software. Both Azure and Amazon EC2 allow the use of machine images to create new instances.

In addition to a range of proprietary ready-made image configurations, both platforms support the use of images developed by third-party vendors, which you can access through their respective platforms, AWS Marketplace and Azure Marketplace. You also have the option to create and store your own custom images for private use.

In December 2020, AWS launched Amazon Elastic Container Registry Public (ECR Public), offering the unique capability to store, manage, share, and deploy container images for anyone to discover and download globally. Proving already popular, this is no doubt a service Azure will look to replicate in the future.

Automatic Scaling of Virtual Machine Instances

Autoscaling allows you to create and remove VM instances inline with user-defined policies. You can optimize performance, scaling compute resources up or down in real-time to meet demand. This allows you to control costs, minimizing unutilized resources, so you only pay for what you need.

Both Amazon EC2 and Azure support autoscaling, implementing it in similar ways:

Between the platforms, there are three autoscaling plans available: manual, dynamic, and scheduled. Amazon Auto Scaling supports all three, while Azure Autoscale only supports dynamic and scheduled autoscaling. Each plan can be defined as follows:

Temporary Virtual Machine Instances

Temporary instances are VMs that run on the cloud provider’s unused capacity. These VMs are unpredictably available, so you can reallocate their resources at any given moment. As a result, they are available at highly discounted rates, letting you unlock the power of the cloud for less.

Temporary instances are ideal for:

Both Amazon and Microsoft cloud platforms support temporary instances with similar naming conventions. The AWS service for temporary instances is Spot Instances, while the Azure service is Spot Virtual Machines (Spot VMs).

Both Azure and AWS temporary machines share a set of features that include:

Temporary instances on AWS or Azure are available at a discounted rate of up to 90% compared with standard pay-as-you-go, on-demand pricing. It’s certainly worth investigating further.

Performance

Comparing VM machine performance between Azure and AWS is no easy task. We can’t simply declare that one of these cloud providers is better than the other. There are hundreds of comparable VM instances available between AWS and Azure, with the performance scale tipping one of two ways, depending on the comparison.

A recent study from Cockroach Labs compared AWS vs Azure vs GCP CPU performance across a range of single-core and 16-core VMs. GCP came out on top in the single-core category, with performance 10% higher than AWS, with Azure coming in last. When comparing 16-core VMs, AWS came out on top with the fastest iterations per second. GCP was second, and Azure took last again.

Networking Features

Azure and AWS cloud platforms are built on a global cloud infrastructure of hundreds of data centers interconnected through hundreds of thousands of lit fiber optic and undersea cable systems. Each is renowned for delivering state-of-art networking services that offer high-speed performance, high availability, strong security, and global coverage.

This section will explore in detail the core networking products and services available from Microsoft and Amazon. The following table gives you a high-level view of AWS and Azure’s comparative networking products before the deep dive.

Product Amazon Web Services Microsoft Azure
CDN Amazon CloudFront Azure CDN
Dedicated Interconnection AWS Direct Connect ExpressRoute
DNS AWS Route 53 Azure DNS
Load Balancing Elastic Load Balancing Azure Load Balancer
Virtual Networks Amazon Virtual Private Cloud Azure VNet

Data Center Network Locations

Both AWS and Azure offer a global network of interconnected data centers that span multiple continents, regions, countries, and locations. Both platforms provide comprehensive network redundancy, high fault tolerance, and low latency.

Amazon Web Services Network Locations

At last count, AWS cloud network locations are available in 24 regions, 77 zones, 210 network edge locations, and 245 countries and territories. As a result, AWS has the largest global cloud infrastructure footprint of any provider.

This gives AWS a distinct edge when it comes to network latency. On average, you and your customers will be closer to an AWS data center. This geographic proximity means data has less distance to travel, reducing latency times.

Amazon has ambitious plans for the continued expansion of its global infrastructure by launching additional data centers. The locations of these centers include Hyderabad (India), Jakarta (Indonesia), Osaka (Japan), Madrid (Spain), and Zurich (Switzerland).

AWS Regional Cloud Network

AWS Cloud Regional Network (Image Source: Amazon Web Services)

Azure Network Locations

Though not as expansive, Azure cloud network locations are available in 60+ regions and 170 network points of presence (PoP).

Microsoft also has ambitious expansion plans for its Azure global network. Plans for new Microsoft data centers include Austria, Chile, Denmark, Greece, Israel, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Qatar, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and the US (Arizona).

Azure Cloud Global Network

Microsoft Azure Cloud Regional Network (Image Source: Microsoft)

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) will ensure your users get the fastest access to your content, wherever they are based. AWS and Azure each offer a CDN solution: Amazon CloudFront and Azure CDN, respectively.

By distributing and delivering content locally, you’ll benefit from quicker load times, reduced bandwidth strain, and improved responsiveness of your applications and websites. Each provider delivers this service by replicating and hosting your content across their distributed global network of interconnected data centers.

Both CDN solutions deliver enhanced security to protect network and transport layer DDoS attacks, offering improved resilience and preventing service loss.

CloudFront bolsters security by offering deep integration with AWS security products, including AWS Shield, AWS Web Application Firewall, and Route 53. At the same time, Azure CDN delivers enhanced protection through customized third-party solutions like Azure CDN from Verizon and Azure CDN from Akamai. Microsoft provides a detailed feature comparison between these CDN services via its product documentation platform.

DNS

A DNS service is used to convert human-readable domain names into the IP addresses used by servers to communicate.

Both Amazon and Microsoft offer similar cloud-based DNS solutions: Amazon Route 53 and Azure DNS. Both platforms support most DNS record types, any-cast-based serving, and domain name registration.

Where Amazon Route 53 has an edge is in the provision of three distinct features, not yet supported by Azure DNS:

The table below outlines a list of features mapped across both services:

Feature Amazon Route 53 Azure DNS
Zone Hosted Zone DNS Zone
Support for most DNS record types Yes Yes
Any-cast-based serving Yes Yes
Latency-based routing Yes No
Geography-based routing Yes No
DNSSEC signing Yes No
Private Zones / Split Horizon Yes Yes

Load Balancing

A load balancing service, when correctly configured, automatically distributes traffic across multiple VM instances to improve the performance, fault tolerance, and availability of your applications.

Both Microsoft and Amazon offer comparable load balancing products that you can configure to meet your needs.

AWS Load Balancing

The load balancing solution for AWS is called Elastic Load Balancing (ELB). It comes complete with the following features and functionality:

For a closer look and a more detailed feature comparison, check out AWS’s Elastic Load Balancing documentation.

Azure Load Balancing

Microsoft’s load balancing solution on Azure is called Azure Load Balancer. It offers the following features and functionality:

Check out Microsoft’s Load Balancer documentation for a more detailed look at their product offerings.

Private Connectivity to Other Networks

Both AWS and Azure offer multiple services to support private connectivity outside their network, including your on-premises environment.

The table below provides a high-level comparison of AWS and Azure private connectivity services:

Feature Amazon Web Services Microsoft Azure
Virtual Private Network Amazon CloudFront Azure VPN Gateways
Private connectivity to a VPC AWS Direct Connect VNet peering
Dedicated private connection through a carrier partner AWS Direct Connect ExpressRoute
Dedicated public connection through a carrier partner AWS Direct Connect ExpressRoute
CDN connectivity Amazon CloudFront Azure CDN

AWS Private Connectivity

AWS Direct Connect is the primary service for delivering private connectivity to the AWS platform. AWS Direct Connect lets you create a dedicated network connection between your network and one of the hundreds of AWS Direct Connect locations.

Establishing this connection reduces your bandwidth costs by transferring data directly to AWS, minimizing data usage through your existing ISP. You also benefit from a reduced AWS Direct Connect data transfer rate rather than data transfer rates.

Using Direct Connect to link your on-premise network and Amazon VPC will create a private, high-bandwidth network. The service’s elastic nature allows you to scale your connection from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps to meet your business’s unique needs.

Azure Private Connectivity

Azure ExpressRoute is Microsoft’s primary private connectivity service for the Azure platform. Like AWS, you can create a dedicated network connection between your on-premises network and the Microsoft global network.

You’ll access similar bandwidth cost reductions through reduced ISP usage and reduced data transfer rates available through Azure ExpressRoute.

ExpressRoute appears to have the edge over Direct Connect when it comes to connection speeds, with Microsoft offering a bandwidth of up to 100 Gbps supported through their direct connection.

Latency

Latency is a critical factor when comparing cloud networks. It’s the time delay between your client’s request and the cloud service provider’s response.

Cockroach Labs 2021 Cloud Report compared network latency of Azure, AWS, and GCP. Their research showed AWS performed best with the lowest network latency overall, closely followed by Azure and, finally, GCP.

While the research is a robust and informative measure, you’ll still need to factor in your own unique requirements. As the above study highlights, latency varied in the research based on the VM instances’ physical placement.

Your geographic proximity to the cloud provider’s data center will significantly influence latency, so you must explore this factor when comparing AWS and Azure.

Storage Features

This section takes a more detailed look at the different storage types and services available on the Azure and AWS platforms.

Comparing cloud storage options between the Microsoft and Amazon cloud platforms is split into five distinct storage service types:

Understanding the differences between storage and disk types is vital in choosing the right service for your business. These are critically important decisions as they will directly influence your applications and systems’ speed and performance using cloud storage services.

Distributed Object Storage

Distributed object storage is the process of storing data as objects, otherwise referred to as blobs. This process lets you store, scale, secure, and access volumes of object data used across multiple scenarios, including websites, cloud-native mobile apps, backups, archival, and big-data analytics.

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and Azure Blob Storage are the competing object storage services. Despite a variation in terminology used to describe their services, they offer similar functionality.

Each object is stored in a set unit, and has a unique key and an associated metadata record containing pertinent information: object size, date of last modification, media type, etc.

Both providers offer a similar feature set for their object storage services, which include:

Below is a table comparing the features of distributed object storage between Azure Blob Storage and Amazon S3:

Feature Amazon S3 Azure Blob Storage
Unit of Deployment Bucket Container
Deployment identifier Globally unique key Account-level unique key
File system emulation Limited Limited
Object metadata Yes Yes
Object versioning Yes Manual, per-object snapshotting
Object lifecycle management Yes Yes (through lifecycle rules or Azure Automation)
Update notifications Event notifications Event notifications
Service classes Standard, Standard-Infrequent Access, One Zone-Infrequent Access, Amazon Glacier Redundancy levels: LRS, ZRS, GRS, RA-GRS

Tiers: Hot, Cool, Archive

Deployment locality Regional Zonal and regional
Pricing Priced by the amount of data stored per month, network egress, and number of common API requests Priced by volume of data stored per month, quantity and types of operations performed, data transfer costs, and any data redundancy options selected

Block Storage

Block storage is where a virtual disk is attached to a cloud-based virtual machine.

Both Amazon and Microsoft deliver block storage services that fully integrate with their respective cloud platforms. Each offers a range of configurable block storage types that you can scale to meet your business’s unique requirements.

The competing block storage services are Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) and Azure Disk Storage. Each service allows you to attach disks in two different ways:

Network-Attached Disks

Network-attached disks are volumes connected to your VM instance via your cloud provider’s network. This delivers cloud-native benefits such as built-in redundancy, disk snapshots, and the seamless attachment and detachment of disk volumes.

Here’s how Microsoft and Amazon compare on features for network-attached disks in their block storage services:

Feature Amazon EBS Azure VHDs
Volume types EBS Provisioned IOPS SSD, EBS General Purpose SSD, Throughput Optimized HDD, Cold HDD Ultra Disk Storage, Premium SSD, Standard SSD, Standard HDD
Volume attachment A single volume can be attached to up to 16 instances, each with read-write permissions to the shared volume A single volume can be attached to up to 10 instances and can only be configured with a read-only status
Maximum volume size 16 TiB 64 TiB
Redundancy Yes Yes
Snapshotting Yes Yes
Disk encryption Encrypted by default Encrypted by default

Let’s take a closer look at some key features for network-attached disks:

Volume Attachment and Detachment

Until late 2020, Google Cloud was the only provider to offer the capability for a virtual disk volume to be attached to multiple instances, a unique feature that would allow you to deploy a new—or migrate an existing—clustered application.

Seeing the inherent benefits of this feature, Amazon and Microsoft have now released competitive functionality on their respective cloud platforms: EBS Multi-Attach for AWS and Shared Disks for Azure.

Volume Backup

Amazon EBS and Azure both allow you to create and store snapshots of your disk volumes. You can use these snapshots to create new volumes at a later date. You can use the Snapshots feature to back up critical workloads and data for failover in the event of system failures.

Snapshots in AWS and Azure are incremental. The first snapshot replicates the entire disk volume, with subsequent snapshots only creating copies of the blocks that have changed since the previous snapshots.

Locally Attached Disks

Locally attached disks are volumes that have been directly connected to the physical machine running your instance.

Attaching a disk locally reduces latency and delivers higher throughput for increased performance, meaning data loads faster, improving user experience. The downside is that if a locally attached disk fails, there is no redundancy in place.

Let’s take a high-level look at how AWS and Azure features compare for locally attached disks:

Block Storage Amazon EC2 Azure
Service name Instance store Local SSD
Volume attachment Tied to instance type Tied to instance type
Attached volumes per instance Varies by instance type – up to 24 Varies by instance type
Storage capacity Varies by instance type – up to 2500 GB per volume Varies by instance type – up to 2400 GB per volume
Live migration No No
Redundancy None None

File Storage

Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) and Azure Files are the competing file storage services. Both providers offer simplicity, scalability, and security at the heart of their file share offerings.

Delivering a fully managed service, AWS and Azure let you quickly create and configure file share systems with ease, free from the burden of deploying and managing the underlying infrastructure.

Security is ensured through encryption of data by default, both at rest and in transit. Automation features allow you to scale your file system storage capacity up or down, offering cost efficiency and optimized performance in line with demand.

Let’s take a closer look at some key feature differences in AWS and Azure file storage services:

Network File System Protocols

Both Amazon EFS and Azure Files support NFS v4, the newer and higher-performing Network File System Protocol. However, NFS v4.1 is only supported in preview for Azure Files as of September 2020, while that same functionality has been available through Amazon EFS since early 2017.

Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS)

When we compare read operations per second, Amazon EFS has a significant edge over Azure Files.

In April 2020, Amazon announced a 400% increase to read operations for General Purpose mode file systems through the Max I/O performance mode, supporting 500,000 IOPS and 10 GB/s of throughput.

According to Azure file share targets, Azure File only supports 100,000 IOPS and 10 GB/s of throughput via its Premium file share service, making Amazon EFS read operations 5x faster than Azure File at the top end of service delivery. Of course, this performance difference is only relevant to a select few of you who plan to house the largest databases with the most demanding workloads.

For the average enterprise, your file storage demands can be equally met by both AWS and Azure.

Cool Storage

Cool storage is designed for data stored for long periods of time, which is rarely accessed. Cool storage is typically used for database and file backups.

AWS offers cool storage through Amazon S3 storage classes. There are two classes available for cool storage:

Azure offers cool storage through Azure Blob Storage access tiers. There is only one relevant tier for cool storage:

Archival Storage

Archival storage is designed for data that is stored for long-term preservation, which is rarely accessed. This service is low-cost in comparison with other storage types due to the reduced workload requirements.

Archival storage is typically designed primarily for those of you working in highly regulated industries—Financial Services, Healthcare, and the Public Sectors—where you’re required to retain datasets for 7–10 years to meet regulatory compliance.

AWS offers archival storage through Amazon S3 storage classes. There are two classes available for archival storage:

Azure offers archival storage through Azure Blob Storage access tiers. There is only one relevant tier for archival storage:

Security Features

Security will be among your primary considerations when choosing a cloud provider.

When comparing cloud security between AWS and Azure, look closely at the core security pillars that will combine to protect your cloud-based applications, data, infrastructure, and systems. This means exploring controls, policies, processes, and technologies that define your security stance.

Cloud Security On Workloads

A Model for Securing Cloud Workloads (Image source: HyTrust)

 

Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are renowned for their robust security stance and the implementation of cutting-edge security. Both continually invest in cybersecurity research and development to deliver a secure platform, resilient to the ever-evolving and escalating threat of the technology landscape.

Amazon and Microsoft deliver cloud security through a combination of three practices:

Let’s take a closer look at AWS cloud security vs Azure cloud security and the core features and functionality you should consider as part of that comparison.

Compliance

Data protection and compliance continue to rise as both governments and industries apply increased control over the storage, transfer, and sharing of information. Whether you operate in a highly regulated industry, a specific geographic location, or both, compliance with your cloud platform will be a key security consideration.

Both Azure and AWS have developed secure cloud platforms and processes that meet the toughest compliance requirements, including CSA STAR, GDPR, HIPPA, PCI-DSS, and a range of ISO standards.

Each offers comprehensive compliance programs to cover certification, law, industry-specific regulation, security frameworks, and privacy. There is a distinct crossover between both cloud providers as each competes to serve the same consumer base.

With GDPR continuing to be a major consideration and concern for many organizations, both AWS and Azure have developed resource centers. As well as highlighting how their respective cloud platforms are GDPR-compliant, both offer a wealth of documentation and guidance on best practices to ensure your organization meets GDPR requirements.

If it’s purely a numbers game, Microsoft appears to have the edge over Amazon. The Azure compliance program aligns to 91 compliance standards versus the AWS compliance program, aligning only to 75 standards.

For you, choosing a cloud provider based on compliance will only become relevant if a specific industry or government standard is applied to your business. Only then is it likely to be a decisive factor in your choice of platforms.

Encryption

Encryption is critical to the protection of your data, regardless of its location. The practice of encoding your data ensures it is near impossible to decipher without a decryption key, maintaining security and secrecy.

Data Encryption Process

Visual Model of Private Key Encryption (Image Source: Cheap SSL Security)

 

Both AWS and Azure cloud platforms offer your data encryption by default, both at rest and in transit. Data is encrypted using 256-bit AES, one of the strongest encryption ciphers available.

AWS Key Management Service (KMS) and Azure Key Vault are their competing encryption services. Both let you centrally create and manage the keys used to encrypt and digitally sign your data, allowing you to manage encryption across their full range of cloud services.

Both providers’ encryption services meet the Federal Information Process Standard 140-2 (FIPS 140-2), which validates that their cryptographic modules meet well-defined security standards.

Firewalls

A firewall is the first line of defense for your infrastructure. It is responsible for protecting your network against unwanted intrusion.

Both Microsoft and Amazon ringfence their cloud platform with state-of-the-art firewalls, providing you with a base level of protection. In addition to this, both cloud providers offer a range of competitive firewall-as-a-service products to enhance your security stance.

Outlined below are the different firewall services available along with the competing products:

Firewall Management

Centrally configure and manage firewall rules across all your accounts, applications, instances, and locations.

Web Application Firewalls

Rapidly deploy a firewall service to protect your web applications from common web exploits that can impact your availability, compromise security, or consume excessive compute resources. Control how traffic reaches your applications and create rules to block common attacks, like SQL injection and cross-site scripting.

Virtual Private Network Firewalls

Access a managed firewall service, allowing you to deploy essential network protection across your cloud-based VPNs quickly. Centralize the creation, enforcement, and logging of your application and network connectivity policies.

Identity and Access Management

Identity Access Management is critical in preventing private and sensitive information from being accessed by the wrong people.

It is the process of applying user-based security to control who has access to your applications, files, folders, systems, and what that user can do if they have been given access. This typically controls their right to access, create, edit, and delete files, services, or settings.

Identity Access Management at Microsoft

A high-level view of identity and access management at Microsoft (Image Source: Microsoft)

Amazon and Microsoft offer a range of services allowing you to implement Identity Access Management in your cloud deployment.

Identity and Access Management Console

A central console through which you can manage and secure identities. Create and manage users and groups, applying permissions to allow or prevent their access to cloud-based resources.

Mobile and Web Application Control

Implement identity and access management to control user sign-up, sign-in, and control access to your customer-facing mobile and web applications.

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Single Sign-On

Use single sign-on (SSO) access to manage and control user access to multiple accounts and applications on-premises and in the cloud, delivering ease of access for an improved user experience and your employees’ heightened productivity.

Shared Responsibility Model

Implementing security in the cloud is a shared responsibility.

Understanding where responsibility ends and begins between you and your cloud provider is critical in maintaining a strong security stance. A misunderstanding here can create vulnerabilities and gaps in your security that would otherwise be easily avoidable.

Amazon Web Services and Azure provide clear documentation on their shared responsibility model, giving you the information you need to understand where security responsibility sits. Below, you can see a visual representation of shared responsibility for each cloud provider:

AWS Shared Responsibility Model

Amazon AWS Shared Responsibility Model

AWS Cloud Platform Shared Responsibility Model (Image Source: AWS)

Azure Shared Responsibility Model

Azure Shared Responsibility Model

Azure Cloud Platform Shared Responsibility Model (Image Source: Microsoft)

Support

When managing your cloud deployment, you will encounter situations where you lack the knowledge to perform certain tasks or troubleshoot issues. When this happens, you need a cloud provider who can support you with effective guidance and additional support, so you can quickly and easily resolve these challenges.

Self-Service Support

AWS and Azure are widely recognized for their self-service support. This includes extensive repositories of technical documentation and thriving online communities spanning countless blogs, groups, and discussion forums.

Here you’ll encounter hundreds of thousands of cloud experts openly sharing their knowledge and expertise. You are free to browse an ever-growing ecosystem of topics, tutorials, discussions, and virtual or in-person meetups.

Below, you can find links to these invaluable self-service support systems:

Support Plans

You cannot resolve all situations through self-service. Eventually, you’ll encounter a situation where you need the immediate hands-on support of an expert. When this situation arrives, it’s best to have an official support solution in place, direct from your cloud provider.

Both AWS and Azure offer basic cloud support plans, along with a range of paid premium plans. If you’re considering a premium plan, research and understand what’s included along with the associated fees, ensuring you pick a plan you need at a price you can afford.

AWS Cloud Support Plans

AWS has four available support plans split between free and premium tiers. Premium support is divided across three tiers: Developer, Business, and Enterprise

Pricing starts from $29/month or 3% of AWS usage and scales upwards over $15,000/month. Business and Enterprise pricing is calculated at a percentage of AWS usage that decreases across brackets, as seen below:

Each support tier increase adds to your available options, including:

Premium plans are fully customizable, letting you choose which products and services you want to add premium support to and giving you greater control over your costs, along with a support service that reflects your requirements.

Azure Cloud Support Plans

Microsoft offers five Azure support plans: Basic, Developer, Standard, Professional Direct, and Premier.

Basic, Developer, and Standard support plans are role-based and offer plans ranging from free to $100/month per user. Each level increase adds additional layers of support, including:

Professional Direct support is the Goldilocks package, positioning its appeal in support and pricing between Role-based support and Premier support. It comes with a price tag of $1000/month per user and is aimed at organizations with a business-critical dependence on Azure.

Professional Direct is a step above Standard support with additional services, including:

Premier support is the highest level of support – you’ll need to contact Microsoft for pricing. It’s designed for organizations with a business-critical dependence on Azure across multiple products.

Premier support is another step up from Professional Direct, with additional services that include:

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Billing and Pricing

As with any product you purchase, price is always one of the most important considerations. Unfortunately, getting an accurate pricing comparison for cloud deployments between providers will be one of the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of the decision process.

Each provider’s billing approach and usage discounts—plus the almost limitless combinations of products and services create layers of complexity, which most professionals fail to navigate successfully.

To help you understand the challenge of creating an accurate pricing comparison, here’s a small selection of variables you can control to influence the pricing of your cloud deployment:

The complexity of your pricing comparison increases exponentially with each additional product or service you include. The prospect is only made more challenging by manually deciphering the comparable technologies between each cloud provider.

But all is not lost! We’ve researched and uncovered a series of tools and data to guide you toward formulating your own personalized AWS vs Azure pricing comparison.

AWS vs Azure Cloud Pricing Comparison

Both AWS and Azure offer you a multitude of choices from hundreds of comparable cloud products and services.

Each provider offers its own unique pricing mechanism and a range of configurable options to influence the overall cost. Even a simple cloud deployment of a single VM instance with attached storage will come with thousands of product configurations and pricing iterations to choose from.

Understanding your business needs and the associated cloud products you need will allow you to focus on this situation. Only then can you narrow your options and begin to form your cloud pricing comparisons.

Cloud Pricing Calculators

To help you navigate and form an accurate pricing comparison, both Amazon and Microsoft have created comprehensive cloud pricing calculators, putting every product, configurable option, and the associated price at your fingertips.

AWS vs Azure Compute Pricing Comparison

To provide you with greater insight into how AWS and Azure compare in cloud pricing, we’ve conducted our own research.

We’ve chosen to focus specifically on comparing the costs of VMs from Azure and Amazon EC2. According to Gartner, this decision is based on the fact that compute resources make up two-thirds of the total spend for an average cloud deployment.

Configuration for Cloud Pricing Comparison

To create an apples-to-apples comparison between Azure and AWS VMs, we’ve chosen the same configuration options across CPUs, operating systems, and regions:

We’ve then selected VM instances with comparable RAM specifications across the following machine usage types:

When making your own configuration, make time to explore the options. You’ll quickly discover switching between the different variables across instance type, region, operating system, and CPUs can significantly alter your price estimate.

For our pricing comparison, we’ve chosen the following instances:

Instance Type Amazon EC2 AWS RAM

(GiB)

Azure VM Azure RAM

(GiB)

General-Purpose t4g.xlarge 16 B4MS 16
Compute-Optimized c6g.xlarge 8 F4 8
Memory-Optimized r6g.xlarge 32 E4a v4 32

Pay-As-You-Go

The pay-as-you-go pricing offers you a flexible, on-demand approach to the consumption of cloud resources. Ideally suited to organizations with intermittent cloud usage, this option allows you to add and remove cloud resources in line with demand. However, this flexibility comes at a cost, with pay-as-you-go pricing models having the highest price per hour:

Instance Type Amazon EC2 AWS Price

(per hour)

Azure VM Azure Price

(per hour)

General-Purpose t4g.xlarge $0.134 B4MS $0.166
Compute-Optimized c6g.xlarge $0.136 F4 $0.199
Memory-Optimized r6g.xlarge $0.201 E4a v4 $0.252

When comparing AWS vs Azure VM pricing, Amazon EC2 is the clear winner across general-purpose, compute-optimized, and memory-optimized instance types. AWS is a minimum of 20% cheaper across all three categories.

If you’re only interested in short-term intermittent compute resources and have workloads resistant to interruption, you should consider exploring temporary instances. Known as Spot Instances on AWS and Spot Virtual Machines on Azure, temporary instances are up to 90% cheaper than on-demand, pay-as-you-go pricing.

Long-Term Commitment Plans

If you’re planning a long-term cloud deployment, then long-term commitment plans with your cloud provider will offer a significant cost saving over the pay-as-you-go models.

Both AWS and Azure offer long-term commitment plans, which they refer to as reserved instances, where you can choose from two upfront commitments: one year or three years. Reserved instances are rewarded a cost savings of up to 72% over on-demand, pay-as-you-go pricing.

AWS offers greater flexibility for its reserved instance plans as compared to Azure. With Amazon EC2, you have the choice between two plans:

Non-convertible instances—where you pay everything up front—offer the greatest level of discount as you sacrifice flexibility in your deployment.

When comparing reserved instances for AWS, we’ve chosen a 100% upfront payment and non-convertible instances to unlock the highest discount available. Paying upfront with Azure appears not to influence your discount percentage, at least according to the Azure pricing calculator.

One-Year Reserved Instance

Instance Type Amazon EC2 AWS Price

(per hour)

Azure VM Azure Price

(per hour)

General-Purpose t4g.xlarge $0.079 B4MS $0.097
Compute-Optimized c6g.xlarge $0.080 F4 $0.124
Memory-Optimized r6g.xlarge $0.118 E4a v4 $0.148

Comparing pricing for one-year reserved instances, AWS is the clear winner across all three instance types.

AWS is 20% cheaper than Azure across general-purpose and memory-optimized instance types, and an impressive 40% cheaper on compute-optimized instance types.

Both cloud providers offer an average of 40% cost savings for one-year reserved instances over on-demand, pay-as-you-go-pricing.

Three-Year Reserved Instance

Instance Type Amazon EC2 AWS Price

(per hour)

Azure VM Azure Price

(per hour)

General-Purpose t4g.xlarge $0.050 B4MS $0.062
Compute-Optimized c6g.xlarge $0.051 F4 $0.078
Memory-Optimized r6g.xlarge $0.075 E4a v4 $0.099

When comparing AWS to Azure pricing for three-year reserved instances, AWS continues to offer the most competitive pricing and is again the cheapest option across all three instance types.

Across general purpose and memory-optimized instance types, AWS is 20% cheaper than Azure. The price gap widens for compute-optimized instance types, with AWS being 35% cheaper than its Azure equivalent.

When it comes to three-year reserved instances, AWS and Azure offer an impressive average cost saving of 60% versus on-demand, pay-as-you-go-pricing.

Free Trials

A free trial is ideal for testing the cloud provider’s services without the need to make a financial commitment.

Both AWS and Azure offer free trials on a range of their core cloud services, giving you a predefined resource amount over a set period of time – perfect for testing cloud services.

In addition to this, both cloud providers also offer “always free” cloud services—ideal if you have meager cloud usage requirements and you’re not concerned with operations being interrupted. Let’s take a closer look.

AWS Free Tier

With the AWS Free Tier, you’ll have free access to 85 different AWS cloud products and services across compute, storage, database, IoT, AI, and many more categories.

The AWS Free Tier is split into three types:

If you’re exploring AWS for the first time, we recommend you inspect AWS compute and storage options included free for 12 months following sign-up. These are the services that will form the foundation of your cloud deployment:

Of course, there’s a range of restrictions, so make sure you check the AWS Free Tier FAQs to find out about key information like moving from free to pay-as-you-go, regional restrictions, and more.

Azure Free Account

Creating an Azure free account will unlock free access to 54 Azure cloud products and services across compute, storage, database, security, AI, and many more categories.

The Azure free account gives you two types of access:

In addition to your free access, you’ll also receive $200 of credit to spend during the first 30 days after sign-up.

If you’re trialing the Azure cloud platform for the first time, we’ll echo our sentiments with AWS and suggest trialing the Azure compute and storage services, which are free for the first 12 months:

As with AWS, ensure you explore the Azure Free Account FAQs, as there’s a range of restrictions and considerations you’ll need to be aware of.

Is AWS Cheaper than Azure?

Working out which cloud provider offers the most competitive price is no easy task.

When it comes to compute pricing, based on our extensive research, we can confidently say AWS is cheaper than Azure on average—a fact that is consistent across all pay-as-you-go and reserved instance price plans.

But that’s just one aspect of your cloud deployment. Looking at the bigger picture, excuse the pun, things become clouded. Our wider research into comparative cloud products, services, and pricing models shows the balance can shift between AWS and Azure.

A study from NetApp comparing storage pricing definitively shows Azure to be the cheapest option for Object Storage. However, for Block Storage pricing, the balance shifts, and AWS becomes the cheaper option.

Upon reflection, deciding whether AWS or Azure is the cheapest cloud provider is an answer that remains unique to your organization, defined by your location, cloud deployment configuration, resource requirements, chosen pricing plan, and the other countless variables that will influence your final cost.

Summary

In comparing Amazon Web Services to Azure, we’ve sought to answer the question of which cloud provider is best overall. At the end of the journey, our research heavily favors AWS as the clear winner.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, several key factors make this a fairly easy decision:

However, this research has taught us that this answer can change based on each business’s unique requirements. So while AWS might look better overall, your own research for your business may lead you to decide on Azure as the best choice for you.

In the end, the fact remains that both Azure and AWS are cutting-edge providers with the very best cloud platform, products, and services to offer. Wherever you end up, you’ll unlock a wealth of cloud benefits.


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