IaaS cloud race far from over

Amazon Web Services remains the frontrunner in the IaaS cloud market, but Microsoft Azure has made strides to improve its cloud. Can Microsoft capitalize on its advantages and make a bigger dent?

SAN DIEGO -- AWS may have a giant lead on Microsoft, but the race for public cloud supremacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) leads Microsoft Azure in all categories but one, according to Gartner Inc.'s "2014 Evaluation Criteria for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service." AWS meets 92% of Gartner's required criteria for infrastructure as a service (IaaS), while Microsoft meets 75% of the criteria.

Both cloud providers made significant jumps from 2013, when AWS met 71% and Microsoft met just 55% of the criteria, according to Kyle Hilgendorf, research director at Gartner.

"That gap [between AWS and Microsoft] still exists; it has not shrunk, but it's starting to stabilize," said Hilgendorf, speaking at the Gartner Catalyst Conference here this week. "That might be a credit to Microsoft's innovation and roadmap."

Where AWS beats Azure      

Both AWS and Azure offer self-service provisioning, but Gartner's criteria states that a cloud provider must offer the capabilities to provision multiple pieces of infrastructure simultaneously through an easy interface in a certain amount of time.

That gap [between AWS and Microsoft] still exists; it has not shrunk, but it's starting to stabilize.
Kyle Hilgendorfresearch director at Gartner

Amazon outshines Microsoft here because it has parameters in its application programming interface (API). If an AWS customer wants 20 Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances, he simply types in "20." Microsoft users need to create an API request and submit that request 20 times.

One reason to choose one cloud provider over the other depends on what a customer is hoping to get out of moving to the cloud, said Mel Ladewig, director of technology at Vail Resorts Management Company in Brookfield, Colo.

"When you look at something like AWS that is very open-ended, it lines up a lot more with infrastructure as a service offerings," Ladewig said.

Vail Resorts uses several software as a service apps, including Concur Solutions and SuccessFactors.

Data center proximity is not always clear, but it's another advantage AWS has over Microsoft. Customers are often only interested in a certain region. Microsoft has multiple data centers, but they are across geographic boundaries, so, for instance, an enterprise might have to pair Chicago with Texas to achieve availability.

"There is nothing wrong with that per se," Hilgendorf said. "With the exception of if you need to stay within 100 kilometers, you've now violated that, so you'll stay with Amazon."

As an enterprise starts to deploy at scale, the ability to group resources becomes important, another way AWS offers more than Microsoft, according to Gartner's criteria.

Where Azure beats AWS

Support and service levels are one spot Microsoft has an advantage over AWS, Hilgendorf said. Most of those advantages stem from Microsoft's overall maturity and experience in dealing with enterprise customers.

Cloud providers need to be able to offer customers the ability to expand block storage volumes on the fly without any downtime. Microsoft's storage services can do that, while AWS can -- with an exception.

AWS users must disconnect the volume from the running virtual machine (VM), suspend the VM and expand or re-provision the volume.

Azure started out more closely associated with what is considered platform as a service, which made sense for companies that are big Microsoft shops, such as Vail Resorts.

Vail Resorts looked at Azure because it bolts right into what it has already done on the legacy side.

"We're pretty deep as far as our internal technical staff's capabilities on the Microsoft side," Ladewig said.

Microsoft is also more transparent about its disaster recovery (DR) plans. Its published plan assures customers that, as a provider that's hosting important resources, it has a DR plan and can show the results of that.

"If we think Amazon is not doing [DR], we're all fooling ourselves," Gartner's Hilgendorf said. "But they aren't exposing it to clients. It's that extra mile of being able to be sure this is being done, and how it's being done."

Microsoft also guarantees 90 days of service-level agreement (SLA) change services. If it changes the SLA in anyway, customers get 90-days advanced notice.           

About the author:
Adam Hughes is the news editor for the Data Center and Virtualization media group. He can be reached via email at ahughes@techtarget.com or on Twitter at @AdamHughesTT.

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