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The AWS vs. Azure race isn't over yet

AWS has been king of the public cloud mountain for years. But now, Azure is steadily climbing up, with a host of new services in tow.

The battle for public cloud market supremacy has turned into a two-horse race between Amazon Web Services and Microsoft...

Azure. Currently, Amazon is comfortably in the lead, but the vendor has lowered pricing to ward off the competition -- a strategy that may have negative long-term financial effects. Meanwhile, Microsoft Azure continues to add new services to its public cloud arsenal.

Here's a look at AWS vs. Azure, and how users can get a better glimpse into the services they offer.

AWS vs. Azure: Two different approaches to cloud

When comparing AWS vs. Azure, remember that the two vendors approach the cloud market from different vantage points.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) continues to rapidly expand its service offerings and has an array of infrastructure as a service and platform as a service features. In April, the company added AWS Application Discovery Service, which helps users and systems integrators map out application migration plans. The service automatically identifies applications running in on-premises data centers, their associated dependencies and their performance profile to help facilitate migration to the AWS cloud.

Such enhancements have appealed to potential customers. In the fourth quarter of 2015, AWS had 31% market share of the global cloud infrastructure services market, while Microsoft Azure had 9%, according to data from Synergy Research.

When comparing AWS vs. Azure, remember that the two vendors approach the cloud market from different vantage points. In general, AWS focuses on delivering commodity services to small- and medium-sized companies, but recently ramped up its high-end services. For example, Amazon Relational Database Services for SQL Server supports near-real time monitoring of 26 system metrics, such as average load in one minute increments, and the number of tasks running at any time. Building off of a virtualized cloud platform, AWS services also feature a high degree of automation and scalability.

Microsoft Azure takes a different approach to cloud, emphasizing the integration between its large base of on-premises technologies and its public cloud services. Microsoft provides management tools and a consistent user interface, which appeals to enterprises that want to minimize the number of vendors and systems they use. The company has moved aggressively to match AWS by enhancing its services and building up the array of industry standard offerings found in its Azure Marketplace. Enterprises and partners have invested a great deal of money, time and effort into Microsoft's products, which has created a loyal customer base -- and could eventually tip the AWS vs. Azure scale.

Crunching the numbers

To maintain its top position, AWS' strategy has been clear: cut prices. Since 2008, AWS has lowered its prices more than 50 times. This has helped the company maintain its market position, but could potentially impact its financials.

In the fourth quarter of 2015, AWS brought in $2.4 billion in revenue. While that number represented a year-over-year increase of 69%, it was a lower growth rate than the 78% increase the company reported for the prior quarter. In the first quarter of 2016, AWS posted $2.6 billion in revenue, an increase of 64% year over year.

Microsoft released its third quarter earnings in April 2016 and, while revenue decreased 6% to $20.5 billion, the cloud business picked up steam, with a growth of 120% for Azure revenue.

Price check

Both vendors have aggressively courted potential customers and conduct free trials so users can test their services. Microsoft offers $200 in services for 30 days, while Amazon offers 12 months of access to the AWS Free Tier.

As for AWS vs. Azure price comparisons, there is no standard menu because each business' needs are different. To help potential customers estimate costs, both suppliers provide online service calculators:

Amazon's Simple Monthly Calculator: Allows companies to gauge pricing based on items like the number of Elastic Compute Cloud instances, the number of Elastic Block Store volumes, IP addresses, data transfer information and load balancing. To get a clear pricing picture, customers need to navigate their way through the firm's growing list of services, such as Amazon Glacier, Amazon Kinesis, Amazon Redshift and Amazon SES.

Microsoft Azure Pricing Calculator: Allows organizations to sift through a variety of applications, such as compute, Web and mobile, data and storage and analytics. Azure looks less intimidating because it has fewer fields, but offers similar services, such as Azure Cool Blob Storage, Azure Event Hubs and Azure SQL Data Warehouse.

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This was last published in May 2016

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How much emphasis do you place on pricing when choosing a cloud vendor?
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I've used both AWS and Azure in production and Azure isn't even close.  Azure's console is pretty but in terms of functionality, performance and robustness it feels like a 0.1 product.
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