- Microsoft Azure vs AWS - A Comparative Guide
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When it comes to cloud-based service providers for businesses, two big players in the field stand out: Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Both are robust cloud computing systems that provide a better, cost-effective alternative to managing on-premises systems.
Amazon began offering cloud computing services to businesses in 2006 via its service AWS. Since then, it's grown to provide scalable, low-cost cloud computing infrastructure to hundreds of thousands of businesses across the world, reaching 190 countries. On the other hand, Microsoft Azure was launched in February of 2010 and has evolved to be a robust enterprise cloud-based ecosystem that embraces Big Data, the Internet of Things (IoT), Machine Learning (ML), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve the system and its potential functionality. Microsoft is also one of the first companies to embrace edge computing in the name of efficiency and improving system performance.
These days, both platforms are heavily used by the world's largest companies-AWS is used by big players like Epic Games, Expedia, Trustpilot, and Hulu, while Microsoft Azure is used by Ubisoft, The UK's National Health Service, Walgreens, and T-Mobile. And these are by no means exhaustive lists.
In other words, both AWS and Microsoft Azure have grown considerably since their inception, offering functionality that will work for most organizations with no issues.
For organizations looking to move away from on-premises systems and into the cloud or to improve their existing cloud infrastructure, choosing between Microsoft Azure and AWS requires a very careful look at various factors, including:
- Pricing (mainly licensing)
- Compute services
- Virtualization and development tools
- User access and security
Let's start by explaining what the platforms can do, discussing each platform's specific technology, and then getting into more granular side-by-side comparisons between the two.
What is Cloud Computing?
With cloud computing, the delivery and execution of IT resources are handled over the internet, meaning that organizations don't have to purchase and maintain their own data centers and servers. Large cloud providers such as Microsoft and Amazon offer a variety of cloud managed services that are either fully or partially managed by the provider, reducing the burden on an organization's IT team. Further, cloud computing allows organizations to scale as their needs change, so if more computing power is needed, more storage, or more databases, cloud computing allows them to gain what they need easily and fast.
Specifically, cloud computing from a business perspective allows organizations to:
- Use virtual desktops. The Azure Virtual Desktop service, for example, is a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution that enables businesses to run applications and desktops virtually, giving employees remote access to these systems. It works seamlessly with essentially any internet-connected device, from laptops to smartphones, and can even be used via a web browser, meaning that employees can access their work desktop or work-related applications from anywhere, using any device.
- Host websites and databases. Ensure customers can access your website and create databases worldwide to support your organization's workforce.
- Use advanced computing services. ML and AI are two examples of increasingly popular advanced computing technologies that businesses implement for various use cases, such as analyzing and gaining insights from data sources.
- Have a scalable application hosting and creation platform. Developers can create web-based applications using popular development tools and deploy them in a fully-managed or partially-managed environment.
In other words, cloud computing is a broad term that encompasses delivering hosted services over the internet. These services include infrastructure as a service (IaaS), which is the building blocks for a cloud-based IT environment, Platform as a service (PaaS), which focuses on the deployment and management of applications without the need to manage hardware and operating systems, and finally software as a service (SaaS), which provides a complete virtual product experience that the software provider wholly manages.
How Does Cloud Computing Work?
At a high level, cloud computing executes the above list of services through a process called virtualization. What virtualization means is that the computing power that's needed to run an application, use a desktop, or host a website takes place entirely over the internet, with data centers and servers doing the heavy lifting behind the scenes to handle computing power, security, access, and user experience.
The main benefit of cloud computing for businesses is that they don't have to maintain their own hardware, like servers and databases, and can instead rely on cloud service providers to maintain that infrastructure for them. For businesses using the cloud, this translates to cost savings, lower IT overhead, and more secure technical operations.
Two major players in the cloud computing space are AWS and Microsoft Azure. While both offer platforms that have similar basic functionality, the main difference between the two is the technological approach to providing the above list of services.
In the next two sections, we'll break down the specifics of each platform, starting with Microsoft Azure.
What is Microsoft Azure Cloud Computing Platform
Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform offered by Microsoft that enables the virtualization of computer hardware using software (with Azure being the software). It offers a wide range of cloud-based services. Azure allows professionals to build, deploy, and manage applications and desktops in a centralized cloud-based virtualization environment.
In addition to the above, Microsoft Azure also offers cloud-based storage solutions, allowing businesses to back up and store their data safely and securely via the cloud.
IT administrators, CXOs, and other decision-makers can choose the services they need with Azure thanks to a flexible pay-as-you-go payment structure where you only pay for the computing services you use.
How Does Microsoft Azure Work?
Azure works on cloud-based virtualization. This means that the computer hardware is “virtualized” in software, using an abstraction layer (a fancy name for creating a layer of separation between two things) called a hypervisor. The hypervisor emulates all the functions of a computer in a virtual machine. Multiple virtual machines can be run at the same time with Azure.
A high-level overview of the Microsoft Azure infrastructure.
The scalability of Microsoft Azure is where it really gets interesting. Using Microsoft data centers throughout the world, cloud-based virtualization environments can be set up at scale for globally-distributed businesses.
Each data center has a large number of racks filled with servers. Each server has a hypervisor that can run multiple virtual machines. A network switch provides connectivity to each server, and one server in each rack runs a piece of software called a fabric controller. A fabric controller is connected to an orchestrator (as shown in the image above), which manages everything that happens in Azure, including responding to user requests.
So to explain more about how the process works, when a user makes a request to start a virtual machine, the orchestrator packages everything that's needed to respond to this request, picks the best server rack (the one closest to the request), and sends everything to the fabric controller, which then creates the virtual machine. Once the virtual machine has been created, the user can connect to it.
Which Services Does Microsoft Azure Offer?
Azure offers a wide variety of future-ready cloud-based products and services that are tailored to help organizations bring their ideas to life. These products and services include:
- AI and Machine Learning. Azure's suite of services to support AI and machine learning includes a variety of open-source and integrated tools that allow organizations to build and train their AI initiatives and connect AI to applications and processes. The recent news of a multi-year, multi-billion dollar investment in OpenAI from Microsoft means the popular ChatGPT and DALL-E AI models will run natively on Azure.
- Compute. Supports a variety of VMs like Red Hat, Ubuntu, and of course, Windows operating systems, as well as database server environments like SQL. Serverless computing is also available via Azure Functions as a solution to complex orchestration problems.
- Containers. Azure Container Instances (ACIs) allow flexibility with application management, allowing the development of applications to remain seamless without the need to manage the infrastructure that runs them. If additional compute resources are needed, Containers can be used to facilitate ACI to provision additional compute for workloads. Hypervisor isolation is also available via containers without affecting efficiency but allowing for more security.
- Hybrid and Multicloud. Facilitates connectivity between different types of infrastructure, including on-premises, hybrid, and multi-cloud. This means that application building and security can occur on any infrastructure while adding that layer of efficiency by enabling the management of these factors from one centralized location.
- Internet of Things (IoT). Allows centralized security, communication, and management for all devices connected to Azure while at the same time allowing IoT data to be viewed in real time so the latest insights can be gleaned.
What Are AWS Cloud Computing Services
Similar to Microsoft Azure, AWS offers a cloud-based virtualization platform that provides computing power, storage, and databases to organizations on a pay-per-use basis. The organization can partially manage the technology that powers these services or be fully managed by Amazon.
How Does AWS Work?
The basic approach to virtualization with AWS is also the same as Azure; when a user requests a virtual machine, AWS connects that request to a data center, where the appropriate server accepts the request, prepares what's needed to fulfill the request, and then creates the virtual machine.
However, AWS offers a wide range of products, which they break down into two main categories to make it easier for organizations to choose what works for them:
- Cloud Services, which include computing, storage, databases, networking, data lakes, analytics, ML and AI, and more.
- Cloud Solutions, which includes specific industry-focused technology solutions, from cloud products to SaaS, to help organizations do better work in their AWS environment.
Essentially, an organization can pick and choose different cloud-based products based on the base use case or get more contextual recommendations based on the industry they work in. There are literally hundreds of different cloud services or solutions that administrators can choose from and customize their AWS virtualization environment based on their needs, so it makes sense for Amazon to categorize their offering in this way.
What Services Does AWS Offer?
While Amazon offers a large number of cloud products provided by Amazon and its partners, the featured services that cover the basics of what AWS offers include:
- Amazon EC2. As Amazon's main computing platform, Amazon EC2 offers a wide variety of customization options to support virtual desktops, applications, development systems, and more, with the ability to adjust computing power to support resource-intensive workloads.
- Amazon S3. Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) is a secure cloud object storage that allows effective data management to support specific business and compliance requirements. Use cases for S3 are essentially limitless but can include more robust data management needs like data lakes and warehouses or data from cloud-based applications or mobile applications. Robust data backups and restoration tools are also available through S3.
- Amazon Lightsail. Lightsail allows users to build applications and websites quickly and easily with pre-configured cloud resources, including networking, access, and security.
- AWS CodePipeline. Amazon's CodePipeline technology is a fully managed continuous delivery service that enables organizations to automate release pipelines for application and infrastructure updates. You can also facilitate connections between your own on-premises servers and AWS.
- AWS Lambda. Amazon's Lambda technology is focused on providing serverless environments for running code, web applications, or managing the back end of IoT devices.
- AWS IAM. Amazon's Identity and Access Management (IAM) platform controls security and access for entire AWS environments, complete with high-level and increasingly granular permissions according to an organization's needs.
- Amazon RDS. As Amazon's relational database solution, RDS makes it easy to set up, scale, operate, and manage databases in the cloud. Administrators can choose from seven popular engines, including SQL Server, Amazon Aurora with MySQL compatibility or PostgreSQL compatibility, MySQL, and more.
Microsoft Azure vs AWS
To break it all down, let's compare the similarities and differences between Microsoft Azure and AWS in more detail:
Similarities Between Microsoft Azure vs AWS
- Both are cloud-based virtualization platforms that allow organizations to host desktops, applications, and coding environments, store data, and more using the internet.
- Both use a pay-per-use pricing structure so that administrators can pick and choose different services and build a cloud solution that works for them.
- Both offer fully-managed or partially-managed cloud-based services to offer organizations flexibility with what they want the provider to manage versus what they want to manage themselves
Differences Between Microsoft Azure vs AWS
- For organizations that already use Microsoft operating systems and other products, such as Office 365, Azure offers better integration and enhanced functionality that takes advantage of the organization's investment in Microsoft.
- Running Microsoft Server virtual machines in AWS costs more than Azure. Plus, Azure offers extended security updates for the soon-to-be end-of-life Windows Server 2012 R2.
- AWS doesn't offer discounts or licensing savings for using a specific operating system, instead standing alone as its own solution.
- Azure stays specific by focusing on the main features that modern businesses looking to move operations to the cloud would want, like virtual desktops, hybrid and multi-cloud, and more, while AWS has more of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach where it offers a gigantic number of potential applications and software to support a near-infinite amount of use-cases, which can be overwhelming to some organizations.
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Amazon Workspaces vs Azure Virtual Desktop
Since the pandemic thrust remote work into the spotlight for many organizations, arguably one of the most important uses of Azure and AWS is desktop and application virtualization. Virtual desktop and application technology allows employees to work from anywhere, using any device, and maintain the same experience that they would if they were working from a desktop computer in an office.
Just like we compared Microsoft Azure vs AWS from a high level in the previous sections, let's compare the application and virtualization solutions from each vendor:
Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)
Operating system support
Supports Windows and Linux
Windows operating systems only
Desktop as a service
Desktop as a service
Offers enterprise-level security with encryption and multi-factor authentication
Offers enterprise-level security with encryption, and multi-factor authentication
Supports open-source development tools such as Ansible, Jenkins, Docker, and GitHub
Natively supports Windows development tools such as Visual Basic Support, Active Directory, and SQL databases
Does not support multi-session deployments
Supports Windows 10 and Windows 11 multi-session virtual desktops using tools like Azure Lighthouse
AWS WorkSpaces vs Azure Virtual Desktop Pricing
There are a few considerations when comparing the pricing for AWS workSpaces vs Azure Virtual Desktop. The below table compares the pricing approaches for each vendor:
Amazon WorkSpaces Pricing
Azure Virtual Desktop Pricing
Three different pricing options are available:
AVD pricing is based on two factors:
Navigating the different pricing structures for both platforms requires understanding:
- How many users in each location will need to access each virtual desktop. You'll want to launch virtual desktops for each set of users.
- How your users will be using the virtual desktop environment. For instance, if it's just general usage, a lower vCPU, and lower RAM will work fine. If the users are software engineers and graphic designers using robust programs, then higher vCPU and RAM requirements will be needed.
- Licensing costs. Desktop licensing and application licensing costs are also considerations when determining the costs associated with VDIs. For AVD, existing Windows licenses can be used, but with AWS, any Microsoft software that is used must be compatible with licensing portability.
With that being said, viewing the pricing pages for AWS or AVD can be confusing. They essentially both require you to input different aspects of your estimated usage, including the above, but also want you to deal with the licensing you'll need.
Determining Microsoft licensing is one of Amaxra's main services. We'll help you optimize your Microsoft licenses so that you're only paying for what your organization needs. As your Microsoft Gold Partner, we'll audit your existing licenses and recommend cutting costs without removing functionality.
Is Microsoft Azure Better than AWS?
The technologies behind virtualization are different. Both companies use their own proprietary virtualization technologies, which have different approaches to how computational power is delivered and prioritized, how access and security are handled, how applications and virtual machines are managed and maintained, and much more. However, from the user's perspective, both Azure and AWS accomplish the same goals.
However, the biggest difference as to why Microsoft Azure is typically the better solution for most enterprise organizations is cost.
Microsoft Windows is the most widely used computer operating system in the world, accounting for over 70% of the total market share for the desktop, tablet, and console OS market in August 2022.
While the above statistic includes consumer data, the majority of organizations worldwide use Microsoft Windows and related products like Microsoft 365, which gives Azure Virtual Desktop a bit of a leg up since there is no additional cost for users that already have a Microsoft license. This means that organizations that already pay for Microsoft licenses for their employees' Microsoft desktops and applications don't have to pay an additional cost to use Azure Virtual Desktop.
Further, AVD is designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft products, allowing organizations to unlock added functionality and ensuring that users who are already familiar with using Microsoft products will be able to enjoy the same experience, no matter what device they are using to access the virtual desktop or applications.
When it comes to choosing whether to go with AWS or Azure, the final decision comes down to which operating system your organization uses and licensing costs. Azure usually wins out since the majority of organizations use Windows operating systems and applications.
Navigating your Microsoft licensing, however, can be a daunting task. It's best practice to audit the licenses your organization pays for regularly, but with constantly changing licensing requirements and other considerations, figuring out exactly what your organization needs and doesn't need requires a significant time investment.
Instead of delegating Microsoft Licensing to your IT team, let Amaxra handle the particulars for you. We can determine what licenses you need and eliminate the ones that you don't need, saving your organization time and money.
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