AWS vs. Azure: a Thorough Comparison cover image

If you’re a follower of cloud computing trends, you have probably heard the global research leader Gartner has already published its Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure and Platform Services for 2020. Not surprisingly, the top names haven’t changed from last year – or the last decade, for that matter: it’s still mainly the competition of AWS vs. Azure, with all the other players dragging behind. What are the main differences between these two cloud platforms, and which one is a better choice in your individual case? Should you invest your time and effort into completing training to obtain an AWS or Azure certification? If you’re looking for answers to these questions, you’ve come to the right place!

What Makes Them Leaders

Before diving into an in-depth comparison of AWS vs. Azure, we have to admit both of these platforms are actually reliable and solid choices when it comes to cloud computing. While each of them might have their individual pros and cons, the overall impressions they leave are very good. Why exactly is that so?

First and foremost, it’s the background. Both Microsoft and Amazon are industry leaders whose names have been instantly recognizable all around the world for years – and for a good reason. These companies are well-known for their progressiveness, relentlessness, and incredible achievements. As of 2020, both of them are valued at over $1 trillion, and the cloud computing platforms they’re offering have played massive parts in getting closer to this breathtaking number.

Next, we have experience – and we don’t just mean the age of the companies. While it’s true Microsoft and Amazon have been around for long (since 1975 and 1994, respectively), none of them started with cloud computing: Microsoft worked with operating systems, and Amazon sold printed books online. Nevertheless, their cloud platform projects have had over a decade to develop by now as well. Amazon was first to launch AWS in 2006 (which makes it the most seasoned cloud platform overall), and Microsoft came up with Azure (called Windows Azure at the time) in 2010. This translates to a broad range of products and services, strong infrastructure, and valuable partnerships with industry leaders – which, in turn, provides a chance to offer competitive pricing and grow a user base.

Global Infrastructure: AWS vs. Azure

One of the first things you should consider when choosing a cloud computing platform is accessibility. Of course, you will probably have no issue with delivering your content through to users in the most densely populated areas (e.g., Canada or US), but if you need it to be available globally, there’s a difference when it comes to Microsoft Azure vs. AWS – and it can be a tough nut to track, too.

AWS is very clear about its numbers: as of January 2021, it has 24 active regions (6 more are announced as coming soon), 77 Availability Zones, and serves 245 countries and territories. It also says AWS has twice as many regions with multiple Availability Zones ‘than the next largest cloud provider’ (*cough* Azure *cough*). However, when you visit Azure’s website, you might get puzzled: it boasts about having over 60 regions… But that’s basically all the numbers you’ll find in there. It doesn’t state the amount of Availability Zones, nor countries served – and there’s a reason for that. How does one compare AWS vs. Azure with such limited information? In fact, that might be the exact reason the numbers are hidden: they are simply not in Azure’s favor.

Digging into Microsoft’s press releases, we came upon this quote: ‘With the new region, Microsoft’s global cloud spans 65 cloud regions announced, supporting more than 1 billion clients in more than 90 countries around the globe.’ The article is dated October 2020, so the data is in no way outdated. Lower accessibility has also been identified as one of Azure’s weaknesses by Gartner: in the conclusions following the Magic Quadrant, the company mentions it ‘has the lowest ratio of availability zones to regions of any vendor in this Magic Quadrant, and a limited set of services support the availability zone model.’ Needless to say, the winner of the AWS vs. Azure battle is clear as day in this regard.

A Penny Saved Is a Penny Earned

Depending on your company’s financial capabilities and your allotted budget, pricing may or may not be a priority – nevertheless, no one likes spending too much money where it’s not, in fact, necessary. As we compare AWS vs. Azure in terms of pricing, there are no massive differences – however, Azure seems to be taking the itsy-bitsy lead here.

For starters, you need to know both AWS and Azure offer a free tier for beginners – and the conditions are actually pretty similar, too. In both cases, you can use a bunch of popular products and services free of charge for a year, and a handful of them (25+ for Azure and 30+ for AWS) stay free for the whole time you’re using the platform. AWS also gives you free shorter trials for almost 30 services, and Azure provides a free $200 credit you can use in 30 days. This is a great way to explore platforms before making your final verdict on Microsoft Azure vs. AWS.

After the period of free usage is up, both platforms will start charging you based on the Pay-as-You-Go model, which is typical in cloud computing. To put it simply, you’ll only pay for what you use when you use it. Just a few months ago, NetApp did a pretty detailed AWS vs. Azure comparison in terms of pricing models: reviewing the numbers, it’s pretty clear that they’re very similar in most cases, but AWS seems to be a little pricier.

In addition to that, AWS can prove as many as five times more expensive for running Microsoft-based services (e.g., Windows Server and SQL Server). While it’s true you’re not obliged to use them, it’s also true Microsoft is pretty ubiquitous in the world of IT – and that's one of the reasons some beginners prefer Microsoft Azure vs. AWS. Almost five decades of hard work and reputation building does pay off, after all!

The Choice of Services

Naturally, the decision between AWS vs. Azure inevitably boils down to the choice of products and services. Needless to say, all the main functions of cloud computing are covered by both of these providers – you can easily:

  • Use simple and serverless computing
  • Use different types of storage (object, block, archive, file)
  • Use different types of databases (custom, non-SQL, managed relational DaaS, data warehouses) and migrate between them
  • Have data backups and transports in bulk
  • Have strong disaster recovery and protection measures in place
  • Deploy, manage, and maintain virtual servers, as well as virtual private cloud networks
  • Perform load balancing
  • Use Docker container registry and management support
  • Utilize auto-scaling instances and global content delivery networks (CDNs)

Basically, if you dive deeper into comparing AWS vs. Azure from the user’s point of view, you will notice both of them offer direct equivalents to the other’s services. AWS EC2 does the same things as Azure Virtual Machine, AWS S3 is similar to Azure Blob, AWS Lambda is almost a twin to Azure’s Functions… The list goes on and on.

A massive overlap is inevitable when both platforms try to cover a wide range of their users’ needs and desires. Of course, there could be no cloud computing platform without storage, computing, and networking solutions – nevertheless, both AWS and Azure also have specialized products for machine learning, analytics, blockchain, mobile development, IoT, security, and other important fields of the 21st century’s tech world.

AWS or Azure Certification?

A topic we cannot skip in any AWS vs. Azure comparison is certification programs offered by both of these cloud service providers. Making a choice is very straightforward when you’re sure which platform you’re going to be using – e.g. when your employer decides to migrate into a specific one they have chosen explicitly. But what if you’re just getting ready to enter the cloud computing game? What if a job hunt is still in your future plans – how do you choose then, and what criteria do you evaluate first?

If you have no personal preference or reasons to go for Azure, we’d recommend you to start with learning AWS. There are multiple reasons why it’s the superior choice for a beginner:

  • Knowing AWS gives you better chances of finding a job, as it currently occupies 47% of the global cloud market. Due to massive global coverage, your location is also highly unlikely to be an issue.
  • AWS’s constantly updated software development kits (SDKs) support most coding languages, smoothing the learning curve. Azure only supported C++ and C# applications at first and has only branched out last year.
  • AWS is more financially rewarding: if you checked the lists of best-paid IT certifications (e.g., this one from Global Knowledge), you’d notice AWS certifications always occupy better positions.

Another thing to keep in mind when you’re comparing AWS vs. Azure certifications is the options each of the programs provides. The number of different certifications is very similar – AWS offers 12, and Azure has 14 (there are technically 15, but MCSD: App Builder credentials are about to be retired), but the choice itself differs. There are some that are highly platform-specific (like Alexa Skill Building in AWS or Azure for SAP Workloads) – however, some sound somewhat universal but only found in one of the programs (e.g., Azure has nothing to offer in terms of Machine Learning or Advanced Networking – they do have products for that, but not certifications). Therefore, the choice of an AWS or Azure certification might simply lie in your primary area of interest.

The good news is, whichever you decide to pick, you can find great learning resources online – e.g., this AWS Cloud Practitioner certification training course from BitDegree Academy entails video courses, hands-on labs, practice exams, quizzes, and other techniques to provide a wholesome learning experience. And when it comes to Azure, you really can't go wrong by choosing the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals training course from GreyCampus: all the information you need will be explained to you in a one-day bootcamp, and you'll also gain access to exclusive educational content to study and revise on your own.

AWS vs. Azure: Curtains Down

If you are still thinking ‘Should I learn Azure or AWS?’, give this guide one more read. Usually, comparison-based articles are tricky to conclude: there’s often no definite answer because the choice lies in individual preferences and requirements. This time though, we’re feeling strong enough to say the battle of AWS vs. Azure has been won by the former!

While there’s no huge difference in terms of offerings, AWS offers better global availability, and its certifications are associated with better earnings. It might be a bit more expensive, but the price difference is minuscule, and you’re truly getting your money’s worth. Last but not least, AWS has more industry experience – it was the first major cloud service provider to launch, and it’s still going incredibly strong.

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Vaida Jėčienė