Gartner’s cloud showdown: Amazon Web Services vs. Microsoft Azure

AWS is the market-leader in the public cloud, but Azure is giving it a run for its money

Gartner IaaS Research Director Kyle Hilgendorf says one of the most common questions he gets from enterprise customers looking to go to the cloud is: AWS or Azure?

Amazon Web Services has been anointed the public IaaS cloud leader by Gartner and many others, but over the past year or so Satya Nadella’s Microsoft has made significant advancements to its public cloud platform. AWS now has competition.

AWS clearly has a lead, and a pretty sizeable one, Hilgendorf says. But, it’s a marathon, not a sprint: “The race has just begun, and it’s a very long race,” Hilgendorf said during a presentation at AWS re:Invent comparing the two providers.

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Hilgendorf conducted in-depth research of both IaaS public clouds, evaluating each against a 205-point criteria assessment across eight categories: compute, storage networking, security/access, service offerings, support levels, management and price/billing. Gartner organizes them into groups of required, preferred and optional features for enterprise customers.

Azure vs. AWS

Of the features that Gartner believes are required for enterprise use cases, AWS has 92% of them covered; Azure has 75%. AWS has more features than Microsoft in seven of the eight categories. When Hilgendorf did the assessment this summer, AWS had 18 “required” features that Azure did not. It’s a big reason why AWS has remained the clear leader in Gartner’s IaaS Magic Quadrant report.

AWS just has a better cloud in a number of ways. The company not only has a massive public cloud (Gartner estimates AWS has five times the capacity of its next 14 cloud competitors combined), but Hilgendorf says AWS makes it easy to scale those on-demand resources up and down through a management dashboard or APIs.

AWS has a strong encryption platform, it integrates with many third-party network vendors to provide direct links into its cloud, it offers best-in-market high availability offerings through its Region and Availability Zone architecture, and it has competitive offerings in the database, analytics and data warehousing markets, all hosted in its cloud. AWS excels at giving customers building blocks to make a wide variety of service offerings atop its cloud, Hilgendorf says.

Even though AWS has a lead, Hilgendorf says there are reasons users may choose Azure over AWS. The biggest one: Microsoft’s relationships with its customers. Microsoft has been selling into the enterprise market for decades, so it has great rapport with many large customers. Its cloud sales teams leverage that advantage by offering sometimes double-digit discounts in long-term Enterprise Agreements. In a recent survey by Gartner, 64% of users said their biggest reason for using Azure was their relationship with Microsoft.

Many of Azure’s other areas of strength stem from the company’s experience in offering enterprise-grade services and integrating its platform with its existing products, which are widely used in the enterprise. An IT group that is heavily invested in Office 365 or Microsoft’s Hyper-V platform will find Azure to be a seamless extension of its existing operations, allowing customers to create a hybrid cloud. AWS relies heavily on partners and network connectivity tools to enable hybrid clouds.

There are a handful of other smaller items where Azure beats AWS. Microsoft makes its Azure disaster recovery plan available for customers to view (under the condition of a legally-binding non-disclosure agreement), for example. And Microsoft guarantees that any change to its service-level agreement (SLA) will be announced 90 days in advance. Its service health dashboard has a 60-day review; AWS’s is about half that.

These may seem like minor details, but for enterprise customers Hilgendorf says they can be important. If the SLA on a critical service changes, a business wants to know about that as soon as possible to mitigate for it. Hilgendorf has found a number of customers using Azure as a backup to AWS too. Some users may not want to go all-in with a single provider, and Azure is a “good-enough” offering in the market to start using.

For rapid self-service provisioning and ability to scale up to massive levels, AWS has Azure beat. AWS has an innovative set of tools, such as its DynamoDB NoSQL database and its newly announced Lambda event-driven computing platform. AWS continues to lead the market with innovative new offerings in the cloud computing market, Hilgendorf says. Azure, has been playing catch-up to gain feature parity with AWS and has now started to attract enterprise attention to its cloud platform.

The dynamics between these two heavyweights of the IaaS market are changing constantly though. A few weeks ago one could have said AWS has a market-leading network of third-party apps in its Marketplace. But Azure recently announced a renewed effort to beef up its Azure marketplace. This could be an area Microsoft could exploit its broad partner network to take on AWS with. With Satya Nadella (who formerly led Microsoft’s cloud computing division) now head of the entire company, Hilgendorf says Microsoft is in this for the long-haul.

AWS may have more to worry about than just Azure: Google Cloud Platform is turning into an enticing offering for cloud users as well. Hilgendorf plans to put the GCP through the same rigorous test he did with AWS and Azure to see where it stacks up. There are other providers like VMware, HP, Verizon, CenturyLink, Rackspace and many others customers can consider as well.

Hilgendorf says each customer should evaluate these cloud providers based on the criteria that are most important for their use case.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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