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Microsoft Azure vs. Amazon Web Services: Cloud Comparison

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie
business.com Contributing Writer
Updated Aug 10, 2022

Microsoft and Amazon are two of the leading cloud-based infrastructure as a service providers. Which one is right for your business?

Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are two of the leading cloud-based infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers. In the past decade, both companies have created a broad range of flexible, stable and profitable services. But which one is right for your business? 

Learn everything you need to know about the mainly open-source Amazon Web Services with its vast network of partners and its growing specialist marketplace for Linux and Windows compared to the more closed-source Azure with its nascent Linux offerings.

Amazon Web Services overview

As an IaaS provider, Amazon groups its Amazon Web Services capabilities into the following categories.

  • Analytics: Obtain remote processing and distribution of data insights, from operational analytics to visual data presentation.
  • Application integration: Integrate systems and manage APIs.
  • Blockchain: Use shared ledgers for secure transactions.
  • Business applications: Access productivity and communication tools.
  • Cloud financial management: Take advantage of functions like forecasting and budgeting.
  • Compute: Rent virtual servers boosted by Amazon’s processing power. [Find out how cloud computing can benefit productivity.]
  • Contact center: Communicate with customers through Amazon Connect.
  • Containers: Run containers of all sizes.
  • Database: Enjoy scalable, distributed database builds and maintenance.
  • Developer tools: Code, build and test applications.
  • End-user computing: Give employees access to the secure, agile programs they need for their roles.
  • Front-end web and mobile: Build web and mobile applications.
  • Games: Build, run and grow games.
  • Internet of things: Connect devices and transfer useful data.
  • Machine learning: Discover patterns in end-user data, and build models to create and run predictive applications.
  • Management and governance: Manage resources, applications and financial impacts.
  • Media services: Create videos and streaming content.
  • Migration and transfer: Migrate existing data to Amazon’s cloud.
  • Networking and content delivery: Provide co-workers and clients with faster delivery of content and operation of apps. 
  • Quantum technologies: Use quantum computers to speed up research and development.
  • Robotics: Run simulations and create 3D virtual environments.
  • Satellite: Control satellites with ground station as a service.
  • Serverless: Compute, integrate and store data without the need for servers.
  • Security, identity and compliance: Rest easy with protection from unauthorized access and cybersecurity threats on data and workloads held on AWS servers.
  • Storage: Get secure data and file storage and archiving that can be accessed by your apps to run analysis and reports. Download backed-up data to restore systems in disaster recovery scenarios.

When using Amazon Web Services, you can monitor your infrastructure resource usage through management tools like Amazon CloudWatch, AWS CloudTrail for tracking user activity and API usage, and AWS Config for tracking resource inventory and changes. Additional solutions offered by AWS include e-commerce.

Did you know?Did you know? AWS was launched by Amazon in 2006. Per Amazon’s Q1 2022 earnings, it’s now responsible for 16% of the company’s total revenue and grew 36% in the past financial year.

Microsoft Azure overview

For IaaS, Microsoft Azure provides the following service categories. You’ll notice many similarities to AWS – and some differences.

  • AI and machine learning: Create decision-making, language, speech and vision AI models with API calls. Use in conjunction with tools and open-source frameworks to create model learning models.
  • Analytics: Get insights on data of any size and review real-time information.
  • Compute: Rent virtual servers to benefit from Microsoft’s powerful processing.
  • Containers. Run applications in multiple environments without the need for virtual machines.
  • Databases: Use enterprise-grade databases with automated management. 
  • Developer tools: Take advantage of science, engineering and technology tools.
  • DevOps: Enjoy a centralized online environment for teams to build, collaborate on and deploy applications.
  • Hybrid and multicloud: Access cloud computing features on your business’s computer network.
  • Identity: Get user-identity management to protect against threats to infrastructure, apps, data and devices.
  • Integration: Integrate processes, data and applications, whether on your computer network or in the cloud.
  • Internet of Things (IoT): Add IoT functionality to devices and platforms.
  • Management and governance: Control who can do what on Microsoft Azure.
  • Media: Create and deliver video content.
  • Migration: Utilize these tools to help you migrate functions you currently use on your company network to the cloud.
  • Mixed reality: Create immersive experiences by blending digital and physical worlds.
  • Mobile: Build and distribute native and cross-platform apps for mobile devices.
  • Networking: Connect your cloud services with your computer network and services.
  • Security: Receive protection from cyberattacks and other threats.
  • Storage: Use cloud-based storage for workloads, apps and data.
  • Virtual desktop infrastructure: Get desktop as a service (DaaS) so employees can work securely from anywhere. [Learn more about the best desktop as a service providers.]
  • Web: Build, distribute and scale web apps.

Azure also has a number of services and integrations for in-depth monitoring and alerting on infrastructure performance metrics and logs. Integration with Microsoft products, in general, is very good thanks to the vendor’s historic focus on its enterprise customers. Active Directory integrates particularly well, so much so that you can use the same Active Directory accounts you have now to sign in to Azure cloud offerings like Office 365 or your Azure SQL instances. Visual Studio and TFS integration is also first-class.

License mobility

If you want to run application servers like SQL or BizTalk on AWS or Azure, Microsoft offers license mobility for both cloud platforms. Before signing up with either one, inquire whether your servers are eligible for license mobility. 

If you have an on-premises Windows server with SQL Server and you run the same stack in the cloud, you will pay for two Windows server licenses, as that license is charged by usage and it is not eligible for mobility. Your SQL Server license, however, is eligible, and you can use the license you already paid for to run your SQL Server instance in the cloud.

Hybrid cloud options

Most businesses want some things running via the cloud and other operations conducted through servers in their own data centers that are fully under their own control. Fortunately, AWS and Azure provide strong support for companies that want to operate a hybrid cloud. With a hybrid cloud, you can use the public cloud to run applications and deploy infrastructure assets and applications while still using your on-premises computing resources. You can seamlessly transition between the two when appropriate.

Microsoft initially led the hybrid cloud market with platforms like Azure StorSimple, Hybrid SQL Server and Azure Stack. In recent years, Amazon has caught up, offering 21 hybrid cloud services for AWS in comparison to Azure’s 15. 

FYIFYI: Cloud service providers go to extraordinary technical lengths to protect their clients’ confidentiality with very high-grade cloud data encryption. So, even if a hacker does get in, it’s almost impossible for them to crack the encryption to get to your company’s raw data.

Government in the cloud

Both Amazon and Microsoft have dedicated government areas of their clouds so that strict compliance requirements, like ITAR, DISA, HIPAA, CJIS and FIPS, are met. These areas are cordoned off from all other workloads and are accessible by screened U.S. persons only.

AWS has had the lead over Azure in this department, but the gap is closing between the two providers. Azure has the same necessary certifications as AWS, and some agencies have decided in its favor. For those that have used Microsoft software historically, Azure may be easier to integrate as long as its platform offerings meet your requirements.

Open-source capabilities

For open-source needs, the first cloud infrastructure provider to come to mind would not be Azure. Microsoft’s relationship with the open-source community has never been great, which led to Amazon opening a significant lead over Azure in the open-source cloud hosting space.

Amazon has been Linux-friendly from the start, and the company has never expressed suspicion about open-source software. In addition, developers  were more likely to be comfortable with AWS and its open-source tools integrations because of the vendor’s hospitality.

However, both Amazon and Microsoft are now embracing open source in one of the biggest strategy shifts we’ve seen out of Redmond in a long time. PowerShell and .NET Core are open sourced and taking pull requests on GitHub. SQL Server runs on Linux, and Hyper-V will be running Docker. The trend continues in Azure, where you can now run Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Apache Hadoop clusters.

AWS is still likely the more attractive option, but try not to dismiss Azure until you’ve thoroughly investigated its latest open-source abilities. The gap between the two vendors is closing fast.

TipTip: Licenses governing open-source software allow users to change the source code of the software. You are allowed to sell modified versions of open-source software as long as you make your code freely available to others.

Costs

It’s widely agreed that shifting as much work and storage to the cloud from office-based hardware will save businesses money in the medium to long term. However, pricing AWS and Azure services is difficult. For starters, both Amazon and Microsoft allow you to bundle different products to create a custom solution that fits your organization’s needs. As a result, there is no consistent cost to advertise.

Fortuhermore, even though both vendors offer price calculators on their websites, such tools may ultimately be meaningless. That’s because some of the factors that will affect what you actually pay  have as much to do with user behavior (like shutting down virtual machines when not in use) as the actual workloads you want to run. Still, here are some worthwhile tips to save you money on cloud services.

Feature for feature

AWS and Azure compete across many categories, although there are often major differences between similar services. Below is a selection of the services offered by both vendors listed by category and service type, according to Google, which offers its own cloud service as well.

Service category

Service type

AWS offering

Azure offering

App modernization 

 

CI/CD

AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodeDeploy, AWS CodePipeline

Azure DevOps, Github Enterprise

Execution control

Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS)

Azure Service Bus, Azure Storage Queues

Multi-cloud

Amazon EKS Anywhere, Amazon ECS Anywhere, Chef Automate AWS OpsWorks,

AWS Controllers for Kubernetes, AWS Bottlerocket, AWS Direct Connect

Azure Arc, Azure App Configuration, Azure Service Operator, Azure Container Instances, Hybrid Connections

Service mesh

AWS App Mesh, Amazon VPC, Istio on Amazon EKS, AWS App Mesh

Azure Service Fabric, Azure VPN Gateway, Istio in Azure Kubernetes Service

AI/ML

Cloud cost optimization

AWS Cost Optimization

Azure Advisor

Conversational interface

Amazon Lex

Azure Conversational AI

Document understanding

Amazon Textract

Azure Form Recognizer

Image recognition

Amazon Rekognition Image

Azure Computer Vision

ML for structured data

Amazon SageMaker, Tensorflow on AWS, Amazon SageMaker Autopilot

AutoML in Azure ML Studio, Azure Data Science Virtual Machines, Azure Databricks, Azure AI Platform, Azure Cognitive Services, Azure Machine Learning, Azure Notebooks

Natural language processing

Amazon Comprehend

Azure Text Analytics

Personalization

Amazon Personalize

Azure Personalizer

Speech recognition

Amazon Transcribe, Amazon Polly

Azure Speech to Text, Azure Text to Speech

Translation

Amazon Translate

Azure Translator

Video intelligence

Amazon Rekognition Video

Azure Video Indexer

Compute

Core compute

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) P3, AWS UltraClusters, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), AWS Auto Scaling, Amazon EC2 Instance Connect, Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS)

GPU Optimized VMs, Azure Virtual Machines, Azure Autoscale, Azure Managed Disks, Azure Bastion

Dedicated VMs

Amazon EC2 Dedicated Host

Azure Dedicated Host

FaaS

AWS Lambda

Azure Functions Serverless Compute

Infrastructure modernization

SAP on AWS

SAP on Azure

PaaS

AWS Elastic Beanstalk

Azure App Service

VMware connectivity

VMware Cloud on AWS

Azure VMware Solution

Containers

CaaS

Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS)

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)

Container registry

Amazon Elastic Container Registry (ECR)

Azure Container Registry

Container security

 

Containers without infrastructure

AWS Fargate, AWS Lambda, AWS App Runner

Azure Container Instances

Gaming

Amazon GameLift

Azure for Gaming

Data analytics

Business intelligence

Amazon QuickSight

Microsoft Power BI

Data discovery and metadata management

AWS Glue Data Catalog

Azure Purview, Azure Data Explorer

Data integration/ETL

Amazon AppFlow, Amazon Data Pipeline, AWS Glue

Azure Data Factory

Data warehouse

Amazon Athena, Amazon Redshift

Azure Synapse Analytics

Data wrangling

Amazon SageMaker Data Wrangler

Azure Data Factory

Messaging

Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS), Amazon Simple Queueing Service (SQS)

Azure Service Bus Messaging

Open source processing

Amazon Elastic MapReduce (EMR), AWS Batch, AWS Glue

Azure Data Lake Analytics, HDInsight

Query service

Amazon Redshift Spectrum

Azure Synapse Analytics

Stream data ingest

Amazon Kinesis

Azure Event Hubs

Stream data processing

Amazon Kinesis

Azure Stream Analytics

Workflow orchestration

Amazon Data Pipeline, AWS Glue, Managed Workflows for Apache Airflow

Azure Data Factory

Database

Document data storage

Amazon DocumentDB, AWS DynamoDB, AWS AppSync

Azure Cosmos DB

In-memory data store

Amazon ElastiCache

Azure Cache

NoSQL: Indexed

Amazon DynamoDB

Azure Cosmos DB

NoSQL: Key-value

Amazon DynamoDB

Azure Cosmos DB

RDBMS

Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), Amazon Aurora

Azure SQL Database. Azure Database for MySQL, Azure Database for PostgreSQL

Relational

Amazon RDS for Oracle

Azure Oracle Database Enterprise Edition

Developer tools

Client libraries

AWS SDKs

Azure SDKs

Cloud development IDE

AWS Toolkit for IntelliJ, AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio Code

Azure Toolkit for IntelliJ, Azure Tools for Visual Studio Code

Cloud-based IDE

AWS CloudShell

Azure Cloud Shell

Command-line interface (CLI)

AWS CLI

Azure CLI

Job scheduling

Amazon CloudWatch

Logic Apps

 

No-code

Amazon Honeycode

Microsoft Power Platform

Parallel task execution

Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS), Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS)

Azure Service Bus, Azure Storage Queues

PowerShell

AWS Tools for PowerShell

Azure Tools for PowerShell

Enterprise

Abuse prevention

AWS WAF CAPTCHA, AWS Fraud

Microsoft Dynamics Fraud

Marketplace

AWS Marketplace

Azure Marketplace

ML workflows

Tensorflow on AWS

Azure DataBricks

Solutions catalog

AWS Service Catalog

Azure Custom Images, Azure API Management

Government services

Regulated services

AWS GovCloud

Azure Government

Internet of Things

IoT platform

AWS IoT Core

Azure IoT Hub

Management tools

API management

Amazon API Gateway

Azure API Management

Cost management

AWS Budgets

Azure Cost Management

Deployment

AWS CloudFormation

Azure Deployment Manager

Media

AI

Amazon Rekognition Video

Azure Video Analyzer for Media

Encoding

AWS Media Converter

Azure Media Services

Streaming

Live Streaming on AWS

Azure Media Services

Migration

Container migration

AWS App2Container

Azure Migrate

Server migration

AWS Server Migration Service

Azure Migrate

SQL database migration

AWS Database Migration Service

Azure Database Migration Service

Storage migration

AWS Storage Gateway, AWS Snowball

Azure Migrate, Azure Data Box

Networking

CDN

Amazon CloudFront

Azure Content Delivery Network

Connectivity management

Amazon Transit Gateway

Azure Virtual WAN

Domains and DNS

Amazon Route 53

Azure DNS, Azure App Service

Load balancer

AWS Elastic Load Balancing

Azure Load Balancing

Network monitoring

AWS CloudWatch

Azure Network Watcher

Network security

AWS Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Azure Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Service mesh

AWS App Mesh

Azure Container Instances, Service Fabric Managed Clusters, Azure Kubernetes Service

Services

AWS Cloud Map

Consul on Azure

Virtual networks

Amazon VPC NAT instances, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC)

Azure NAT, Azure Virtual Network

Web application firewall

AWS WAF

Azure WAF

Operations

Audit logging

AWS CloudTrail

Azure Audit Logs

Debugging

AWS X-Ray

Azure Monitor Application Insights Snapshot Debugger

Logging

Amazon CloudWatch Logs

Azure Monitor Logs

Monitoring

Amazon CloudWatch

Azure Monitor

Performance tracing

AWS X-Ray

Azure Monitor Application Insights Distributed Tracing

Profiling

Amazon CodeGuru Profiler

Azure Monitor Application Insights Profiler

Security and identity

Certificate management

AWS Certificate Manager

Azure Active Directory Certificate Authority

CIAM

Amazon Cognito

Azure Active Directory B2C

Container security

Amazon Elastic Container Registry (ECR), Amazon ECR Image Scanning, Security in Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS)

Azure Container Registry, Azure Defender for container registries, Container Security in Azure Security Center

Data loss prevention (DLP)

Amazon Macie

Azure Information Protection

Encryption

AWS Nitro Enclaves

Azure Confidential Computing

Hardware security module (HSM)

AWS CloudHSM

Azure Dedicated HSM

IAM

AWS Identity Services, Amazon Identity and Access Management, AWS Systems Manager, AWS Managed Microsoft AD

Azure Active Directory, Azure Identity Management, Azure Bastion

Resource monitoring

AWS Config, AWS OpsWorks

Azure Security Control, Azure Resource Manager

Secret management

AWS Secrets Manager

Azure Key Vault

Security administration

AWS Key Management Service (KMS)

Azure Key Vault

Security and risk management

Amazon Guard Duty, AWS Security Hub

Azure Security Center

Zero trust

Azure AD Conditional Access

Serverless

Build

AWS Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon Cognito, AWS DynamoDB + AppSync

Azure Blob Storage, Azure Active Directory (AD), GitHub Pages, Static Web Apps, 

 

Engage

Amazon Pinpoint, Amazon Device Messaging (ADM), Amazon Simple Notification Service (SNS)

Azure Playfab, Azure Notification Hubs, Azure App Configuration

Event handling

AWS EventBridge

Azure Event Grid

Kubernetes platform

AWS Fargate

Azure Kubernetes Service

Mobile FaaS

AWS Lambda

Azure Functions Serverless Compute

Monetization

Amazon Publisher Services 

Azure API Management

Release and monitor

AWS Device Farm

Azure App Center

Workflow orchestration

AWS Step Functions

Azure Logic Apps

Storage

Block storage

Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS)

Azure Disk Storage

File storage

Amazon Elastic File System (EFS)

Azure Disk Storage, Azure Files

Infrequently accessed object storage

Amazon S3 Glacier

Azure Archive Storage

Object storage

AWS Simple Storage Service (S3)

Azure Blob Storage

Alternatives to AWS and Azure

Azure and AWS aren’t the only cloud storage and infrastructure providers available. Google Cloud is probably the best-known alternative. Depending on the extent of your needs, you may also wish to check out IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and the SAP Business Technology Platform. 

If you already use other Oracle products, that may make the vendor more appealing as a cloud provider. For example, our review of Oracle NetSuite accounting software notes how easily it integrates with Oracle’s suite of business solutions, and for some companies, it’s simply more straightforward to have all services with one vendor.

TipTip: Are you more concerned with securely saving files on the cloud than data crunching or software development? If so, check out our reviews of the best cloud storage and online backup services.

Testing the clouds

Sometimes you don’t know whether a product will work for you until you actually try it. Thankfully, Amazon and Microsoft both allow you to set up free accounts. These are great opportunities to determine which platform is better for your business.

With AWS, your amount of access will vary depending on the feature you want to test – for instance, you can get a two-month trial of one of the machine learning tools. Some functions, however, are free for 12 months, while others are free forever. Similarly with Azure, there are popular services you can have access to for free for a year, while dozens more remain free indefinitely. 

So go out and give these two clouds a try and see which suits your needs better. If AWS isn’t for you, the features of Amazon Business may still be worth exploring. We’re pretty sure Microsoft won’t mind.

Nicole Fallon contributed to the writing and research in this article. 

Image Credit:

Undrey/Shutterstock

Mark Fairlie
Mark Fairlie
business.com Contributing Writer
Mark Fairlie has written extensively on business finance, business development, M&A, accounting, tax, cybersecurity, sales and marketing, SEO, investments, and more for clients across the world for the past five years. Prior to that, Mark owned one of the largest independent managed B2B email and telephone outsourcing companies in the UK prior to selling up in 2015.