The Azure-AWS Cloud Wars are a hot topic, so hot that it’s not uncommon for a few Star Wars-themed slides to pop up at enterprise seminars depicting it. If we are going to compare Microsoft’s Azure with Amazon Web Services, however, there’s no doubt who the Death Star is in this picture. Big, fast, dominating, and innovative aren’t enough words to describe AWS, which has the ultimate rags-to-riches story from being a book shop to the No.1 cloud provider and shot caller of the enterprise. Microsoft, on the other hand, has the ultimate comeback story from being the market leader for over a decade to becoming almost obsolete, and now back to challenge the champion. It almost sounds like The Lion King story rather than Star Wars, but we’ve got to stop making AWS out to be the villain.
How Microsoft, a company often referred to even as “the devil,” is back as a worthy underdog with a completely changed image just goes to show that nothing’s impossible in the enterprise. Though AWS got a major head start early on in cloud computing, Microsoft is doing a better job with transitioning legacy systems to its cloud platform. This is where Microsoft has a distinct advantage, because while AWS is all new to the largest enterprise organizations, Microsoft has armies and legions of users from these same enterprises who are already familiar with its software. So while AWS is attracting the customers who are young and tech savvy, Microsoft is attracting those with money -- and the reports says so, too.
Microsoft gunning for the big guns
In a recent survey conducted by machine data-analytics service Sumo Logic, which included organizations with at least 500 members, Azure came out on top with over a 10 percent margin as the preferred cloud provider. Another point to note is that more than half the Azure users were from companies with over 10,000 employees, which confirms that Microsoft is indeed catching the bigger fish. This is again due to the advantage Microsoft has of being around since forever, and having a huge enterprise clientele that are familiar with their applications, comfortable with them, and trust in their solutions.
One thing that both AWS and Azure have in common is that they’ve both adopted DevOps and had an interesting journey with it to get here. Former Amazon engineer Steve Yegg (now a Google engineer) accidentally published what he thought were the reasons for AWS’s success, and consequently, Google’s failure in the cloud department. One of the main reasons highlighted was Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ understanding of DevOps. As far as the cloud goes, AWS was the first man on the moon and was going where no man had gone before. With a risky and uncertain venture, DevOps was the only guarantee that they would get through all of it, and they did.
The Microsoft shift to DevOps was equally fascinating, as a “box” software company that delivers on-premises releases every few years became a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider with continuous delivery in the cloud. In fact, Microsoft has so bought into to DevOps that they’ve even commercialized and packaged it to be Microsoft specific, and the term WinOps was coined at a DevOps meeting in London 2015. WinOps is basically the same set of DevOps principles but specific to Microsoft. Some things just don’t change. The focus here was to implement existing DevOps methodologies in the traditional less open-source Microsoft space.
Both companies may have taken different routes, but they’re using the same manual -- the DevOps manual. Both companies are continuously improving and innovating and pushing the envelope and bending over backwards to suit the needs of users and the enterprise. Both companies are actively looking for ways to outdo each other, and they both have the resources to do so. You can’t call AWS complacent -- while Microsoft has the advantage that their cloud platform is easier, AWS is physically transferring data to the cloud with wheels and engines, no software required. On the other hand, Microsoft is really digging deep to find its old customers , and if you are one of the people who set up a Hotmail account at some point of time in your life, that automatically makes you an Azure end user already.
If you look at the market share even today, AWS is definitely ahead. The growth rate, however, tells a different story, with Azure growing at almost twice the rate of AWS. Microsoft is playing such a good game of catch-up that in one survey held in 2016, Morgan Stanley was quoted as saying “Microsoft’s Azure will edge out Amazon Web Services by 2019 for both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS).” Yet another report from financial analyst FBR Capital Markets notes that they believe 2017 will see Microsoft “firmly positioned” as the best vendor to compete with AWS. Now, a fight isn’t over till it's over, and surveys and speculations aside, let's take a look at some advantages they have against each other.
Azure vs. AWS
Azure offers integrated IaaS and PaaS solutions that work as unified offerings where it’s quick and painless to introduce new features and services. It also has the added advantage that its offerings can be easily integrated with any on-premises infrastructure from Microsoft like Windows Server, System Center, Hyper-V and Active Directory. Microsoft is now a member of the Linux Foundation and has extended its support to include non-Windows and open-source technology. The biggest advantage remains the large customer base, which is the reason behind its rapid growth rate.
AWS, on the other hand, has an equally large customer base, though they aren’t customers who have been around since Hotmail. AWS is equally invested in open-source technology and have licensed and partnered with a number of companies to provide bundled and easy-to-use services. Now, though it’s quite easy to get started with AWS, to really make use of the platform you need to know what you’re doing. This means a lot of companies have to opt for paid support from AWS, and this could be one of the reasons AWS is losing ground. Though Azure may not have all the powerful tools and features that AWS does, it provides easy deployment with the help of automated tools and minimum user intervention, and with tools that their customers are already familiar with, for example MSDeploy, PowerShell, Visual Studio, and more.
According to the Morgan Stanley survey mentioned earlier, out of 100 CIOs who took the survey, 31 percent will be using Azure by 2019 while 30 percent will be using AWS. Surveys can be random, but they do give you a rough idea of the situation. If Microsoft continues to grow at this rate it will definitely overtake AWS sooner or later, though AWS probably has a lot of tricks up its sleeve as well. With both companies doing everything right, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s, it’s going to be an interesting battle indeed as long as AWS stays away from Microsoft’s old mistakes by locking their customers in. Microsoft, on the other hand, is going all out to embrace containers and cloud technology, and apart from making Linux containers work natively in Windows, they have also recently acquired the entire team behind Deis, which is a service for working with applications packed in containers. With major updates happening every month, this cloud war is far from over.
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