AWS vs Azure vs Google Cloud - which is best?
By Samantha Allen 10 Jan 2019
Cloud computing has become an essential service for businesses of all sizes. Almost everyone has used cloud computing in some form already - think emails, Dropbox, Google Drive or online bookkeeping software. But cloud IT infrastructure is much more complex than that, and you need trained professionals to support your business. But which cloud service provider is best?
If you’re already using a cloud platform such as AWS and considering changing to another platform such as Azure or Google Cloud, read on to find out how they compare.
Perhaps you’re not yet using cloud infrastructure in your business. You may have been relying on internal servers and hardware, but you’re looking to upgrade. Or you might be a fast growing business needing to build an IT infrastructure that can expand with your business. We’ve reviewed the top 3 cloud service providers so you don’t have to. Read on to find out which is better - AWS vs Azure vs Google Cloud.
Why use a cloud IT infrastructure?
Businesses all over the world have moved from their self-hosted infrastructure to the public cloud. It’s cheaper, safer and more flexible. Developing applications directly in the cloud also frees up valuable developer time, as your team members no longer need to work on the infrastructure to support the applications. Rather than maintaining and upgrading your own physical hardware, you simply pay a monthly fee and let one of the trusted cloud suppliers host your IT infrastructure on their hardware.
While there are many smaller cloud platform providers, AWS, Azure and Google Cloud are the leaders and dominate the cloud market at the moment. Each of these platforms have their own features and benefits. Keep reading to find out which is the best fit for your business.
What is AWS?
AWS (Amazon Web Services) was the first major provider in the cloud market and has dominated the industry since 2006. AWS is the most popular choice for businesses, individuals and governments due to its reputation and reliability. It boasts a large range of products and services, and an impressive network of data centres.
While AWS was created by Amazon.com it’s now overtaken Amazon’s original offering in retail to become their most successful service. Amazon are transparent with their financial figures of AWS and are clearly happy to prove that they have maintained dominance in the industry, showing consistent growth year on year.
According to Gartner, “AWS is the most mature, enterprise-ready provider, with the deepest capabilities for governing a large number of users and resources.”
What is Azure?
Microsoft Azure was introduced in 2010 and has been battling to catch up with AWS since. Although Azure doesn’t have market dominance, they made up for lost time by cleverly integrating their industry leading products such as Office 365 and Power BI into their cloud platform.
Microsoft don’t separate Azure from Office 365 in their financial updates so it’s hard to know for sure how competitive Azure truly is in the IaaS and PaaS industry. In that respect, they have more in common with Google than with AWS. Google Drive is comparable to Office 365 which also generates at least half of their cloud revenue.
Microsoft have been a trusted software company in the business world for decades and Azure was purposely made to be familiar, user friendly and easy to integrate. They have a loyal base of existing Microsoft customers and are consistently maintaining their spot as the second most popular cloud provider.
What is Google Cloud Platform?
Google have been the leaders of internet search for almost 2 decades now. But they’ve since expanded and launched a diverse range of successful services. They created their first cloud computing service in 2008, which was a platform for developing and hosting web applications in Google-managed data centres. The service was made generally available in late 2011 and they have been adding many more services to the platform since. While Google Cloud Platform may not have the reputation of AWS, it’s undeniable that Google has experience in running data centres and they soon became known as one of the “big three” public cloud suppliers.
Due to Google’s web search and advertising businesses, the company has become highly skilled at handling big data and has a solid reputation and excellent capabilities when it comes to analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. Many businesses tend to choose Google Cloud Platform alongside another cloud provider. However, they are gaining in popularity each year and can be used exclusively by businesses for all their cloud infrastructure needs, depending on what your needs are.
How do they compare?
One of the biggest barriers to adopting cloud systems is the fear of security issues. For businesses that have previously hosted their own infrastructure internally, the business would have been responsible and in control of their own security. While many people might think that’s the most secure option, it’s unlikely to be true these days. The big three cloud providers can provide higher levels of security than most in-house IT. Google’s enterprise security director has stated that “most businesses do not have the security intelligence gathering capabilities and resources to match Google’s.”
What’s AWS security like?
It would be extremely surprising if AWS wasn’t serious about security. You don’t get to be the market leader of cloud computing services without having solid security. Of course the big 3 cloud suppliers all put significant resources into security and you won’t have to worry about your data with any of them. But there are differences in how AWS, Azure and Google approach security.
One of the main differences involves identity and access management. AWS uses IAM (Identity and Access Management), a web service that helps you to securely control access to your AWS resources. This allows you to control who is signed in and has permissions to use resources. IAM is exclusively cloud-based and doesn’t cost anything. It can manage hybrid environments by integrating with other on-premises tools such as Active Directory.
Encryption is vital, and AWS has KMS (Key Management Service) which makes it easy for you to control the use of encryption across a wide range of AWS services and in your applications. Through KMS you can create and manage keys, which are also protected by FIPS 140-2 validated hardware security modules. AWS KMS is also integrated with AWS CloudTrail, which provides you with logs of all key usage. CloudTrail enables governance, compliance, operational auditing and risk auditing of your AWS account. So your regulatory and compliance needs are all taken care of.
However, AWS KMS is a shared service. Your keys are in their own partition of an encryption module shared with other AWS users, who each have their own isolated partitions. It’s kind of like basing your business in a shared office building. It’s secure, but you don’t have exclusive control. Depending on your compliance needs and the sensitivity of your data, this may be okay for your business.
But you also have the option to protect your data even further with Cloud HSM. This gives you an extra level of protection with an isolated hardware security module under your exclusive control. If your business is handling sensitive data, such as financial or medical information, this will likely be what you need.
What’s Azure security like?
“Organisations all over the world recognise Microsoft Azure over Amazon Web Services (AWS) as the most trusted cloud for enterprise and hybrid infrastructure.” Microsoft make this bold claim about Azure and it’s hard to argue with.
Microsoft may not be industry leaders in cloud services yet, but they certainly are credible and trusted. Apparently more than 95% of Fortune 500 companies are using Azure. They boast the most comprehensive set of compliance offerings of any cloud service provider. They also claim to have the most global regions of any public cloud, ensuring compliance with data residency requirements and IP protection.
Anything AWS boasts in security, Azure has an equivalent offering. You will have secure access to your resources with Azure’s IAM (identity and access management) solutions. You can defend against malicious login attempts and safeguard your credentials using risk-based access controls, identity protection tools and strong authentication options, without disrupting productivity.
Secure key management is essential for protecting data in the cloud, and Azure’s equivalent of KMS is Key Vault. This protects your data by encrypting keys and small secrets (such as passwords) stored in HSMs (hardware security modules). Unlike AWS’s KMS, Microsoft doesn’t see or extract your keys and they are processed in FIPS 140-2 level 2 validated HSMs (hardware and firmware). Microsoft haven’t separated their HSM like AWS have with Cloud HSM, as it is part of Key Vault.
As with AWS CloudTrail, you can monitor and audit your key usage with Azure logging. You can use Azure HDInsight or your SIEM (security information and event management) solution for further analysis and threat detection. Microsoft also offer three additional years of security updates for free when you move your Windows Server or SQL Server 2008 and 2008 R2 workloads to Azure.
What’s Google Cloud Platform security like?
Of course Google also takes security extremely seriously and has equivalents of most of the AWS and Azure cloud security services. Google Cloud KMS lets you protect secrets and other sensitive data and manage cryptographic keys. It’s integrated with Cloud IAM (Identity & Access Management) and Cloud Audit Logging so you can manage permissions on individual keys and monitor how they are used.
For businesses with extremely sensitive data, such as health care, financial, or government organisations, Google Cloud might not meet the necessary security and compliance requirements.
Google is constantly improving its cloud security innovations and invests heavily in security engineering. Their security-first approach is empowering cautious businesses, including the financial services industry, to rapidly embrace the cloud.
Google gathers security intelligence from billions of transactions everyday and applies this intelligence in real time throughout the organisation. Google’s enterprise security director stated “a lesson learned on Google.com is a lesson learned on Google Apps”. He thinks that businesses will move from data centres to cloud computing because they have better security resources. Add to this the rapidly increasing number of sophisticated cyber threats that most businesses aren’t equipped to deal with. Businesses are wise to move to cloud services that have the expertise and systems to protect their data.
What’s AWS pricing like?
Since its launch in 2006 the AWS cloud has added a wide range of services and adjusted the pricing of the cloud computing services. If having Microsoft chasing at their heels has done anything, it’s made their pricing competitive and even more cost effective than on-premises infrastructure.
The pricing for AWS cloud services has continued to decrease, and they offer free tiers of service for startups and individuals so you can try before you buy. Development teams can purchase servers by the second, rather than by the hour. Depending on what services your team uses, you will certainly find the AWS price structure reasonable and lower than the cost of on-premises infrastructure investment.
What’s Azure pricing like?
Microsoft Azure’s prices are comparable to AWS but the pricing structure is different. When considering Azure pricing, the costs will depend on the types of products your development team needs. As Azure battles to catch up with the popularity of AWS it’s unlikely they will stop being competitive across the board, as they’re vying for more business.
What’s Google Cloud pricing like?
While some still think that Google Cloud Platform is lacking in additional features compared to AWS and Azure, they certainly prove to be the most cost effective option. Rather than just billing by monthly usage, Google Cloud offers pay-as-you-go based on the “per second” of usage. They also offer discounts for long term usage, starting after the first month. To get long term discounts on the other cloud service providers it could take you over a year.
So if you’re looking to start a new mobile app development project and keep costs low, Google Cloud could be the perfect fit for you. Google boasts that its cloud services have customer-friendly pricing, and they average 60% less for many compute workloads compared to other cloud providers. They’re clearly putting pressure on AWS and Azure to keep the market prices lower.
What features does AWS have?
AWS offers almost every feature under the cloud computing sun. As cloud platform pioneers it’s not surprising that they boast an extensive range of services. They allow you to gain easy access to computing power, data storage and other functionality needed for app developers. They also offer developer tools, management tools, mobile services and application services. A successful mobile app development team will rely on these application services combined with the computing and database infrastructure.
What features does Azure have?
While they may be chasing at the heels of cloud pioneers AWS, Azure offers a competitive variety of solutions for any app developers needs. Perfect for scaling up, Azure enables you to deploy and manage virtual machines, and process and compute at whatever capacity you need within minutes. The extensive Azure features integrate into your existing systems and processes, offering an epic amount of power and capacity for your business development.
If your bespoke software needs to run large-scale parallel batch computing, Azure can handle this well, as can AWS. Google Cloud Platform would not cope so well with this, so if high performance is what you need then you would be wise to consider either Azure or AWS, rather than Google Cloud exclusively.
What features does Google Cloud have?
Although Google Cloud has noticeably fewer services than AWS and Azure, it is a brilliant platform for app developers. You can find all the requirements for mobile application development projects, and their App Engine product can prove incredibly useful for mobile app development teams. As an app developer you can create applications without having to deal with the server, so you can develop applications in an agile manner.
You can also perform high level computing, storage, networking and databases with Google Cloud Platform. So depending on the type of app development you’re working on, Google Cloud could be the perfect solution for you.
What are the main advantages of AWS?
Developers can benefit from AWS’s hefty amount of experience in cloud infrastructure. AWS are continuously working to improve the platform and they have some of the best talent in the market when it comes to management capabilities and skills. The reason AWS is the biggest success story of cloud computing to-date is due to the powerful features it provides and the innovations they keep making to stay ahead of competitors (including their SnowMobile data transfer service, Aurora Database, and Lambda computing service).
AWS is aware of their customers’ needs and are brilliant for hybrid infrastructure. Integrating Active Directory with on-premises Windows Server for example, can be done in as little as four clicks. Integrating with legacy toolsets is a notable plus, and it’s also easy enough to integrate with Visual Studio, Power BI and many more tools.
While AWS has a steep learning curve to initially set it up, there are training courses easily available, and the time and effort invested is highly likely to reap rewards. It can potentially deliver more control and customisation, both essential to cloud security in business.
What are the main advantages of Azure?
As well as its extensive range of features and the competitive, customisable pricing, Azure is the leader when it comes to speed. This cloud solution is one of the fastest available for deployment, operation and scalability.
As Azure is designed for integration with other Microsoft products and has a familiar interface, it tends to be easier for team members to use. Due to this, Azure is seen as a more user-friendly option when compared to AWS. Azure is the most enterprise-focused solution, so if you’re using Microsoft products like Visual Studio, Power BI or Windows Server then you’ll ease into the cloud using Azure with very little hassle.
Azure’s biggest selling point is its existing Microsoft products and loyal customer base. Any existing .Net code works on Azure, and your organisation’s server environment will connect to Azure with few to no issues. It’s also easy to migrate on-premises apps with Azure.
What are the main advantages of Google Cloud?
According to Gartner, organisations typically choose Google Cloud Platform as a secondary provider rather than a strategic provider. Although Google Cloud is increasingly chosen as a strategic alternative to AWS by customers whose businesses compete with Amazon. Google Cloud is also a popular choice with businesses that prefer open-source software or are focussed on development and operations (DevOps). These businesses aren’t the right fit for Microsoft Azure.
Google Cloud has strong Iaas capabilities, but its PaaS capabilities are even stronger. The Google Cloud Platform also excels at big data, analytics and and machine learning.
What are the disadvantages of AWS?
While AWS is a strong choice due to its vast range of tools, products and services, the sheer size of the provider is also its main downside. Amazon’s offering has been criticised for not maintaining close relationships with customers, perhaps due to the massive size and global spread of the company. However there are recognised partners and consultants that can offer a better level of support. If you’d like an AWS consultant working in-house consider booking some AWS training for your team members.
What are the disadvantages of Azure?
While Azure’s benefits include integrating with Microsoft products, that can also be a drawback. If you don’t use Microsoft products and Windows operating system, Azure won’t be the best choice for you. Simply put, Azure is designed for Windows and if you’re using Linux or Mac OS you won’t get the full benefits of Azure.
Gartner noted that many Azure users feel that “the service experience feels less enterprise-ready than they expected, given Microsoft’s long history as an enterprise vendor”. Technical support, training, and DevOps support have also been criticised by some users.
What are the disadvantages of Google Cloud?
Although Google is growing rapidly, its cloud offering is still a work in progress. With less experience of working with businesses, Google Cloud has the most catching up to do in terms of the range of products and level of service. However it is clearly serious about building its presence in the cloud market. Google have now partnered up with Cisco, who have a strong reputation for scale, machine learning and the world of business.
Google Cloud Platform is gaining in popularity each year, and gaining credibility fast - with Apple recently becoming a Google Cloud customer. However, few enterprises are using Google Cloud for all of their cloud computing needs, Apple included. Their main drawback is the limited breadth and depth of offerings compared to AWS and Azure.
Google isn’t the best choice for migrating legacy applications (older software) into the cloud. While Google's IT support, cost and features have been pointed out as strengths, compliance and security have been listed as some of its biggest weaknesses.
Google Cloud Platform also doesn't have as many regions as AWS or Azure yet. Although it’s been adding more data centres recently, right now it still lacks the global reach of these competitors.
Which is the best cloud platform for you?
Essentially, this all depends on who you are and what you need! We’ve tried to cover all the main areas and reviewed the big three cloud providers as fairly as possible, so you can read the facts and make your own judgements.
It seems like Google could be the best option generally for smaller, expanding businesses and companies focussed on price - as their main competitive advantage is being cheaper.
If you’re already using Microsoft products and want something flexible for your IT infrastructure, chances are that Azure is the best fit for you.
If you’re a larger organisation that needs a one stop shop for all your IT cloud services, AWS is a good reliable fit.
The good news is you’re not stuck with using the same system forever. AWS professionals can take this course to learn Google Cloud, making it easy to switch. And AWS experts can take this course to learn Azure. That’s how it stands right now (in early 2019). But the cloud industry is growing extremely quickly and the rate that tech changes is immense.
It will be interesting to see how things look a year or two from now. We’ll keep you up to date as things change so this post will stay current - so keep checking the blog for updates if you’re interested in topics like this.
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