In an effort to provide a roadmap for understanding and making informed decisions, we will provide a comprehensive view of cloud options. In the first part, we evaluate Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Enterprise adoption of both clouds continues to increase, but they use different approaches in how they are managed and used. Part two will look at hybrid cloud environments. In our last part, we’ll look at options for operating with a multi-cloud strategy and why it can be a smart option for organizations that aren’t interested, or are unable to make a complete migration to the cloud.
Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are the two main contenders for the title of top enterprise cloud platform. Both have been major contributors to the massive migration of enterprises to the cloud among all different types, sizes, and industries. As major cloud service providers, Azure and AWS have evolved and added new functionality and capabilities to meet the demands of fast, agile organizations.
In evaluating the two services, it’s important to recognize that, while seemingly intended to serve the same markets, these two providers operate with different approaches. AWS was first on the scene and has capitalized on early adopters who were eager to test the waters of the cloud for the enterprise. Azure has had the advantage of deep experience with enterprise customers to use technology to deliver business value, which is evident in their approach to application integration, scaling to meet changing stakeholder needs, and security.
In this first piece in our series, we look at the necessities for an effective enterprise cloud platform, and advice for how to determine which one works best for your organization.
Before the cloud, enterprise application integration required a heavy investment of time, resources, and ongoing management. In the cloud, however, rapid integration among applications and data repositories is facilitated with fast, agile APIs and connectors. This gives organizations the ability to identify and extract needed data without the overhead of managing applications or infrastructure.
Cloud platforms generally provide integration tools, but a buyer should look at the vendor’s approach and roadmap to integration. Remember that integration is not just plug-and-play; rather, it is a responsive, continuous set of activities that can be automated in the right cloud environment. AWS provides a set of APIs that cover application integration, but Azure’s approach gives developers ways to customize how data is used, as well as a broad array of signatures and services into which they can migrate data.
Azure is an integration-based platform, and from a business standpoint, means that valuable data can be deployed efficiently to apps, efficiently and rapidly. It is built according to a detailed cloud stack, and corresponding APIs give developers a roadmap for targeting specifically where data needs to go in the Azure environment. This helps enterprises that are working with legacy apps (which is most all enterprises) but want to integrate the data from those apps into their cloud environment.
Operating with the principles of seamless cloud connectivity among on-premise and cloud environments means that data can reside in the cloud, in legacy applications, or in some combination of these environments and still be used when needed.
Data Security in Cloud Computing
While both Azure and AWS adhere to strict policies for network, application, data center, and data-level security (as well as complete data backup and disaster recovery), their approach to security and compliance is different in how those policies map to business goals.
For one thing, AWS is very clear in what they secure and what they don’t. Their shared responsibility model distinguish between what they do — “security of the cloud” — as opposed to what customers must provide — “security in the cloud.” That’s not an uncommon approach to cloud security, but it leaves customers with a lot of responsibility for security, and does it without a clear roadmap.
Azure uses a layered security model, which means that security policies can be created for every layer of the Azure cloud stack. Microsoft provides a comprehensive set of configurable security options along with the ability to customize and control them for any security and compliance needs.
With development tools for authentication, authorization, and access control, Azure gives customers the ability to customize how they want to regulate their environment and how they want to appropriate risk levels. Additionally, Azure integrates security functionality at the different layers of the cloud stack: network, storage, compute, operational, ID management, PaaS, IoT, and others.
Compliance with industry and governmental regulations is another factor that differentiates cloud platforms. AWS offers out-of-the-box compliance with many standards, including government mandates like NIST and HIPAA. Azure includes compliance offerings for more than 50 standards from governments and organizations around the world. This ability to comply with international standards is critical for global organizations, and in today’s hyperconnected digital environment, that accounts for almost all enterprises.
Maintaining continuous awareness of compliance and security is supported by Azure’s layered approach. It allows them to apply a variety of policies and best practices to thwart hackers at every potential hole they may try to exploit through visibility at the level of each layer. Because intellectual property is such a significant part of any enterprise’s value, the ability to both identify and then remediate before irrevocable damage can be done is critical.
A cloud environment should effectively enable an organization to offload much of its management and maintenance work; this brings advantages in terms of time savings and resource cost efficiency. Azure or AWS both have solid infrastructures for cloud hosting and transactions. But the cloud is still an operating platform and enterprises want to take advantage of the cloud’s agile nature to build a customized experience both for users and for internal innovation.
Whereas AWS users are able to rapidly initiate accounts and begin creating new environments in the cloud, Azure is able to sit effectively among legacy and existing infrastructure and applications. It enables rapid creation of new applications with complete development capabilities in Visual Studio and on top of .NET. With a complete development environment available to developers, Azure users can take advantage of a platform that can scale as organizational needs change.
Azure is also able to extend its operational capabilities because of Microsoft component pieces, especially by being able to use the cloud environment to add innovative elements continuously, to rapidly develop new applications with Visual Studio, and to beef up transactional functionality on .NET with Active Directory, SQL Server, and other tools. Using Azure also means you are effectively able to operate with a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model to deliver data to new channels.
Azure developers can build mobile apps, created with data in the cloud, and can repurpose content to different form factors. At a technical level, this is a major advantage; create the application, then use complementary Microsoft tools to deliver it through additional channels. From a business standpoint, it brings services and capabilities to new markets.
Microsoft also gives organizations flexibility with a hybrid offering that allows them to use on-premise Windows licenses to run Windows virtual machines within Azure. For organizations that need to retain legacy resources, or that want an incremental approach to cloud adoption, this hybrid model is unique among cloud providers.
AWS vs Azure Pricing
While actual price is certainly the most important piece of the cloud economic puzzle, a smart customer should look at the complexity of the consumption pricing model. Typically, in an on premise environment you’ll be paying for compute, storage, database, traffic, and other services. In cloud computing you pay for what you consume, but anticipating what you’ll use and how your cloud will adapt to your growth needs is an important part of the puzzle.
AWS is known for straightforward pricing. Customers can buy what they need and adapt payment as they scale usage up or down. This is especially the case for traffic and networking services. Amazon also charges for every service they provide, and with many services having dependencies on one another, you’ll feel the pinch to potentially buy more than what the enterprise needs.
One of the competitive advantages of Microsoft Azure is that you can utilize your existing legacy products as a way to create cost efficiencies for your hybrid cloud environment. In some cases, existing Microsoft operating systems and application licenses can be applied to Azure. Additionally, when incorporating Azure into a hybrid cloud strategy, it is possible to retire legacy technologies within a staged framework allowing for a progressive incorporation of cloud applications and services.
Choosing a Cloud Platform
Deciding how to manage technology and business assets involves some complex decisions. Part of the process includes understanding how the cloud platform you choose best fits with your organizational goals; growth, flexibility, agility, and ability to future-proof development so you can use your resources effectively. Azure is comprehensive in what it offers enterprise customers, but it also gives them the flexibility to operate in an environment that works best for IT and business frameworks, and adapt and grow as their business evolves.