Perfect Image’s Cloud expert, Paul Anderson, explains the major differences between Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services and what it means for businesses considering the upgrade from an on premise to a hybrid or cloud infrastructure.

Moving to the Cloud from Physical Servers

What do businesses wanting to move from their existing on premise servers need to consider?

Companies are still stuck on the fact that they don’t have to replace their physical server, but they don’t realise it might die at any time. Nowadays, companies reach a crossroads on whether to sweat their assets, re-invest in hardware or evaluate what the cloud can offer. Normally on a hardware side you would be trying to replace things every 3 years, 5 at most, because beyond this, the server hasn’t got maintenance anymore and components are going to fail.

What they have to understand is risk.

It is important to note that cloud is not always the best value proposition for all businesses and here at Perfect Image we recognise this and work with the customer to achieve their objectives. We have also seen a large adoption of hybrid cloud or companies using cloud storage for backup and disaster recovery purposes.

Summary: Physical servers need to be replaced every 3 years ideally, but companies are risking all of their data and information to remain with a “cheap” physical server that may let them down at any time.

What are the differences in uptime between Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services?

When the services have had downtime across the year you would always find that AWS have had less downtime than Microsoft have on their services and it’s purely because the model is more mature and they have had time to tune it. They know what services are running and how to keep those handy and available. It’s probably important to know that with both cloud services the downtime is minimal so you’re still getting 99.9999% – really high levels of availability.

Summary: Availability is high, sometimes higher than for physical servers, however AWS have slightly less downtime as they are the more established cloud provider.

IaaS: Third party provides and manages a scalable, automated cloud infrastructure in an on-demand, PAYG model.

PaaS: Provides a cloud platform for rapid and cost effective customisation and development of applications.

SaaS: On-demand software hosted, licensed, managed and deployed on a subscription basis by a third party.

Differences Between the Cloud Providers

Which cloud provider is right for me?

We’ve always pitched it as one or the other and it’s not a case of that. It’s a case of understanding your requirements as a customer; what you need to do, what you have that exists in your current workload or environment, how you work. Then it might be that is one complete solution, or it might be a mixture.

We have customers who have used AWS as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) but still they used Microsoft o365 as Software as a Service (SaaS). There’s a modern world of Multicloud where people are using a selection of services from every cloud offering and picking what works best for them together into one solution.

Summary: A Multicloud solution may benefit your company to get the best features for your company from each provider.

What is Multicloud?

Spreading your apps between cloud platforms depending on who has better offerings for particular services. This can be difficult to do independently whilst maintaining different workloads across the different platforms.

Six out of ten UK companies now use more than one cloud provider.

What are the integration options for businesses with pre-existing Microsoft licences?

The big thing with Azure in terms of what they want to push is that people with Microsoft licences already have their foot in the door with services such as o365, because that naturally leads into Azure as they might already be using Azure Active Directory without even noticing.

For AWS, you can run something like an Amazon EC2 instance and you have a choice of Bring Your Own Licence (BYOL) or having the license bundled in with your monthly bill for EC2. It’s not that AWS can’t integrate, it’s just not as simple as if you have Microsoft technologies.

Summary: If you have existing Microsoft licences, they can be transitioned over to whichever cloud provider you decide on, the only thing that will vary is the difficulty in doing this – and either way, an expert can do it for you.

Storage

What do the cloud providers offer in terms of storage?

In AWS, you buy an amount of storage, and you pay for it at a monthly rate where it might go slightly up and down depending on exchange rates etc. Azure have an offering where you can allocate an amount of storage, but you’re only paying for the amount you use.

The difference from a performance perspective is that AWS offer Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) volumes and as standard they come with Solid State Drive (SSD) storage which is fast and has better performance. Standard storage from Azure offers SSDs but it doesn’t offer the on demand storage that comes with standard volumes.

It’s not an assessment of which is better or worse, it is what’s better for your use case and what you’re actually trying to achieve.

Summary: Azure is better for savings of on-demand services but it isn’t on the same level as AWS for performance. AWS has a cost model that can fluctuate, sometimes for the worse, but offer EBS volumes that are fast with better performance.

Handy Storage Guide

Amazon EBS: Provides block storage volumes to use with Amazon EC2 instances. Automatically replicated within its Availability Zone.

Standard volumes: The basic offering, appropriate for everyday storage system needs.

SSD storage: More efficient, fast and cost effective for smaller storage.

Hybrid

What are Microsoft Azure and Amazon’s approaches to hybrid?

Microsoft Azure has always had a strong approach on hybrid cloud and marketed this from the beginning. Microsoft recently announced Azure Stack which allows customers to run Azure services on their own physical infrastructure.

AWS have slowly reacted to the hybrid demand from customers. Connectivity services such as VPN and DirectConnect have always been available but now you see investment in services such as RDS migration tools, schema conversion, and more notably a big push on the AWS MarketPlace to promote partners and vendors who provide the tools and software to assist with the demands of hybrid cloud.

Summary: Both cloud providers are working hard to deliver solid hybrid offerings and it has never been a better time to move into cloud services – even if you want some services to remain on-prem.

Handy Hybrid Guide

AWS DirectConnect: Establishes a network connection between your premise to an AWS region to enable cloud services.

Azure Stack: Allows for PaaS, serverless computers and other cloud services to be run on premise as part of a hybrid cloud model.

RDS migration tools: To migrate, capture and replicate data to open-source databases.

Schema conversion: Converts database schema/custom code into a compatible format for the target database.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

Are availability zones offered as part of their business continuity options?

AWS public cloud infrastructure is set up with Availability Zones. When you set up services you get the option to use one of those availability zones in your region, so immediately you’ve got high availability by doing that.

Microsoft, instead, uses regions and that does not guarantee that each region will have multiple datacentres. It’s a fundamental difference in the two cloud providers and to achieve a level of cross datacentre high availability with Microsoft Azure, you need to use regional replication and this can prove expensive.

Summary: AWS provide solid business continuity options as standard, whereas with Azure it will cost to replicate data between regions.

What are Availability Zones?

Availability Zones are groups of data centres that are based in different locations, linked together with a strong network backbone. If disaster strikes, the data is replicated in a separate location for quick recovery and minimal downtime.

Security is more robust with the cloud and geographically separate servers. If something happens to a physical server, data is lost – or a huge investment must be made to back data up in a separate datacentre.

Do I Need Multi Factor Authentication?

This is where Microsoft have the advantage as Azure has a natural connection with MFA. Azure’s MFA is compatible with most. It adds another level of security.

Amazon haven’t got a service like that, so you often have to rely on integrating with an Azure MFA. We do have customers where we’ve done that in the past.

Summary: Azure comes as standard with MFA – a secure and robust security feature – whereas Amazon don’t have an equivalent, so you may end up using Azure’s MFA anyway.

What is Multi Factor Authentication?

It provides a second layer of authentication, so you log into a server using a username and password, but use an app to generate a constantly changing code to use on top of that.

What can Perfect Image do to assist with security of a new cloud environment?

Where we add the value is with patch management, security and compliance, we offer a support function, backup solutions and data protection to make sure your data is encrypted and backed up. We also provide a unique monitoring system that we can integrate with AWS and Azure and we can also monitor things at a hardware level and an operating system level, as well as cloud services, so it’s a solution that can monitor everything.

For existing cloud infrastructures we can provide them with a report, and give them best practices and guidelines and remediate things that are required as part of the report. It also can recommend cost savings as well, and the breakdown of that can be quite detailed. There are so many services that you can be doing things without realising that you’ve created a cost.

Summary: For new cloud infrastructures, we can support with security, compliance and monitor your systems – whether that is AWS or Azure or both – and for existing cloud platforms we can audit the environment and find where security may be lacking, where costs could be saved, or areas that need to be improved.

Cost

What are the costs for AWS and Azure?

You’re getting to that level with on demand services where on the AWS side you can pay by the hour but for Microsoft you can pay by the minute. If you’re operational from 9am to 5pm, why pay for 24 hours? That’s one of the main benefits of cloud technology as whole, and where people can make a lot of cost savings if they don’t need 24/7 services.

There’s a general shift from the financial control way of more operational costs as opposed to Capex. Now the only upfront cost is the time our consultants and engineers spend actually designing and creating a solution that will work and any support costs. However, the actual running of the environment will be dynamic based on what you actually use and require.

Summary: Depending on how your business runs, it may be more financially beneficial to invest in AWS for hourly rates, or Microsoft for a by-minute rate. Instead of Capex, cloud services are now based on a monthly subscription model.

Expert Opinion

What personally do you like best about the cloud and what it can provide to businesses?

For me it’s all about the constant innovation and introduction of new services. The world of DevOps mixed with PaaS and SaaS offerings means that time to market is reduced, consistency is provided and you have a model that is repeatable.

The competitive edge between AWS and Azure means that the customer always wins, whether that be cost reduction, innovation or provision of service. Both are constantly evolving their portfolio to meet the requirements of customers and demands of the modern world.

What do you see coming in the future of the cloud?

We have already seen an evolution here. SaaS services now appear to have become the norm, replacing what was historically software installed on servers with complex licensing and putting demand on IT providers to update, patch and upgrade on a regular basis. Often this would require downtime and frustrate end users or IT staff having to work evening and weekends to complete.

About Paul Anderson – Service Delivery Manager – Cloud Expert

Paul Anderson has worked for Perfect Image since 2014 when he started at the infancy of our cloud journey as an Infrastructure Engineer. He has since achieved professional certifications in cloud technologies, delivered solutions as a senior engineer, and has lead a team of engineers in the end to end delivery of both AWS and Azure. More recently, Paul has taken up a new role in the business as Service Delivery Manager to ensure that our existing and prospective customers are getting the best possible service and support from the team.

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Perfect Image’s Cloud Expertise

Perfect Image has in depth experience of designing, implementing and managing cloud infrastructure. We are a certified Amazon Web Services Consulting Partner, and are part of the Microsoft Partner Network with a Gold Cloud Solutions competency which demonstrates the top tier of experience, ability and expertise of Microsoft and their products.

We are independent cloud consultants who create end to end solutions to improve your whole business, not just your cloud infrastructure. We have the ability to integrate current platforms and licences that complement your cloud system and boost the performance of your whole business.

Our skilled consultants and engineers have the expertise to assist any business in finding efficiency and cost savings from the adoption of cloud and cloud related systems, and our managed services support to facilitate the correct solution into your business as a Capex or Opex (Pay as you Go) Utility decision.

What can I do now?

Contact us for a cloud consultation

If you would like to know more about upgrading your system to a cloud-hosted infrastructure, please complete our Free Cloud Consultation Request; call us on 0800 996 1833 or send us an email. Our friendly, approachable experts can review your systems and find innovative ways to optimise your business. Find out how a cloud system could bridge the gap between how you currently work, and how you want to work by getting in touch with us today.