AWS vs Azure vs GCP: getting to the cloud

Cloud adoption is happening at a rapid pace these days. With a global pandemic raging, the cloud is only gaining more steam. Disasters always drive home the urgency of readiness and responsiveness. One of our clients experienced this firsthand during a recent hurricane that ravaged their systems. Luckily, they had already started migrating to the cloud and were in a good place to ramp back up. Today’s global health pandemic threatens a workforce of maintenance engineers, which could impact the response times and the robustness of our systems. Many of the customers we’ve talked to in recent weeks are exploring their cloud options to protect themselves now and guard themselves against future uncertainties. 

Remember when most cloud vendors’ consoles had only a handful of options? Nowadays, they look more like aircraft panels. So many options, so many price brackets, so much choice! It only adds to the confusion. How do we know if we are making a correct decision?

When it comes to cloud options, the ones that offer the most value across the board are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). How do you choose one over the other? How do you maintain sanity while making these decisions? 

There are many articles out there that offer feature-by-feature comparisons of these cloud options. However, when it comes down to making an actual choice, it can still feel like you’re splitting hairs. 

So what’s your type?

Your penchant for picking one or the other might depend on your type of business or industry. AWS has been around the longest and is clearly a more mature platform. However, if you are in the eCommerce industry, you may not prefer to use a platform peddled by a large competitor. Amazon’s portfolio keeps growing into more industries, so even if that’s not a concern you have now, it could become one tomorrow. Principles play a part when it comes to major business decisions. 

Microsoft’s Azure is almost right up there in terms of features, but if you compete with any of their products, their platform could become disqualified. However, Microsoft knows how to play the enterprise game. Their hybrid cloud support is stellar and a lot more first-class as compared to others. It may help companies to ease into the Cloud. If you are on a legacy Microsoft technology that you can’t move away from yet, you are likely to find more support for them in Azure than anywhere else. 

What’s the most reliable?

When it comes to reliability, AWS is the clear winner. The last major outage AWS had was in February of 2017, as compared to Azure, which experienced a major outage in May 2019. GCP also went down as recently as November of 2019. Gartner research acknowledges the superior reliability of AWS in their comprehensive cloud vendor report.

Down to the bottom line ($)

Eventually, most decisions come down to cost. Moving to a cloud platform could save you a ton of money. With cloud, you can move your data center costs from capital expenditure (fixed costs) to operational expenditure. Operational expenditure can be deducted from the revenue, as this article explains. Whenever we kick off a project for our clients, we’ll talk to them about cloud options (if they haven’t moved to the cloud already). It can save them a lot of money and headaches. From this perspective, the choice between the vendors is of lesser importance than the move to the cloud itself.

However, head-to-head cost comparison does give an edge to AWS. Amazon has continuously been optimizing their platform—as have their competitors—but have had a nice head start. Because of that, they can push the cost savings to the customer more aggressively. Others have to keep up with the aggressive rate cuts for the most part. 

The rate is not the only thing that impacts the cost—you have to be smart about controlling your own costs. You can take a cheaply priced resource, but if you incorrectly size it, you lose out on the rate cut advantage. For example, if you’re using a medium instance but your usage is not that much. This could be handled by a small instance, and if you never change that, you’ll end up wasting dollars for the extra power. 

The choice between reserved, on-demand, or spot can also impact your price. Blindly choosing an on-demand instance could mean even more dollar spend. This way, you can completely squander away the price advantage. Right-sizing everything for your needs is critical. The beauty in the cloud is that you can experiment with it easily until you hit the “Goldilocks Zone”— unlike on-prem infrastructure. So how do you migrate and realize cost savings in the cloud? We’ll take a look at that process in our next posts. 

Getting off the ground

The urgency to move to the cloud is dialing up. Don’t get stuck in a decision-making rut, just get there. Instead of asking which cloud to choose, we should ask, “How do I save costs as quickly as possible?” When we look at this that way, it starts becoming a little clearer. Migrating to any reliable cloud platform is a lot more crucial than choosing which one. 

At the moment, it’s really down to a two-horse race between AWS and Azure in terms of feature reliability, cost, and platform maturity. Nobody should fault you for choosing either. If you have a legacy .NET application and you feel comfortable with Microsoft technologies, then, sure, stick with them. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if you are interested in cutting-edge ideas like Google Spanner, which challenges CAP theorem itself, you may want to consider GCP.

If you are just getting started in the cloud, I would recommend beginning with AWS—even if you’re already working with Microsoft tech. The two reasons are the cost savings and reliability. Start small, experiment with it, and ramp up the migration as you see fit. If anything goes wrong or doesn’t work as expected, you can discard and go to other vendors. This way, you can realize the cost savings a lot faster than you would by conducting a time-consuming upfront analysis…which may never conclude.

By embracing this experimental mindset and agile approach, many of the fastest-adopters are ending up with multiple clouds. These companies are choosing the right tool for the right problem, as seeing results fast. So, your ultimate decision may not be an “either-or”—but a commitment to begin that journey and start realizing value.

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