Alibaba Cloud vs AWS: Which Gives You More Value?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020
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Having more than 40% of the market share for cloud computing at the end of 2019, Amazon’s AWS is still at the fore-front of the industry, but the percentage has been steadily decreasing over the past few years. Why is AWS losing ground? The answer lies with services like Alibaba Cloud, which have been growing at an impressive rate.

Still, the question remains: Can Alibaba Cloud face off against a giant like AWS or does it need more time to develop, both in terms of technology and in terms of global outreach, before such a comparison begins to make sense? Let’s take a closer look to find out.

Services and Pricing

As far as the range of services is concerned, Alibaba Cloud makes a worthwhile opponent for Amazon’s AWS. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find a product that AWS has on offer, but that Alibaba doesn’t. This is even more impressive when you consider the head start that Amazon had in the industry.

Both AWS and Alibaba Cloud offer standard cloud computing services, referred to as EC2 and ECS, respectively. In addition, both provide cloud storage solutions (object, block, and “cold” or archive), a content delivery network (or CDN), a container service (dubbed Fargate in the case of AWS), database management, big data platforms, and serverless computing (called Lambda and Cloud Function Computing, respectively). In other words, whatever cloud-based service you need, you’re likely to find solutions with both providers.

But what about pricing? Is AWS, given its leading industry position, able to give you a better deal? Not really. Although AWS is constantly striving to decrease its prices, it’s smaller services like Alibaba Cloud that are hungrier for a larger market share and therefore willing to advertise products at very low costs.

Given that both AWS and Alibaba Cloud have dozens of different instances for specific needs and locations, you have to request personalized quotes from both providers to get an exact price comparison. However, we can look at two similar instances to get a rough estimate of which provider is likely to cost you less.

For example, Alibaba’s Linux-based, 2 vCPU core + 2GB RAM plan will set you back approximately $13 a month if you choose to pay on a subscription basis. To get the same resources for 720 hours in a month with AWS, you have to pay just above $15. In addition, Alibaba throws in 60GB of SSD storage for free on this specific plan, which makes it the more affordable alternative by far.

It is, however, worth noting that if you prefer to Pay-As-You-Go and you use your cloud resources for less than 500 hours in a month, AWS tends to be cheaper. Then again, it’s also worth mentioning that, for the past few years, Alibaba’s strategy has been to advertise highly advantageous offers and promotions for its services in order to draw more clients away from AWS and other competitors. At this point in time, for example, the plan I’ve just mentioned earlier goes for just $11 with Alibaba Cloud.

Global Coverage and Reliability

You might be wondering: since Alibaba Cloud compares so well against a giant like AWS, how come you haven’t heard about it so far? Well, you’re not the only one. Although Alibaba Cloud started out just a few years after Amazon’s AWS, the company focused primarily on Asia, where it quickly became an industry staple in cloud computing. For most of the Western market, however, Alibaba is still relatively new.

With 57 availability zones divided into 19 regions that span across six continents, AWS continues to have better coverage than Alibaba. Nevertheless, Alibaba is quickly gaining ground on AWS in terms of its global infrastructure. Over the past few years, the company has made considerable efforts to expand on its 9 mainland China regions and now operates in 48 zones and 18 regions around the world.

AWS also has a slight advantage when it comes to uptime guarantees. Both AWS and Alibaba Cloud back their uptime guarantees in a Service Level Agreement (SLA), but while AWS promises 99.99% uptime, Alibaba Cloud sticks to just 99.95%. However, this is by no means a sizeable difference and both services have uptime records that are well above the industry average.

Advanced Security Features

AWS and Alibaba Cloud are two services that take security very seriously. Both come with a number of standard features, including a proprietary web application firewall, malware removal software, malicious traffic filtering, and automatic backups.

In addition, Amazon has an excellent data protection service, which provides encryption for all of your cloud-based data and traffic, as well as protection against unauthorized access. With AWS Identity Services, you can further improve your account’s security by managing different identities, permission levels, and resource availability.

Alibaba Cloud, on the other hand, is famous for its premium Anti-DDoS software and infrastructure. Where most services offer protection only against DDoS attacks of a certain magnitude, Alibaba Cloud is able to provide global protection thanks to its Global Traffic Scrubbing policies. Whenever you are subject to a DDoS attack, malicious traffic is redirected to scrubbing centres that are closest to the source so that the availability of your services is not affected.

A Tough Call to Make at This Point in Time

Both AWS and Alibaba Cloud continue to make important changes to their cloud-based offers, which is why it can be difficult to predict which of the two will be better in the near future. As things stand today, Alibaba Cloud is an excellent, more affordable alternative to Amazon’s AWS.

Most cloud-based serviced provided by AWS are also part of Alibaba’s portfolio and at a lower cost. The only real drawback is that Alibaba Cloud does not have a data centre in South America, which can be a problem for some users. Otherwise, there’s no reason not to take advantage of Alibaba’s excellent price offers, growing infrastructure, and advanced security features.