AWS vs Azure: Which Is Best for Small Businesses?

Tuesday, June 23, 2020
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Companies big and small are increasingly reliant on cloud infrastructure. And why wouldn’t they be? With leviathans like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google expanding their networks, cloud platforms have become much better than on-premise solutions. You can save money, be able to scale faster, and benefit from increased resource flexibility, not to mention superior computing power.

Although Amazon’s AWS has been around for a while longer, Microsoft’s Azure has made great strides ever since its launch. With such a dominant share of the market, as well as a significant head start, few expected AWS to be challenged by anyone, let alone by Microsoft.

The fact of the matter is that AWS isn’t always better, especially when it comes to small businesses. In this cloud hosting comparison, I’m going to take a closer look at Azure and AWS from the perspective of small business clients.

Cost-Effectiveness and Pricing Model

Let’s start with the thorniest issue of them all: cost. In a global financial context that was already bound for recession, COVID-19 amplified the underlying issues. In turn, many organizations had to restructure, scale down, and even suspend activity.

As such, overheads have become something of a pressing matter, even more so than before. When it comes to cloud infrastructure, is AWS or Azure more cost-effective for small businesses? The short answer is Azure.

Microsoft is really pushing for the growing business segment with affordable cloud solutions. A couple of years ago, Azure services were up to 5 times cheaper than similar configurations on AWS. Although the difference is not as stark today, Azure is still more cost-effective than Amazon. Aside from cheaper services, you also benefit from free extended security updates, as well as a generous Hybrid benefit program.

Azure’s Hybrid Benefit program can help save serious amounts of money across the board for companies that already use MS software.

What does it involve? Well, if your organization runs Windows Server or SQL Server licenses with Software Assurance, you’ll be eligible for major discounts when you transition into the cloud. The savings are as follows:

   • up to 40% on Azure virtual machines (VMs).

   • up to 55% the Azure SQL Database.

   • up to 80% if you also opt for reserved instances.

On the other hand, AWS also stepped up its rebate game. More recently, the cloud platform introduced Savings Plans. Basically, if you decide to reserve a certain amount of resources for a given time, you can secure much better prices (up to 72% cheaper!). The downside is that you have to sign-up for one- or three-year terms.

If you don’t mind reserving your resources for long periods of time, AWS’s Savings Plans are no different than Azure’s reserved instance discount, which, by the way, is slightly better in value. It’s also worth mentioning that both services have generous free tiers. I advise you use these to test both clouds and get a better understanding of which would work best for your circumstances.

Still, the whole point of cloud is that you can use things on-demand and save money for what you don’t. Overall, I have to admit that Azure is still more affordable (much more if you also have Software Assurance licenses) than AWS.

Collaborative Work and Application Integration

What about integration with other apps and infrastructures? As a small business, being able to leverage existing processes and machines will make the transition easier and save you money without disrupting the current workflows.

There’s a reason why more than 95% of Fortune 500 companies work with Azure in one way or another and that’s Microsoft’s compatibility with businesses in general. With the most comprehensive compliance portfolio among all the cloud platforms, Azure can greatly speed up the process of getting your organization certified regardless of industry.

Beyond business-ready solutions, Azure’s growth was powered by the underlying infrastructure flexibility. With it, you can easily integrate and manage on-premises machines, edge computing, as well as other clouds. The best part is that you can then build and expand your IoT using this unified platform.

Through Azure’s Integration Services, you can assimilate your current workflows and infrastructure and coordinate everything from one place. Advanced features such as Logic Apps, Event Grid, and the Service Bus can help you automate entire business functions, such as taking an order, sending email and/or notification to the right people, adding it to someone’s to-do list, and so on.

For the longest period of time, AWS was a no-go in terms of such hybrid solutions. This meant that companies had to work completely through its cloud and with its services. As opposed to using what was already there, which is possible with Azure, Amazon forced companies to rebuild everything around it.

From many perspectives, AWS is still breaking ground on the hybrid cloud front, but it’s trailing behind Microsoft quite a bit. A lot of small businesses already use Office 365, Teams, Visual Basic, and Windows, and the fact that Azure can easily integrate information from this software remains an attractive proposition.

Both AWS and Azure have a series of collaborative tools to help organizations work better. From online meetings and video conferences to sharing business information, documents, and even calendar services, the basics are there in both cases.

However, Azure’s Boards are much easier to work with. You can use built-in scrum boards to track work, design workflows, and even customize your dashboard to visually represent meaningful data for you and your team.

If collaboration and app integration are your priority, Azure is likely to be a better fit for your small business than AWS. Even though AWS still has more services, it is very unlikely that your growing enterprise won’t find an Azure counterpart to work with.

Support

What if you need support for your cloud infrastructure? Azure is (yet again) more cost-effective than AWS, since the plans are based on a flat monthly rate. With AWS, support pricing is tied-in to monthly usage, so it’s likely that you’ll be paying more than you should.

Unfortunately, AWS does not have a basic support service that’s available to all clients, free of charge. On Azure’s free tier, you can submit as many tickets as you need, set personalized health alerts and notifications, as well as benefit from billing and subscription management support.

At the highest level of support, Amazon will charge you a baseline of $15,000 or 10% of AWS usage costs (whichever is higher). You do get discounts for AWS usage that exceeds $150,000, $500,000, and $1 million respectively, but (in most industries) these costs go beyond SME territory.

A Clear Winner: Azure

Azure wins across the board in this cloud comparison for small businesses. It’s not only easier to use and more cost-effective, but you’ll likely benefit from even more discounts if your enterprise is already using Microsoft software.

Azure is a platform for which hybrid infrastructures feel at home, since it was designed to address these use-cases in the first place. Microsoft is also the leading cloud platform in terms of business compliance. This isn’t to say that you can’t achieve the right certifications with AWS (or GCP, for that matter), but Azure is likely to get there faster and for less money.

Keep in mind that this is not a complete comparison, by any means. There are circumstances in which AWS might be a better fit. For instance, even though Azure has made great progress, AWS continues to offer more machine learning tools and out-of-the-box solutions for niche use-cases.

Ultimately, the best cloud will be the one that best matches your workflows, budget, and needs. My only contention is that if AWS emerges as your ideal platform, you should be prepared to pay for it.