Microsoft vs. Amazon Clouds: 5 Key Differences

Do you understand the differences between the Microsoft Azure and Amazon EC2 cloud offerings? Dig into this breakdown of application support, portability, scalability, pricing and more.

By Kevin Fogarty
Tue, November 02, 2010

CIO — How quickly are end-user companies adopting public cloud computing platforms as a key part of their IT strategies and infrastructures? That depends on who you ask.

Spending on public cloud services is growing quickly—from 4 percent of overall IT spending in 2009 to 12 percent during 2014, a rate six times that of traditional systems, according to IDC. Gartner estimates cloud spending already accounts for 10 percent of IT spending.

Still, growth has never quite matched vendor and analyst projections, according to IDC analyst Frank Gens, whose blog posts summarizing annual surveys trace IDC's changing expectations.

Part of the reason is that cloud is designed to be a major and core part of an IT infrastructure—a role that no technology is allowed to fill without demonstrating its maturity, reliability and security, usually for several years, according to Bernard Golden, CEO of consultancy HyperStratus and a CIO.com blogger.

Cloud-computing technology is still relatively immature, though developing quickly, and has not been around in a stable form long enough for most CIOs to be able to be comfortable saying cloud as a category or a particular provider's service makes sense for his or her company, according to Sean Hackett, a research director at The 451 Group.

At the individual IT project level, however, many developers are doing projects using public cloud technology like Amazon's, in some cases without the CIO ever knowing—until the cost shows up on an expense report, Golden points out. (See Golden's recent blog, The Truth About What Runs on Amazon.)

The difference between even the best-known services—Microsoft's (MSFT) Azure and Amazon's EC2—aren't well understood by most potential customers, Hackett says.

1. Focus on PaaS vs. IaaS

While analysts and vendors acknowledge the endless discussion of what constitutes "cloud" computing and its various flavors can get tiring, the differences between Azure and EC2 are important, Golden says.

Azure can be classified as Platform as a Service (PaaS): a cloud model that offers hardware, operating systems and application-support, effectively offering a virtual server on which to load software, which can be accessed and managed through a Web browser.

Microsoft last week blurred the boundaries between IaaS and PaaS by adding the ability for developers to run Windows Server 2008 R2 instances on Azure, theoretically making applications portable between the customer data center and Microsoft cloud platform.

[ What has Microsoft CIO Tony Scott learned while using Azure for the past two years? See CIO.com's recent article, Microsoft CIO Eats His Own Cloud Dog Food. ]

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