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Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services: What are the differences?

​More and more organisations are switching to a public cloud service to manage their infrastructure, platforms and software. If you are considering a move to the public cloud, it is good to think in advance about which of the three major cloud providers would best suit your organisation.

Outsourcing the management of your IT infrastructure to an external party is an attractive option for many organisations. You usually pay such a provider a monthly fee to manage and maintain your hardware. Another big advantage is scalability: if you are growing fast or things are slowing down, you can add or remove capacity in an instant. That makes the public cloud particularly attractive for start-ups.

There is no need to switch completely to the cloud overnight. Many organisations still take a hybrid approach, combining solutions in a public cloud with their own data centre.

There are many providers of public cloud services, but the market is dominated by three major players: Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Amazon Web Services. They have many similarities, but there are also subtle differences.

Let’s start with the similarities: all three offer storage and backup in the cloud, where you pay for what you use. All three platforms also offer solutions for infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). Additional functions like containers and artificial intelligence are also available from all three. So what sets them apart from each other?

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft was not quick to embrace public cloud services, but it has made up for lost time. Azure is known for its speed and the solid capabilities for hybrid cloud management. And, of course, Microsoft already has a foothold in many organisations because of its software. Microsoft 365 offers all the familiar office applications and more, and it will not surprise you that this suite works well with Azure, as software as a service (SaaS). Microsoft 365 certainly does not interact poorly with the other cloud providers, but Azure is the obvious choice for many ‘Microsoft organisations’.

However, setting up the Azure infrastructure is no easy task, partly due to the overwhelming range of services. Furthermore, configuring virtual servers, building apps and managing storage and databases involves a slightly different approach than you are used to in a non-cloud environment.

Google Cloud Platform

Of the three major public cloud platforms, Google is the least comprehensive. That means that its range of services is somewhat more limited, but Google offers more than enough for many organisations. Particularly for start-ups that do not yet have extensive infrastructure management, Google's platform can be the right choice. Setting up the infrastructure is a little more intuitive and straightforward than with the other two providers.

Like Microsoft, Google also offers a suite of office software that is fully cloud-based. And Google is a master in the fields of data analysis and artificial intelligence. Although the other two providers also provide services in these areas, Google’s lead may be the deciding factor. Finally, of the three major providers, Google is the most cost-effective for most companies.

Amazon Web Services

Of the big three, Amazon has by far the most experience in offering cloud services. The online shopping giant started doing so back in 2006, and the range of options for compute power, databases, storage and other functions is simply overwhelming. It is an especially good choice for larger organisations that use many of these types of services, especially since it offers a multitude of functions for developers.

The sheer volume of options and cloud services can also make it difficult to see the forest for the trees. As with Azure, cloud expertise is indispensable for setting up, developing and managing their services. Amazon does not offer its own SaaS solution for office tasks, but running third-party software is not a problem.

(No) choice overload

Although each cloud provider has its own speciality and history, the three services are increasingly converging. That means you can’t really go wrong with any of them. Amazon Web Services offers an almost inexhaustible number of options, and it’s particularly suitable for larger organisations that also develop a lot of their own software. Microsoft Azure is also a major player from a trusted supplier. And Google Cloud Platform is especially (but not exclusively) suitable for cloud-native companies that are growing rapidly.

All three providers offer affordable introductory prices. Ultimately, you will choose one of the three and stay with that choice for a long time. That’s why it’s advisable to learn enough about them or consult a cloud specialist.