AWS vs Azure vs GCP: Choosing Between the Big Three Cloud Providers

AWS vs Azure vs GCP: Choosing Between the Big Three Cloud Providers

April 28

How can organizations optimize their cloud investment if each cloud platform has unique strengths and weaknesses? Choosing the wrong platform for a specific workload can increase operational cloud costs or significantly extend development timelines. The cloud market leaders have endeavored to position themselves as “one-size-fits-all” solutions, but is that really true?

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) combined to make up 64 percent of the global cloud market in 2021, making them the clear power players of the industry. Although there are many other established providers who offer an outstanding array of services, such as Alibaba Cloud, IBM Cloud, and Oracle Cloud, none of them come close to the market penetration of even the smallest of the big three and are widely considered as “niche” players. Amazon, Microsoft, and Google also have the advantage of being able to pour tremendous resources into bolstering the capabilities, reach, and security of their cloud platforms, which will likely allow them to remain in their position of dominance for years to come.

AWS vs Azure vs GCP

For most organizations looking to migrate some or all of their IT infrastructure to the cloud, chances are good that they will be looking at one of the top three cloud providers. Some of the world’s most prominent companies are already using these established services:

AWS Customers

  • Netflix
  • McDonalds
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • US Department of State
  • Disney

Azure Customers

  • 3M
  • Intel
  • Walgreens
  • NBC Universal
  • Verizon

GCP Customers

  • UPS
  • The Home Depot
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Target
  • Twitter

Choosing between the big three cloud providers requires organizations to closely evaluate what specialized services and capabilities their IT workloads require. While all three platforms provide some form of infrastructure and platform services, each offers a unique experience for developers and may be a better fit for certain types of organizations. 

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

As the world’s largest cloud services provider, AWS made up about a third of cloud infrastructure spending in 2021. Developed in the early 2000s, AWS is the most mature cloud platform with a wide range of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offerings, including compute, storage, networking, content delivery, and database services. That experience has also made it the recognized industry leader when it comes to cloud service quality, security, and reliability.

With its diverse solutions, AWS has the ability to service individual customers and start-ups just as well as large enterprises and government clients. The provider’s sheer scale allows it to develop new services quickly and easily manage even the most ambitious projects.

On the downside, AWS uses an inscrutable and frequently changing pricing structure that often makes it difficult for customers to accurately anticipate and manage their cloud spend following their AWS migration. The complexity of AWS infrastructure can also be overwhelming for an IT team unfamiliar with cloud architecture.

Notable AWS Strengths

  • Diversity of services
  • Supports all major operating systems (including macOS)
  • Maturity and availability
  • Capacity to handle large number of users and applications
  • Easy initial startup

Notable AWS Weaknesses

  • Higher costs and service fees
  • Resource caps
  • Steep learning curve after setup
  • Limited hybrid cloud options

Microsoft Azure

While Microsoft is best known for the Windows operating system and its productivity-oriented Office software, the company’s Azure cloud service has become a major force in the industry since it debuted in 2010. With more than 200 products and services available, Azure is currently the second largest cloud platform with a share of about 20 percent of the global cloud market. Given Microsoft’s long history of working with enterprise clients, it’s no surprise that Azure has a strong focus on serving large organizations looking to integrate their existing Microsoft tools and software.

Although Azure has a lot to offer existing Microsoft customers, it can deliver a full range of IaaS solutions for compute, storage, networking, and database management to any organization. The platform is particularly well-suited for hybrid clouds thanks to its Arc service, which can manage Kubernetes clusters across multiple environments (including AWS and Google Cloud) along with virtual machines and SQL databases.

Individual Azure services are relatively less expensive than those of competitors, but the complexity of Microsoft’s licensing, contracts, and account management structure sometimes make it difficult to keep overall costs as low as they should be.

Notable Azure Strengths

  • Easy configuration with Microsoft software
  • Built-in support for several programming languages (such as Java, Python, .Net, and PHP)
  • Low on-demand pricing
  • More redundancies for reduced downtime
  • Strong hybrid cloud support

Notable Azure Weaknesses

  • Requires ongoing management and platform expertise
  • Some documentation issues
  • Inconsistent customer support
  • Outsized focus on enterprise customers

Google Cloud Platform

It’s hard to call a cloud service offered by a trillion dollar company an underdog, but the term definitely applies to Google Cloud Platform (GCP), which ranks a distant third behind AWS and Azure with only a 10 percent share of the global cloud market. What GCP lacks in market share, however, it has been striving to make up with technical expertise and innovation. 

In addition to standard offerings like compute, storage, networking, and database services, GCP has established itself as an industry leader in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics. The platform is particularly well-suited for cloud-native businesses, developers working with containerized workloads, and organizations that already use other Google services and products. Google offers flexible contracts and a variety of discounts in an effort to build demand for GCP services and increase the platform’s market share. 

Despite its deserved reputation for innovation, GCP offers fewer cloud services overall than its competitors and lacks a number of features they provide. It has struggled to establish relationships with enterprise customers and is frequently regarded as a secondary provider for many of them. 

Notable GCP Benefits

  • Easy setup and configuration
  • Global fiber network
  • Commitment to open source solutions
  • Sustained-use discounts
  • AI and machine learning engines and analytics

Notable GCP Weaknesses

  • Limited control over virtual machines
  • Fewer overall features
  • Fewer global data centers
  • Not as enterprise-focused as other providers

Choosing the Best Provider for Your Needs

Selecting the right cloud services provider is less about determining which one is the “best” and more about understanding which one is the best “fit” for your organization. This is true whether you’re looking to execute a wholesale migration to the cloud or exploring how you can enhance your capabilities with a hybrid cloud environment. Although the big three providers are seeking to define themselves as one-stop solutions for cloud computing, every business has unique requirements and may be best suited by taking a diversified approach to the cloud.

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