AWS vs Azure vs Google Cloud: What's the best cloud platform for enterprise?

It's the defining cloud battle of our time: AWS vs Microsoft Azure vs Google Cloud Platform. Who can win the IaaS enterprise market? Computerworld takes a look at the merits of the big three vendors

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Other major customers include: AstraZeneca, NewsCorp, AirBnB, Aon, Channel 4, Financial Times, Dow Jones, Kurt Geiger, Lonely Planet, Nasdaq, Nike, Nisa Retail, Pfizer, and the Royal Opera House. A full list of AWS customers can be seen here.

Microsoft perhaps has fewer high-profile Azure users, with most of the messaging from the vendor appearing to be around its widely used software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools. But the Redmond firm has also notched up some notable customer wins such as Pearson, Ford, NBC News and Easyjet, to name but a few.

One of Microsoft's highest profile customer wins came late in 2019, when it sealed the hugely controversial deal for the $10 billion US Department of Defence (DoD) Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure contract – known as JEDI – which AWS continues to dispute

Google hasn't quite had the same level of enterprise success thus far, but has notched up some key wins in recent years, especially when the streaming giant Spotify completed an all-in migration to GCP in the summer of 2018. UK bank HSBC has also opted for Google Cloud for its analytics and machine learning capabilities. However, HSBC is taking a clear multi-cloud approach, partnering with all three providers for different workloads.

AWS pros and cons

As mentioned before, the reasons for picking one vendor over another will differ for each customer. But there are aspects of the competing clouds that will offer benefits in certain circumstances.

The breadth and depth of the AWS offering is seen as a plus for AWS.

Read next: The history of AWS: A timeline of 12 defining moments from 2002 to now

AWS had a head start on the competition, building out its suite of cloud services since 2006. All of these are built to be enterprise-friendly so that they will appeal to CIOs as well as its core audience of developers.

The vendor ranks highly on platform configuration options, monitoring and policy features, security and reliability. Its partner ecosystem and general product strategy are also seen as market leading, and its AWS Marketplace has a large number of third-party software services.

This is backed up by Gartner's 2019 IaaS global Magic Quadrant, which states: "Enterprises using AWS benefit from the early adopters, which help to push new technologies into the mainstream, derisking such services and making them easier to consume and manage as a result."

However, one area AWS falls short to some degree is with its hybrid cloud strategy, where it has tended to be dismissive of the benefits of on-premise private clouds. As outlined above, the vendor is slowly coming around to the idea though.

Another downside to AWS is the scale of its offering. While having these options to pick from is attractive, it can also be difficult navigate the large numbers of features that are on offer, and some see AWS as being a complex vendor to manage.

Despite being broadly positive about AWS as the market leading cloud provider, Gartner does highlight that certain enterprises may not want to line the pockets of Amazon, as the giant parent company continues to expand and compete in a growing array of industries, such as healthcare and financial services.

"The boards of directors for companies in potentially threatened verticals have directed their IT organisations to avoid the use of AWS where possible," the report states. "This may ultimately limit AWS’s success in some verticals, and may impact the associated ecosystem. IT leaders in these verticals should consider a contingency plan for board-level directives."

Microsoft Azure pros and cons

The big pull for Azure is where Microsoft already has a strong footing within an organisation and can easily play a role in helping those companies transition to the cloud. Azure naturally links well with key Microsoft on-premise systems such as Windows Server, System Center and Active Directory.

According to a survey of 100 senior IT executives by Goldman Sachs in January 2020, 56 said they preferred Azure versus 48 who opted for AWS.

"Enterprises that are strategically committed to Microsoft technology generally choose Azure as their primary IaaS+PaaS provider," as Gartner put it in its 2019 IaaS global Magic Quadrant. "Microsoft is leveraging its tremendous sales reach and ability to co-sell Azure with other Microsoft products and services in order to drive adoption."

Microsoft has also become increasingly open to open source technologies, with around half of its workloads now running on Linux.

One of the downsides, however, has been a series of outages over the years, including a major global outage in May 2019. Gartner analyst Lydia Leong has recommended considering disaster recovery capabilities away from Azure for critical applications hosted in the cloud. AWS isn't immune to downtime, but suffered its last major outage in 2017, and Google Cloud last had a major outage of its own in November 2019.

Gartner also cautions: "Enterprises frequently lament the quality of Microsoft technical support (along with the increasing cost of support) and field solution architects. This negatively impacts customer satisfaction, and slows Azure adoption and therefore customer spending."

Google Cloud Platform pros and cons

Google has a good track record with innovative cloud-native companies and has a solid standing in the open source community, but has traditionally struggled to break into the enterprise market.

As Gartner puts it, Google Cloud generally appeals to certain buyers thanks to its strengths in "big data and other analytics applications, machine learning projects, cloud-native applications, or other applications optimised for cloud-native operations."

Its go-to-market strategy has been focused on proving itself on smaller, innovative projects at large organisations, rather than becoming a strategic cloud partner. Increasing the breadth of its partnerships and supporting pre-cloud businesses and IT processes will need to become focus areas if it wants to attract more traditional enterprises.

This is something that new CEO Thomas Kurian has clearly been keen to change since taking over in 2018.

"We have a clear vision of what we want to offer customers in a number of industries who are going through digital transformation," he said on stage during his first Google Cloud Next conference in June 2019. "We want to give them global scale, distributed, secure infrastructure; a digital transformation platform that that helps people build innovative digital transformation solutions, and then, industry specific-capability for digital transformation in a number of industries."

Read next: New Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian lays out his vision for the vendor

Gartner recognises these shortcomings in its 2019 Magic Quadrant: "Google demonstrates an immaturity of process and procedures when dealing with enterprise accounts, which can make the company difficult to transact with at times. This can be attributed to its nascent focus on the enterprise market. The immaturity of process is most pronounced in areas such as contract negotiation, discounting, independent software vendor (ISV) licensing, integration with enterprise systems and support."

"Google’s overall enterprise coverage from a field sales and solutions perspective is behind its competitors. Further, enterprises often lament about Google’s inability to craft appropriate solutions for enterprise requirements when engaging with solution architects."

That being said: "Google is aggressively targeting these shortcomings," the analyst house added.

It is also worth noting that Google has the smallest footprint of global instances of the big three and also has no presence in one of the world's biggest markets: China. AWS and Azure on the other hand have regions in mainland China, which are owned and operated by Chinese third-party partners Beijing Sinnet Technology, NWDC and 21Vianet, respectively.

Verdict

In very broad terms, AWS continues to lead the way in terms of offering the widest range of functionality and maturity. It continues to be the clear market leader, but the gap is closing.

Its expansive list of tools and services, along with its enterprise-friendly features make it a strong proposition for large organisations. Meanwhile its huge and continuously growing infrastructure provides economies of scale that enable aggressive price cuts.

But it appears that Microsoft has started to bridge the gap between the two, and will continue to do so with its ongoing investment in building out the Azure cloud platform and further plans to strengthen ties with its on-premise software.

For organisations already heavily invested in Microsoft in terms of technology and developer skills – of which there are undoubtedly many – Microsoft Azure will continue to be a strong proposition.

Then there is Google, which could prove a more serious enterprise competitor under its new leadership. It was already making good progress with certain customers, especially with its Kubernetes and machine learning expertise, but has much more work to do to prove itself a viable enterprise option.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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