Optimization Tips

What Do AWS Alternatives Have to Offer That AWS Can’t Provide Itself?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers a wider choice of services than any other IaaS provider, so why look for AWS alternatives? We investigate some of the alternatives to AWS—and the services they offer—and share our thoughts on why businesses may favor certain IaaS providers ahead of the industry leader.

According to the AWS pricing page, the world’s leading cloud services provider offers over 120 cloud services. That’s more than any other IaaS provider by a margin. However, despite the choice of services being a great selling point, it is also a factor that drives businesses to look for AWS alternatives. Why? Because the choice is overwhelming and, for many businesses moving to the cloud, it is also confusing.

Added to the overwhelming choice of services is the fact that AWS has one of the most complicated pricing structures in the industry. Take AWS instances for example. Prices are quoted for 16 different Regions and 10 operating systems. You have to bid for Spot Instances and, if you are looking to save money by purchasing Reserved Instances, there are 12 options to choose from—per instance. And this is all considering that AWS’ services and discount options are constantly changing.

Indeed, one of the major criticisms of AWS is that, in order to take full advantage of what the platform has to offer, businesses have to invest heavily in their IT team’s education. In some circumstances, businesses may have to hire experienced consultants to train their IT teams—potentially negating the benefits of moving to the cloud or delaying the benefits significantly while the IT team gets up to speed.

For some businesses it can be easier and less expensive to conduct the migration process using one of the alternatives to AWS, and then adding selected AWS services to a multi-cloud environment as the need arises. It can also be the case that existing AWS customers may want to take advantage of a service AWS is not fully up to speed with yet, or that another cloud service provider may be doing better.

What are the alternatives to AWS?

Wikipedia lists 265 “cloud computing providers” on its website. Some are duplicated inasmuch as they are owned by a larger cloud computing provider, and not every provider on the list offers a full range of IaaS services. A better source of AWS alternatives comes from Gartner, who published its “Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service” featuring six primary cloud service providers:

  • Amazon Web Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Google Cloud
  • Alibaba Cloud
  • Oracle Cloud
  • IBM Cloud

In its analysis of the six IaaS providers, Gartner suggests AWS is perceived as a “safe choice” by businesses moving to the cloud because of its maturity and position in the IaaS market. However, the analysis notes that some of AWS’ competitors have taken the provider’s services and improved them. Gartner also comments on the complexity of AWS’ services and pricing structure, stating, “AWS’ extensive portfolio of services requires expertise to implement. Customers should be aware that while it’s easy to get started, optimal use—especially keeping up with new service innovations and best practices, and managing costs—may challenge even highly agile, expert IT organizations, including AWS partners.”

What do AWS alternatives have to offer?

Each of the alternatives to AWS has strengths in specific areas that could appeal to businesses looking to move ahead in these areas. The exception to this is Alibaba Cloud, which—as yet—does not have a stand-out capability, but which is investing heavily in research and development. Alternatively, businesses may simply want to use a cloud service that is less complex to use than AWS. Of the other four AWS alternatives:

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft owes its position in the IaaS market to its heritage of working with enterprise platforms. Businesses who were already using Microsoft’s enterprise solutions found it straightforward to migrate to the Azure platform, while seasoned programmers used to developing .NET applications and Windows client applications in C# also found it a natural move.

Obviously, businesses already using Microsoft products and services found it easier to expand their IT infrastructures into the cloud with Microsoft’s cloud platform, but Microsoft Azure is also one of the easiest AWS alternatives to get started with if you’ve had no experience with Microsoft products at all. Following the release of Microsoft Azure Stack last year, the process got even simpler.

Microsoft Azure Stack brings the flexibility, agility, and scalability of the cloud to on-premises IT infrastructures. Businesses can deploy services in their data centers, in a hosting partner’s data center, or in the cloud, and remain completely in control of cost, performance, and security. In this respect, Microsoft Azure is an ideal solution for businesses looking to operate in a hybrid cloud environment.

Additionally, in 2020, Microsoft announced public preview of Azure Arc, a new service that allows users to configure and manage containerized workloads and other services like Azure SQL Database and Azure Database for PostgreSQL across their data centers, edge locations, and public clouds (including AWS and Google Cloud). Unlike AWS, Azure has always been more open to multi-cloud and hybrid cloud—offering solutions for customers who are using SaaS and PaaS solutions from any number of providers and running workloads across multiple providers’ infrastructures.

Google Cloud

The most often-quoted advantage that Google Cloud has over AWS is that it has been developed using the same technology that supports the company’s search engine, web browser, Gmail service, and many more products that integrate seamlessly with the Android mobile operating system. Consequently, Google Cloud is fast, secure, and the preferred platform for developers of Android mobile applications.

More recently, Google Cloud has become the industry leader in cloud container deployment, orchestration, and management. Not only is Google Cloud ahead in the development and release of container-related services, but Google’s container prices are lower than AWS’ or any of the alternatives to AWS, so it is worth considering on price alone.

Where Google Cloud is likely to become one the leading AWS alternatives in the future is its investment in Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI). We have already seen some examples of what ML and AI can do with the auto-suggest replies on Google’s mobile Gmail app, and what could be coming in this area of cloud computing is potentially mind-blowing.

Oracle Cloud

Oracle was a relative latecomer to the IaaS marketplace despite having developed some of the most innovative software systems for more than forty years. Indeed, AWS’ Relational Database Service (RDS) was developed by Oracle, and businesses using Oracle’s enterprise solutions have also been able to easily integrate them into the Microsoft Azure Cloud.

There is a point of view that Oracle should continue developing innovative software systems and leave the IaaS space alone, but since the company entered the market, it has reported year-on-year cloud subscriptions increasing by a wider margin each year. Gartner attributes this growth to a well-designed platform with a thoughtful selection of features at a competitive price point.

What may be more important to some businesses is the recent release of Autonomous Database—a “self-driving” database that “automates management to deliver unprecedented availability, security, and performance at a significantly lower cost.” Early adopters of Autonomous Database claim it delivers a 14x performance acceleration compared to workloads running on other AWS alternatives.

IBM Cloud

The last of our AWS alternatives—IBM Cloud—also has an edge when it comes to performance and security with its bare metal service. In a bare metal environment, each server has a single tenant (i.e. servers are not virtualized) and, because resources are not being shared, no hypervisor layer is needed—allowing more of the server’s processing power to be allocated to the application.

Not only does this mean the application’s performance is improved, but it can cope with more input/output operations per second with more consistent disk and network performance. The isolation from other applications also enhances security and resolves compliance issues for security-conscious businesses who may be reluctant to migrate data to the cloud.

IBM Cloud is not unique among AWS alternatives in offering a bare metal service, but what the company has in its favor is its “Softlayer” service that enables customers to move workloads from a virtualized environment to a bare metal environment and back again with the click of a mouse. If performance and security are concerns in your organization, you just might want to check out IBM Cloud.

What do these providers offer as Amazon EC2 alternatives?

Due to being first-to-market, Amazon EC2 instances are the most widely-used in the world. However, many of the company’s EC2 “innovations” (i.e. compute/memory-optimized instances, Reserved Instances, etc.) have been copied by its competitors, and in some cases, improved upon. The following is a snapshot of Amazon EC2 alternatives from other cloud service providers.

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft’s EC2 alternatives are called “Virtual Machines.” Typically Virtual Machines (VMs) have the same configurations as EC2 instances, but you will find subtle differences if you look closely enough. For example, the latest generation of compute-optimized VMs have much greater bandwidth than EC2 instances with the same configuration for lower inter-VM latency without the management overhead of enhanced networking.

Similar to AWS, Microsoft Azure offers its EC2 alternatives with a range of three pricing options—spot, pay-as-you-go (the equivalent to On-Demand), and Reserved Virtual Machine Instances. For some businesses, Reserved Virtual Machine Instances are a more attractive proposition than EC2 Reserved Instances because:

  • Businesses that can take advantage of the Azure Hybrid Benefit receive larger discounts on Reserved Virtual Machine Instances than like-for-like AWS EC2 Reserved Instances.
  • Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances can be paid all upfront or monthly, but unlike AWS EC2 Reserved Instances, there is no reduction in the discount percentage for paying monthly.
  • Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances are more flexible than AWS EC2 Reserved Instances with regards to exchanges (although not as flexible as Convertible RIs or AWS Savings Plans).
  • Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances can be cancelled at any time with any unused all upfront payment refunded, which is much simpler than finding a buyer on AWS Marketplace.

For more information about Azure vs AWS Reserved Instances and discounts, see our article: AWS vs Azure vs GCP: Disccounts, Commitments, and Reservations

Google Cloud

Google Cloud’s EC2 alternatives are “Virtual Machine Instances.” These differ from the AWS and Azure options inasmuch as you have a choice between a predetermined configuration and a customizable configuration—the latter being more cost-efficient for steady workloads with unique requirements. Google claims the option of customizable configurations can save businesses up to 40% compared to AWS EC2 Instances and Azure Virtual Machines.

Businesses can also save up to a further 30% on compute costs with Google Cloud’s incremental sustained use discount program (although businesses running instances long enough to qualify for the maximum discount should take advantage of the one-year or three-year committed use discount program). Google Cloud also has a spot pricing option called “preemptible pricing.” A few things to note about Google Cloud’s EC2 alternatives:

  • Discount percentages in Google Cloud’s committed use program only go up to 57% for general purpose instances and 70% for memory-optimized instances.
  • When you take advantage of Google Cloud’s committed use program, you have to make two commitments—one for vCPU utilization and the second for memory.
  • You are unable to modify or cancel committed use purchases. Once you have committed to the program you have to stick with the commitment through to the end of term.
  • Unlike AWS’ and Azure’s spot pricing (which is based on how much you are willing to bid per hour), the pricing for Google Cloud’s preemptible option is fixed.

Compare AWS Reserved Instances vs Google Committed Use Discounts here.

Oracle Cloud

Oracle tends to flip-flop between terminologies when describing its EC2 alternatives. In the same paragraph of the provider’s documentation, they can be called virtual machines, compute instances, or just instances. Like Google Cloud, Oracle Cloud offers predetermined and customizable configurations (“shapes”), although the only truly customizable option is the number of compute units you can select. The amount of memory and bandwidth scales proportionately with the number of units selected.

Price comparisons between Amazon EC2 instances and Oracle’s EC2 alternatives are difficult to produce as Oracle counts processors by Oracle Compute Units (OCPUs) rather than by virtual Central Processing Units (vCPUs). Furthermore, while the company claims prices are up to 65% cheaper than other clouds, On-Demand pricing (the only option available) fails to take into account the cost of block storage. It is also worth noting you are still billed for Dense I/O, GPU, and HPC instances when they are stopped.

IBM Cloud

IBM Cloud’s choice of virtual servers may be smaller than that offered by AWS, but that does make it simpler to navigate the options. Like AWS and Azure, IBM offers a choice of general use, compute-optimized, and memory-optimized virtual servers, but there are no customizable options and hourly rates are significantly more expensive—regardless of whether you select the hourly pay-as-you-go option or monthly billing subscription.

IBM Cloud does offer spot pricing rates and monthly-paid Reserved Instances over one and three-year terms, but neither of these options are price-competitive. Indeed, IBM’s Reserved Instance program is the least flexible among the Cloud Service Providers featured on this page. However, the company does provide a “Cloud Pak” for enterprises that includes loans at competitive rates, flexible leases, and an option to defer payments on its EC2 alternatives in order to preserve capital to meet other expenses.

Summary of AWS alternatives and their advantages

By providing a guide to AWS alternatives and what they can offer that AWS can’t provide itself, we are not advocating businesses ditch AWS and migrate their assets to an alternative cloud service provider. Our belief is that the cloud works best when customers are able to pick and choose what services suit them best—provided they have mechanisms in place to effectively manage a multi-cloud environment.

The cloud is evolving at such a pace, these advantages may not be so important in a couple of years. Nonetheless, if you are looking for alternatives to AWS for any reason, it may help to review our summary of AWS alternatives and their advantages:

  • Microsoft Azure: Best for businesses using Microsoft enterprise solutions, C# developers, and businesses contemplating a hybrid cloud environment
  • Google Cloud: Industry leader for container technology, often the least expensive cloud provider, and leading the way in Machine Learning technology
  • Oracle Cloud: It may be in its early days at the minute, but Oracle Cloud’s Autonomous Database service could revolutionize data analysis
  • IBM Cloud: Leads the way for performance-enhancing bare metal servers and the ability to switch between bare metal and virtualized environments

For a more in-depth comparison of the leading cloud service providers, see our eBook: Comparing Services For The Big Three Cloud Providers