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Cloud Services Terminology Guide: Comparing AWS vs Azure vs Google

As more and more organizations embrace cloud to accelerate business transformation, technology leaders are increasingly reliant on feature-by-feature comparisons between the top cloud providers to determine which platform or combination of services will be the best fit for their business needs.

We know it can be a challenge to research each provider’s extensive product portfolios, so we’ve compiled the most common services below, including compute, containers, storage, discounts, databases, security, and network services, to help you cross-identify comparable services across the big three cloud providers, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

AWS vs Azure vs GCP Service Comparison

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Compute services

AWS, Azure, and GCP all offer a very similar range of products and services. If one provider launches a new product ahead of its competitors, you can be almost certain the other two will soon release a comparable product or service, just with a different name. What generally differentiates similar products across providers is how that given product interacts with other services within a specific provider’s product portfolio.

The table above provides a high-level overview, but if you’re looking for more information and context into how each of the services compares, we recommend you download our complete guide: Comparing Services for the Big Three Cloud Providers.

Container services and serverless computing

Containers are a hot topic in the rapidly evolving cloud world. In fact, based on our analysis of actual public cloud spend in 2020, investment in containers and serverless technologies increased by 38.7% and 13.5% respectively between January and September 2020. While there are many ways to deploy containers in the cloud, our analysis shows customers prefer the managed container services offered by the big three cloud providers.

AWS, Azure, and GCP each offer a suite of products and services to help organizations build, deploy, and manage containerized environments—many of which offer similar services and functionality. The table below provides a quick guide to the different container services offered by each provider, along with their serverless computing and Function-as-a-Service offerings.

For a deeper dive into the different container and serverless computing services offered by AWS, Azure, and GCP, we recommend you check out our article dedicated to the subject: Comparing Cloud Container Services Across AWS, Azure, and GCP

Storage services

When it comes to a comparison of cloud storage services, organizations have historically chosen the provider through which they provision virtual machines. Now, however, many organizations are opting for a multi-cloud approach that takes advantage of each provider’s unique storage offerings, particularly with regards to infrequently accessed and archived data.

Undoubtedly, AWS’ Simple Storage Service (S3) is the most well-known and popular cloud object storage solution, but Microsoft and Google Cloud have equally reliable and robust services. The table below provides a breakdown of the different storage services offered by these leading cloud providers.

When calculating the cost of any cloud storage service, you need to remember to also include the costs of PUT, POST, COPY, and GET requests, and to account for minimum capacity charges or minimum duration charges. For example, AWS has a minimum 128KB capacity charge for its two Infrequent Access classes and 90 days of storage minimum for its Archive Storage class.

To help organizations navigate the complexity of cloud storage pricing, we’ve created resources dedicated to the subject. Here are some of our most popular:

Cloud service discount programs

Cost comparisons between AWS, Azure, and GCP tend to be meaningful only for a limited time due to frequently changing prices, new product launches, and the increasing choice of discount programs. However, it’s worth comparing each provider’s different discount options and the services they relate to in order to achieve the greatest cost savings for the services you use.

The table below provides an overview of the discount programs provided by AWS, Azure, and GCP, including specifications about the commitment lengths, payment plans, and cancellation/exchange options.

AWS offers two primary discount programs: Reserved Instances and Savings Plans. The primary difference between the two is that Reserved Instances offer a discount against on-demand pricing depending on committed utilization, whereas Savings Plans offer a discount depending on committed spend.

Currently, the services covered by Reserved Instances include EC2, RDS, Redshift, ElastiCache, Elasticsearch, and DynamoDB, while Savings Plans include EC2, Fargate, and Lambda services. However, we expect AWS will extend these programs to cover more services in the future.

Similar to AWS’ Reserved Instances, Microsoft offers Azure Reserved VM Instances (also called “reservations”), which provide customers an opportunity to reduce costs by committing to a specified use over a one- or three-year term. Customers have the option to pay all upfront or monthly, with no loss of discount. While Reserved VM Instances are the most popular among CloudHealth customers, you can purchase more than 15 different services with Azure reservations, including database, storage, and data and analytics services.

Google’s primary discount programs are Committed Use Discounts (CUDs) and Sustained Use Discounts (SUDs). Although CUDs apply to fewer services than AWS, they are a strong competitor to AWS Reserved Instances, given they offer greater discounts than AWS’ no upfront payment option and do not require upfront payment costs of their own. They also apply to Google’s customizable VMs, providing customers flexibility based on their workload’s unique usage and memory requirements.

Google’s SUDs are discounts that are applied automatically when services are running more than 25% of the month. This discount program rewards customers with high levels of GCP service usage, since the greater the usage percentage during the month results in higher discount rates. SUDs are a great option for customers who are not certain they can take advantage of a committed use discount for the full duration of its term (one or three years).

To help navigate the nuances and exceptions that come with each of these provider’s discount programs, here are a few of the more popular resources we recommend:

Database services

In the same way that there’s little to choose between AWS, Azure, and GCP with regards to their compute, container, and serverless offerings, the big three cloud providers’ managed database services are very similar to each other. All three providers offer managed databases as a service with public cloud, hybrid cloud, and on-premises options.

Furthermore, while each cloud provider tends to prioritize their own cloud-specific database services—which typically integrate better with their other cloud-specific services—all three support database services such as MongoDB or Cassandra that are suitable for use in multi-cloud environments and provide excellent services for businesses to easily migrate existing databases to the cloud.

The table below provides an overview of the different managed database services offered by AWS, Azure, and GCP.

Any differences among these three cloud providers tend to be in the packaging of the services, rather than in capabilities. For example, Azure Synapse can perform the same tasks as Amazon Redshift, Amazon Elastic MapReduce (EMR), and Amazon Athena, but if you only want to use Azure Synapse as a data warehousing substitute for Amazon EMR, that’s all you’ll pay for.

Similarly, Google’s Cloud Spanner service can be configured to combine the structure of Amazon RDS with the non-relational horizontal scale of AWS DynamoDB and the transaction verification capabilities of Amazon QLDB for gaming projects. But if you only want to use the service for verifying transactions in the same way as Amazon QLBD verifies transactions, that’s all you will pay for.

For a more comprehensive breakdown of the managed database services offered by AWS, Azure, and GCP, you should check out this article: AWS vs Azure vs GCP: A Comparison of Managed Database Services.

Cloud security services

The cloud offers many benefits in terms of flexibility, scalability, and agility, but a cloud environment may create significant risks that were not present in the on-premises deployment of applications and systems. Cloud service providers offer various cloud security solutions to help organizations establish and maintain a strong cloud security and compliance posture. The most common services for AWS, Azure, and GCP are listed in the table below.

As you evaluate the cloud security solution landscape, one important question that we urge you to consider is if public cloud providers’ native security tools are enough to keep your environment secure. When most customers turn to their cloud provider to see what cloud security capabilities are available natively, the tools they find are like those inside a toolbox—they’re all good by themselves, but they have to figure out how to make it all work together to get the job done. Cloud service providers’ native security tools also lead to additional questions, such as:

  • What about multi-cloud?
  • How do I manage alerts so we aren’t overwhelmed?
  • How quickly will I see misconfigurations?
  • How do we handle exceptions?
  • How do we see all the findings from our different accounts?

Over the last few years, public cloud providers have been increasing their capabilities in order to answer these questions, but even with how far they’ve come, they can’t meet every customer’s needs. Check out our article to learn more about how your cloud provider’s native tools compare to leading third-party cloud security solutions.

As a final note, it’s important to remember that security in the cloud is a shared responsibility between your organization and the cloud service provider. Regardless of the cloud service provider you choose, ownership for your organization’s cloud security posture ultimately falls on the internal security team, in partnership with its Cloud Center of Excellence. Learn how to take control of your cloud security posture management with a few of our most helpful resources:

Network services

AWS, Azure, and GCP all offer a global network of interconnected data centers to provide sufficient network redundancy, high fault tolerance, and low latency. Customers can leverage each provider’s networking services for launching compute resources in an isolated, secure environment, and for connecting them to other cloud services running on other networks in the cloud or on-premises. With each provider, the customer has the ability to control the virtual networking environment, including IP address ranges, subnets, access control rules, and routing.

Like many other services we’ve covered in this article, there are more similarities than differences between our cloud providers’ networking capabilities. However, a key consideration will be your organization’s geographic proximity to the cloud provider’s data center network locations, a factor that can significantly influence latency, costs, options for replication and redundancy, and disaster tolerance in cases of outages.

Be sure to compare the data center locations available from each provider, taking into consideration the services that apply to each location. For example, Azure customers looking to take advantage of the latest High Compute (“HC”) series of Virtual Machines will have to deploy their workloads in either the East US, South Central US, or West US 2 region in order to access this VM type.

Final thoughts

Whether you’re just venturing into the public cloud landscape, looking to expand your cloud strategy, or already operating in a multi-cloud environment, comparing cloud services can be rewarding in terms of cost reductions, improved performance, and enhanced capabilities. Those that select services from a variety of providers can create a custom multi-cloud environment that ensures their unique performance, security, and financial requirements are achieved.

To dive even deeper into how AWS, Azure, and GCP compare in their product portfolios, download our complete guide: Comparing Services for the Big Three Cloud Providers. Looking for even more answers? Feel free to set up a time to connect with one of our experts. We’d happy to discuss your unique business requirements and our recommendations to make the most of your cloud investment.

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