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AWS vs Azure vs GCP: The big 3 cloud providers compared

Scott Pletcher
Scott Pletcher

In this post, part of our Cloud Provider Comparisons series, we talk about how the big three cloud providers compare at an organizational level. If you’re curious about how Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud platform match up, read on!


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The history of AWS

It’s hard to remember that Amazon was once just a scrappy e-commerce startup and they did things that many startups do in the heat of growth, build up technical debt.

In 2000, very much out of necessity, Amazon made their strategic technology decision to start building reusable modules for its internal development groups. This allowed these groups to create new features faster because they weren’t always reinventing the same thing over and over again.

As time went on, the collection of internal services grew and people inside the company started to realize that maybe there’s a business opportunity there.

First launched in 2004 and then relaunched in 2006 with three public pay-as-you-go services, Amazon Web Services (AWS) set sail into the uncharted waters of what we now call cloud computing.

The history of Microsoft Azure

Around the same time that AWS announced their first cloud services, Microsoft already had similar efforts in play, doing much the same thing as Amazon: stitching together disparate services and creating reusable components for internal staff.

Microsoft officially announced that it had something cooking for the cloud in 2008, which they called Project Red Dog because, well, “Pink Poodle” just didn’t have a really nice ring to it.

Officially released as Windows Azure in 2010, Microsoft’s first iteration of cloud service . . . wasn’t really that good. It couldn’t even run a standard version of Windows server. A bit of dog-fooding and an offsite retreat in 2011 was enough to convince the players in Azure’s leadership that they needed to do better if they hoped to be competitive with the likes of AWS and Google.

Microsoft Azure relaunched in 2013 much better positioned and a much more compelling option for organizations, especially those who were longtime Microsoft shops and were looking for a smooth path to leverage the growing cloud wave that was coming. In 2014, Windows Azure was renamed Microsoft Azure, which symbolically and literally marked a shift in strategy for Microsoft making the cloud a priority.


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The history of Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

Google’s cloud origins have been baked in from the very start, but officially entered the public cloud in April 2008, through the preview release of Google App Engine, aimed at letting developers quickly deploy and scale web applications.

Now, in contrast to AWS and Microsoft, who emphasized heavily the infrastructure as a service path in their early days, Google chose a platform as a service, PaaS. And over the next several years, Google used its world-class development organization, acquisitions and deep pockets to grow Google Cloud Platform into something that can compete with its fellow public cloud providers.

Who owns AWS, Azure, and GCP, and how they report cloud revenue?

Both Google Cloud platform and Google Workplace, formerly G Suite, are business segments within Google (and Google itself as a business segment within its parent holding company, Alphabet).

At present, Azure falls into the Microsoft Intelligent Cloud business segment, which covers all the server and cloud products, as well as the support and consulting parts of the business and GitHub, which Microsoft purchased in 2018.

AWS is a division within Amazon, but operates as its own entity within the greater company. The commerce side of Amazon is a customer of AWS, meaning that AWS has to compete for business just as if they were an external company.

Now, one thing to note when comparing cloud providers with regard to revenue is that their reporting groupings are not the same. Amazon reports AWS revenue separately, while Google includes both GCP and their Workplace product as part of their cloud revenue. Microsoft bundles Azure, on-prem server software, Visual Studio, and GitHub into their reporting segment. Sometimes Microsoft also refers to their commercial cloud category of products, which includes Azure, Office 365, Dynamics 365, and part of LinkedIn. As of 2021, Microsoft had yet to publish revenue numbers purely for Azure by itself.

What companies use AWS, Azure, and GCP?

Let’s look at some customers for each platform.

  • Google Cloud platform is home to gaming company Activision Blizzard, Airline Lufthansa, and SpaceX.
  • Azure boosts mega customers, such as AT&T, Coca-Cola, and Walmart. (The latter has even announced some special partnerships with Microsoft, presumably joining forces to compete with Amazon.)
  • AWS counts many huge companies as customers. Netflix is probably the most well-known given their massive streaming infrastructure. Online companies like Twitch and Twitter also use the platform, as do media companies like Turner Broadcasting and the BBC.

Again, you have to use caution here when looking at providers’ logo slides. Even if some small, obscure, tiny division of a huge company uses the platform to store a 3K file on object storage, that provider is more than happy to claim the logo all for itself.

Additionally, many of these large companies have lots of divisions, some of which they may have acquired or still in the process of integrating. It’s not uncommon for huge companies to be using four or five different cloud providers throughout their vast organizations.

What are the key strengths of AWS, Azure, and GCP?

How about some comparative strengths of each platform?

  • Microsoft has been providing software to business customers for some 40-ish years, so they know what large enterprises want and how to deliver. Additionally, Azure provides a pretty compelling transition path to the cloud and can be that one-stop shop for enterprises looking to limit their vendor list.
  • AWS has had almost a 7-year head-start and vastly more offerings at present than other competitors. With that head start, the available talent pool is larger, meaning that more people know AWS. (However, if we’ve learned one thing here at A Cloud Guru, it’s that with a little time and training, anyone can learn to cloud. So that talent pool issue thing might not be as significant as it once was.)
  • Then there’s GCP, who had neither a strong enterprise footprint or a head-start. They have been staffing up on leaders from other enterprise-focused companies like SAP and Oracle, which will no doubt help there. And as you might’ve heard, containers are all the rage now. And Google just happens to originated one of the most popular container orchestration systems, that being Kubernetes. GCP has spun their container expertise into a portfolio of services under the Anthos name, which is getting lots of attention nowadays.

What are the key challenges facing AWS, Azure, and GCP?

Well, with strengths come weaknesses. So what are some challenges facing our three big cloud providers?

  • Well, when you’re as big as Amazon, you’re bound to step on a few toes. Many retailers view Amazon as a direct competitor, and just can’t bring themselves to give any business whatsoever to AWS for this reason. As the Amazon empire grows into other industries, this sentiment will likely grow as well. Similarly, as Amazon grows, the more scrutiny it will attract from governments and other groups for being well too big, something Microsoft and Google know all too well. With AWS being a huge portion of Amazon’s revenue, it might eventually get sold or spun off. Now, that’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, just a bit of uncertainty.
  • YouTube and search are the main revenue sources for Google. And we might be tempted to think of GCP as being relegated to a desk in the basement with its little red stapler. However, public cloud is considered a growth opportunity for Google, which continues to invest in data centers and acquisitions. Then there’s the deprecation policy. This means that Google can and will shut down products and features and maybe create something new in its place. Great for Google, but not so great if your mission-critical application depends on that service. (That might go bye-bye.)
  • In contrast, Azure and AWS have much more developer-friendly sunsetting policies and backwards compatibility philosophies. For the past decade or so, open-source software has found great acceptance, both on-prem and in the cloud, largely due to organizations seeking alternatives to commercial software vendors like Microsoft. Microsoft, to its credit, has leaned into the open-source community slowly at first but now pretty significantly, mostly in the software development space. But make no mistake about it, Microsoft would still love for you to buy lots and lots of software licenses as that remains an important source of revenue for them.

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How do I choose which cloud provider is best for me?

So how do I possibly choose which cloud provider is best for me? Well, there’s really no best universal answer because all situations are different.

I suggest conducting some pilot projects with these providers. And I’d also throw in IBM, Oracle Cloud, SAP or Alibaba, if you have an existing relationship with those companies already. Maybe try to do the same project on multiple providers and evaluate things like ease of use, robustness of offerings, quality of documentation, and so forth.

If you’re concerned about becoming too locked into one provider, you can choose some architectures that are more open and universal, like using layers of abstraction, building around REST APIs and using containers.

But be cautious here because you can get too generic. If you’re just using your cloud provider to run the same old VMs and containers that you had on-prem, you’re likely missing out on lots of value that cloud provider can offer in the way of managed services and variable costs.

Now, I know this may be controversial, but I would steer clear of trying to spread your workload out over multiple cloud providers. I know, I know . . . some people think that using multiple cloud providers shields them from the dreaded vendor lock-in. I think that spreading your workloads across multiple clouds just dilutes your resources and makes things needlessly complicated. Rather, I believe it’s better to focus your upskilling and efforts to maximize the features and value of one provider. Go deep on that provider and get really good, whomever it happens to be.

Well, my friends, this has been another edition of Cloud Provider Comparisons. Thanks for reading, stay safe, take care of one another, and keep being awesome, cloud gurus.


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