Microsoft Azure Vs. AWS: 5 Partners On Why Azure Is ‘Superior’

With Microsoft Azure getting the highest rating from partners in CRN’s inaugural Cloud Barometer survey, solution provider executives point to Microsoft’s ‘more mature’ partner programs as well as Azure’s unique product capabilities.

Microsoft Azure Vs. AWS

As demand for cloud computing soars, the battle between Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services is only getting more intense. And even with the trend toward multi-cloud environments, some solution providers are choosing sides in the Azure vs. AWS contest. To get a sense for how partners currently view the top cloud platforms, CRN recently conducted its inaugural Cloud Barometer survey, which asked partners to rate their satisfaction with the leading Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms across five key categories. Survey respondents awarded the highest overall rating to Microsoft Azure, followed by AWS at No. 2 and Google Cloud at No. 3.* Azure also received top partner ratings in three of the five categories covered in the survey: product capabilities, profitability and maturity of pricing. AWS won two categories—ease of integration and support for demand generation—while Google Cloud received no first-place finishes.

In a statement provided to CRN, Microsoft Channel Chief Rodney Clark said that “we view this ranking as an affirmation of our commitment to provide opportunity for partners to build and sell differentiated solutions that help customers migrate to the cloud.” AWS and Google Cloud declined to comment.

In the survey, 58 percent of Azure solution providers also reported having had a highly strategic sales relationship with Microsoft over the prior three months. By comparison, 43 percent of AWS partners and 31 percent of Google Cloud partners reported the same with their respective vendors.

Along with conducting the Cloud Barometer survey, CRN spoke with a number of Microsoft Gold partners who have predominantly chosen to focus on Azure over the AWS cloud service. These Microsoft partners cited advantages ranging from Microsoft’s “more mature” partner programs, to the Azure Active Directory authentication service, to Azure’s hybrid cloud capabilities. What follows are their comments from recent interviews comparing Microsoft Azure vs. AWS.

Azure: ‘Superior’ To AWS And Google Cloud?

AWS remains by far the largest provider of cloud infrastructure services with market share of 32 percent, followed by Azure at 20 percent and Google Cloud at 9 percent, according to data from Synergy Research Group for the first quarter of 2021. But there’s a good reason that Azure edged out its rivals in the Cloud Barometer survey results, said Reed Wiedower, global alliances leader and CTO for the Cognizant Microsoft Business Group, an Azure Expert Managed Services Provider. “From the partner ecosystem perspective, Microsoft has just been in the business of partners for much longer than Amazon or Google,” Wiedower said. “Their partner programs are much more mature.”

And crucially, Microsoft doesn’t have a business model built on selling ads or on selling products that compete with customers, as do the parent companies of Google Cloud and AWS, he said. Ultimately, with Microsoft’s partner-friendly programs and business model, “Azure is superior to AWS and Google,” Wiedower said.

At Logicalis Group, CEO Bob Bailkoski said that the global solution provider has chosen to invest around Azure to a far greater degree than on AWS, including through achieving Microsoft’s prestigious Azure Expert MSP certification. Logicalis has only a “small capability” around AWS in the U.S., while Azure has become one of the biggest focus areas at the solution provider in recent years, he said. That’s due in part to the “natural affinity” that many Logicalis customers have with Microsoft, as well as the complexity of understanding and working with AWS when compared to Azure, Bailkoski said. “Microsoft’s articulation of the opportunity that’s available with Azure is much easier for our customers to understand—especially in the C suite—than it is perhaps with AWS, which is a slightly more technical, developer-style solution,” he said.

In the following slides, we’ve included comments from five additional Microsoft Gold partners that focus mainly on Azure over AWS.

*CRN’s Cloud Barometer survey took place from November to December 2020 and received responses from 211 Infrastructure-as-a-Service solution providers, who were invited to rate the cloud platforms that they currently partner with. For more details on the survey results—and partner insights on all three of the top cloud platforms—please see our CRN Magazine cover story for June.

Microsoft’s ‘Cloud Mesh’

Azure benefits hugely from the fact that Microsoft 365 users already have identities in the cloud platform via the Azure Active Directory authentication service, said Zach Saltzman, senior director for the Microsoft platform at Carlsbad, Calif.-based FMT Consultants.

While it’s possible to extend Active Directory into AWS, “you don’t get Azure AD,” Saltzman said. “And Azure AD is this whole separate beast that brings a lot of productivity features and a lot of security features that no other cloud has.”

FMT has “made a lot of inroads following Microsoft into the cloud security and endpoint protection space, which has been a great move. Because the market is hungry for security right now,” he said. “Microsoft made a huge play into that space and has just grown insanely … What we’ve found is we can wrap together identity protection, information protection and threat protection, into what we call a cloud business continuity and security offering. And that’s been selling like crazy.”

Ultimately though, the biggest differentiator for Azure is its connection to Microsoft’s other two clouds, Microsoft 365 and Dynamics 365, Saltzman said.

“It’s like a cloud mesh,” he said. “Microsoft is able to drive these synergies between their three clouds that AWS and Google Cloud just can’t.”

A Software Company ‘At Its Heart’

Microsoft’s differentiation for Azure really comes down to the company’s roots as a software pioneer, said Michael Spoont, president of Atlanta-based ProArch. “Microsoft at its heart is a software company. They’ve been in the software business for almost 50 years,” he said.

On the other hand, “AWS was not a software business—they came into the software business to enable them to better manage their product business. But they’ve never built business solutions. They’ve never built applications. They’ve got an operating environment. But there’s no Dynamics equivalent in AWS, for example,” he said.

And if you use Dynamics 365 or Microsoft 365, you’re already using Azure, Spoont noted. The many points of entry into Azure for Microsoft customers “does separate Azure from the other cloud providers,” he said.

Supporting hybrid cloud infrastructure is another strength for Microsoft, which embraced hybrid earlier than Amazon, Spoont said. “Microsoft created the gold standard in terms of operating in a hybrid environment,” he said.

And along with its identity security advantages, Azure also stands out with a number of other security capabilities, Spoont said—including Advanced Threat Protection and Azure Sentinel, Microsoft’s SIEM (security information and event management) offering. “They are able to put in place the kind of secure environment that I think today leads the pack,” he said.

‘Holy Grail’ For Hybrid

Beaverton, Ore.-based Atmosera began focusing on Azure in 2014, drawn in part by Azure’s hybrid cloud capabilities, said CEO Jon Thomsen. “At that point, it was so that we could credibly entertain the hybrid story and get into those types of conversations,” he said.

The solution provider actually did look into AWS first, Thomsen said. “But we felt that the robustness of their partnership and partner ecosystem wasn’t as strong or as experienced as Microsoft’s,” he said. “And then at the same time, we felt that no one was focusing on Azure then—from a partner perspective and a delivery perspective. Everyone was focused on AWS.”

Atmosera also found that the transformation vision of Satya Nadella, then the newly appointed CEO of Microsoft, “really resonated with us,” Thomsen said. Atmosera would go on to achieve Azure Expert MSP status, the highest level of Azure certification from Microsoft.

In terms of hybrid cloud capabilities, Microsoft’s Azure Stack offering was the “holy grail” for hybrid infrastructure when it first launched several years ago, Thomsen said.

“It’s a key differentiator,” he said. “Azure makes [hybrid] really easy with Azure Stack. Then there’s Azure Stack Edge for storage and AI gateways, Azure IoT Edge for IoT devices, Azure Arc for centralized management and deployment of on-premise infrastructure as well as in the cloud. Microsoft is committed to that hybrid environment.”

Over the years, Atmosera has continued to mull the idea of partnering with AWS or Google Cloud, Thomsen noted. “But the market is so large in public cloud in general, and within Azure specifically,” he said. “Our growth has not been inhibited by not having [AWS and Google Cloud].”

Azure Virtual Desktop, Azure Hybrid Benefit

One of the newer unique Azure capabilities is Azure Virtual Desktop (formerly Windows Virtual Desktop), which enables multiple users to connect to Windows 10 virtual desktops on a single virtual machine. The Azure-based solution has been seeing surging demand as a way to enable the remote workforce.

The pre-existing integration for Azure Virtual Desktop with Azure Active Directory “means that I can spin that up a heck of a lot faster than I can otherwise,” said Mike Wilson, vice president and CTO of Mason, Ohio-based Interlink Cloud Advisors.

“I can do that because Microsoft already has the user identity,” Wilson said. “It’s not that you couldn’t go do something similar in AWS, but they don’t have the same infrastructure that customers already have in place on the Microsoft platform.”

Many existing Microsoft customers also find pricing advantages in sticking with Azure when migrating to cloud infrastructure, Wilson said. For instance, while prices for Azure and AWS are generally similar, Microsoft’s Azure Hybrid Benefit has made Windows Server and SQL Server workloads far more affordable to run on Azure, he said. “When you’ve already made an investment in Microsoft licensing, you can now transition that and bring that to Azure in a way that you can’t do with AWS,” Wilson said.

All in all, when it comes to general corporate IT, Microsoft has already captured a lot of what was in a traditional data center by moving it to Microsoft 365, he said.

“Maintaining Exchange servers and SharePoint servers and on-premise file servers—that kind of stuff is in OneDrive, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online. That was phase one for most organizations,” Wilson said. “And so now, the question is, what happens to the rest of the data center? I think there are a lot of customers that are starting to step that into Azure. I think the [cloud infrastructure] market shares are going to change, as you have organizations that would naturally be Microsoft-centric customers start to go through and adopt Azure. I think we’re still pretty early in that game.”

‘Anything Customers Are Asking For’

Redmond, Wash.-based Amaxra has seen a “huge uptake” in demand for Azure since the start of the pandemic, said Amaxra President and CEO Rosalyn Arntzen, who spent 15 years working for Microsoft before founding the solution provider in 2007. The agility and scalability of Azure has been crucial in helping to serve customers with remote workforces, she said. “For a company like us, it’s been an opportunity to really get people to listen to what we’ve been trying to tell them for the last few years,” Arntzen said.

The company doubled its cloud revenue in 2020, year over year, and expects to do the same this year. “I don’t think it’s slowing down,” she said.

While Amaxra has “dabbled” with Amazon Web Services, “we haven’t seen anything compelling that makes us say, ‘Oh, we could do this with AWS which we can’t do with Microsoft,’” Arntzen said. “Pretty much anything customers are asking for, we can serve through the Microsoft platform. There hasn’t been anything that’s pushed us away from that direction. As a small business, you’ve got to make a commitment somewhere.”

Amaxra employs 50, and its largest customer has about 2,500 seats, she said. “We find that for anything they ask us, there is a way to serve them with the Microsoft platform. And of course Azure is that toolbox,” Arntzen said.