A Hybrid Cloud Approach
Borrowing a popular buzzword from the automotive industry, Microsoft has taken the “hybrid” concept and built a great deal of Azure around the philosophy. A hybrid cloud suggests that it’s both possible, even desirable, to put one foot in the cloud while keeping the other one anchored to on-premises datacenters. There are numerous reasons why enterprises may want to keep at least a part of their operations close to home; it’s these reasons that Microsoft hopes to address with Azure.
Take for example a use case like Towers Watson, a risk management and human resource consulting firm with a key need for financial modeling analytics. For certain tasks that would require an inordinate amount of time (days, weeks, etc.) on a small number of workstations, you can scale rapidly and exponentially in the Azure cloud, slashing the amount of time required to complete the work. Towers Watson put this principle to work with its MoSes HPC, combining its hardware with MoSes Azure cloud software to extend MoSes financial analytics to Microsoft Azure, dramatically ramping up compute when needed and backing down as workloads dictate (learn more about theTowers Watson case study).
Developers may also appreciate another advantage of the hybrid cloud. With a hybrid cloud, apps can “live” on both local servers and in the Azure cloud. Further, as many applications hook into other services, plug-ins, etc., Azure’s hybrid model allows certain parts of an application to remain on on-premises hardware and interface with other parts that have migrated to the cloud (Source).
Amazon is at least testing the waters of a hybrid cloud approach; the company made comments to that effect at Amazon’s recent re:Invent conference. But for the time being, the vast majority of AWS resides on Amazon’s public cloud. For now, Azure’s hybrid capabilities are well ahead of AWS.
Good Enough for Government Work
Government agencies interested in moving some of their operations to the cloud should pay close attention to AWS’ GovCloud. Obviously, no one expects the NSA or CIA to hand over the keys to their data over to Amazon (if anything, it’s the other way around), but AWS GovCloud is set up to combine Amazon’s AWS services with Uncle Sam’s needs.
AWS GovCloud is “an isolated AWS region designed to allow U.S. government agencies and customers to move sensitive workloads into the cloud by addressing their specific regulatory and compliance requirements,” according to Amazon. GovCloud is also compliant with ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), which mandates the manner in which entities deal with defense-related information. AWS GovCloud meets a whole slew of other protocols as well (HIPAA, SOC 1-3, ISO 27001, etc.) and also offers FIPS 140-2 compliant endpoints. Further, GovCloud administrative access –both physical and logical — is restricted to those in the U.S.
Microsoft recently brought its own cordoned off area of the Azure cloud out of preview, making it Azure Government a full-fledged option for government agencies. Not a company to dive headlong into uncharted waters, it’s safe to assume that Microsoft devoted the necessary time to iron out all of the kinks and bring the service into compliance. However, Azure Government is still very new.
In tech, there’s a fine line between supposition and FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). In theory, Azure Government should be the functional equivalent of AWS GovCloud. Microsoft may indeed be able to hit the ground running with Azure Government, and we hope it does, but the years of GovCloud already operating in the real world gives it a slight edge. Amazon’ option is the undeniable veteran in this space. If your government agency is ready to ascend to the cloud right this minute, AWS has the advantage. If you can stand to wait for Microsoft’s option to mature and you already have a considerable investment in Microsoft’s other products, Azure Government might turn out to be the better of the two.
The Right Choice for Microsoft Shops
There’s no question that Microsoft’s corporate customers are the ones that butter the company’s bread. Whether it’s Windows Server, Exchange, Office, or simply Windows workstations, businesses and enterprises make up a significant portion of Microsoft’s revenue. It makes sense that Azure is designed to work hand in hand with other Microsoft products.
Azure Active Directory is one example of this strategy in action. In addition to serving as a single sign-on (SSO) option for all sorts of applications (Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, plus plenty of third-party apps, including Citrix, Salesforce, and Box), Azure Active Directory can integrate with an enterprise’s on-premises Active Directory to extend an enterprise’s local directories to the cloud.
Tight integration with Microsoft BizTalk Server and many of Microsoft’s other enterprise offerings may be another nod in Azure’s favor over AWS. Also consider possible savings with regard to training and deployment if your enterprise is already committed to Microsoft.
The Right Choice Open Source Software Users
If Microsoft’s relationship with open source software was a Facebook status, it would be “It’s complicated.” Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if didn’t make Azure a slippery dance floor those with Linux as their dance partner.
In fairness, Azure does work with certain flavors of Linux, notably SUSE and Oracle. If your enterprise runs either of these two distros, or a handful of others, you’re in luck, as Azure support is available. Conspicuously absent is support for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), a limitation that’s sure to be glaring if your enterprise is one of the many that relies on RHEL for your operations. Considering the number of businesses that use RHEL, Microsoft is sending a lot of customers to AWS by default.
And this isn’t an instance like AWS GovCloud vs. Azure Government. Based on the years of history between Microsoft and Red Hat, we think it’s unlikely that the two will broker a deal to allow RHEL support on Azure anytime soon. If you’re deeply invested in Red Hat’s solutions, AWS is your cloud of choice.
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