Friday, May 23, 2014

Microsoft Azure vs. Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2)

In our increasingly cloud-based world, it can be difficult to work with more traditional client- or server-side tools to do what we need. At Interlock IT, we're well-equipped with nothing more advanced than a web browser and a laptop for day-to-day work, but sometimes we just need that little bit of extra horsepower.

So, what to do? Well, we could spend thousands of dollars building our own workstations and servers, but why not leverage the cloud once again? A couple of years ago, we started using Amazon's Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) service; a central part of their Amazon Web Services infrastructure. AWS powers a host of websites, services, and more that you probably use every day—including, notably, Netflix.

EC2 allows you to get servers up and running in an Amazon datacentre fairly quickly and relatively painlessly. But even Amazon, for all their consumer-friendliness, hasn't managed to make it quite easy enough just yet. Setting up a new server takes many steps, including opening ports, setting security groups, assigning storage blocks (and choosing which type you'd like), and more. It's a lot of initial setup work, but once you're up and running, it just works.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has been steadily building out it's own Azure cloud platform since it launched in 2010. While Microsoft's service is a little younger (Amazon had a four-year head start with EC2), it meant that Microsoft could take a look at what Amazon was doing and set up their service a little bit differently.

Instead of having to wade through fifteen menus to get a new server up and running on Azure, there's five simple screens that ask you for a bit of information to set up your server, and then Azure does the rest.

I've done this repeatedly over the course of the last few months since we started using Azure and can get a new server up, running, and connected in less than five minutes. It's great!

To make things even better still, if you pre-pay your Azure account, the system can track your daily usage and forecast what your bill will be at the end of the month. No more worrying if you're going to be stuck with a huge bill at the end of the month.

We've switched most of our Windows cloud server needs to Azure because we find it a more powerful, easier-to-use option than Amazon's venerated EC2.