Amazon or Azure: Which is better for a home lab?

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As an IT professional, or somebody working in the IT field, it is important for you to find a practical way of constantly improving your skills. This is essential especially if you plan to advance professionally. One way of doing this is by building a home lab.

With your own virtualization lab, you will be able to centralize the infrastructure environment, therefore making it easier for you to perform a variety of functions, study and even set up a home business.

What you'll need

Basically, there's not much that you will need. You can have just one working desktop computer or laptop and then a number of servers in a small room, or maybe even in your attic or basement.

But one of the challenges is that you will have to decide which cloud-based platform is best for your needs. There are two cloud platforms making noise in the technical world today: Microsoft's Azure and the Amazon Web Services.

Both platforms have a lot to offer. Both claim to give you what you need. But to know which one you should prioritize and give more thought to, it's essential to review each depending on what you have to work with.

IaaS or PaaS?

One of the first things you need to decide on is the type of cloud computing service you will use. You can either apply infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS).

IaaS is the lower level infrastructure that manually allocates servers. It installs the operating system and other necessary software. By using IaaS, you can choose whether you want add-ons or not. The vendor only provides the underlying infrastructure (i.e. storage, network, virtualization technology and computer resources). A fair amount of operational work still needs to be done.

PaaS has the same features as IaaS, but it offers additional applications. Aside from the underlying infrastructure, a PaaS model also offers the application development platform.This includes databases, the latest services and tools, and of course, the operating system.

It's more convenient and less time-consuming compared to IaaS. Microsoft's Azure uses PaaS, while Amazon follows the IaaS infrastructure.

The possibilities with Windows Azure

One of the selling points of Azure is its integration with functional Microsoft programming tools. If you're a big fan of Microsoft, this is certainly a big plus. This unique platform makes things a little easier for you, like you're simply turning on a virtual server. Although it doesn't promise to do everything for you, it helps make things slightly more convenient. But that's just one part of the story.

There are other essential things you should set your eyes and mind to when considering the Azure for your home lab.

Azure offers automatic OS and service patching, and its deployment model gives you the freedom of upgrading your application without having to worry about downtime. What's more, it's an open source program, which gives you total flexibility. Its adaptability extends to your customers because you can work with a global data center. This is important for people who work across a variety of businesses and niches.

Finally, Microsoft Azure allows you to create applications using an operating system of your choice. It also offers the best flexibility when it comes to tools and language. By using Azure you won't feel caved or boxed-in with limited options.

Amazon Web Services: The Good Things About It

One of the best features offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the Elastic Beanstalk. Simply said, Elastic Beanstalk is a more convenient and efficient way of deploying and managing applications in the cloud.

All that you need to do is upload your application and Beanstalk automatically takes care of all the details needed for deployment. You'll also have the freedom of controlling the resources that make your application work. And you can do this any time you want or need to.

The Amazon CloudFront is a feature that adds to the positive feel of AWS. Meant for content delivery, it's intended to help developers and businesses easily perform content distribution to end users through high data transfer speeds. In short, it makes for better, faster and more efficient dynamic content delivery.

Another thing that makes Amazon a choice for many IT professionals and home business developers is that it has long been considered as the cloud leader, and so the most trusted in the industry. Amazon has also been in the business longer than Azure.

Other areas of comparison

In terms of being user-friendly, consider Azure as having the edge. The best reason for this is its integration with other Microsoft tools. In regards to speed it's neck-and-neck, although AWS is way up there in terms of specialized applications.

Since AWS has more options for developers for deployment of new technologies, consider it the more advanced option. Azure, however, is not far behind because many IT professionals prefer its simple, yet effective way of working on a business application.

The price

In terms of pricing, many say that Azure is more practical. For cloud services (developing and testing your programs using virtual machines) with a small instance size (using 1 CPU core and 225 GB of storage with a moderate I/O performance), Azure's rate is $0.12 per hour.

Azure Pricing

Azure has different rates and several packages for mobile services, shared instance model, reserved instance model, virtual machines, data management, storage, SQL reports, networking, messaging, caching, media and data transfers. It also offers four support models, priced as high as $1,000 per month for Professional Direct and as low as $20 a month for Developer. You can figure out a real-time cost estimate using Azure's online pricing calculator.

If Azure has all the services you need, its price should not matter that much to you.

AWS pricing is a bit comprehensive. For instance, CloudFront users from the US have a different rate from the ones in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

CloudFront also has special pricing and packages for:

  • cloud computing
  • content delivery
  • database
  • deployment and management
  • e-commerce
  • application services
  • monitoring
  • monitoring
  • networking
  • payments and billing
  • storage
  • web traffic and workforce

Just like Azure, AWS has several payment tiers for support. It offers $49 per month for Developer. For Business and Enterprise, the rate depends on the monthly AWS usage. Learn more about AWS pricing with Amazon's online calculator.

If AWS has everything that you want in a cloud platform, then you should choose it regardless of how much it costs. After all, when you get what you need, you're bound to enjoy the best investment.

[Updated 4/9/13:] AWS has updated its rate for Windows On-Demand EC2 instances. Amazon reduced the price up to 26 percent. AWS was quoted as saying:

"This reduction applies to the Standard (m1), Second-Generation Standard (m3), High-Memory (m2), and High-CPU (c1) instance families. All prices are effective from April 1, 2013. The size of the reduction varies by instance family and region. You can visit the AWS Windows page for more information about Windows pricing on AWS."

Your choice

Your choice depends on what you need, or rather what you're comfortable with. If you're a Microsoft user who finds a lot of help with its tools, and if you like the idea of Microsoft integration with cloud platforms, then Azure is the way to go for you.

But if you prefer a more cutting-edge faster and time-saving platform, then your clear choice is Amazon Web Services. Just remember that your home lab should make things a little easier for you, not the other way around.

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Michael Gabriel Sumastre

Michael Gabriel Sumastre is a skilled technical blogger and writer with more than seven years of professional experience in Web content creation, SEO and research paper writing. He has written more than a thousand articles related to tech and gadgets, cloud computing, IT management, SEO, SEM and software solutions. He ghostwrites books / e-books and has a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science. Michael is also an expert in webmastering and loves to ride his sportsbike. He maintains his portfolio and personal blog at