Alternatives to Amazon’s Web Services
Amazon’s AWS continues to innovate and dominate the cloud services market. It’s grown so much that it’s become a key component of Amazon’s Wall Street mechanics, essentially a sector from which to materialize profit from its low-margin e-commerce roots:
The company reeled in $1.8 billion during the past three months from AWS … up from the $1 billion it made in the year-ago quarter — that’s an 81 percent spike year-over-year. – GeekWire
Furthermore, AWS powers such wide swaths of the Internet that we’re increasingly dependent on its stability. Last September, problems with the service caused simultaneous outages in Netflix, Tinder, IMDB, AirBnB, and Amazon’s own streaming video and book websites.
In the past, I’ve been an enthusiastic user of AWS, but my concerns about complexity, cost and more recently ethical issues with the company have led me to explore other cloud alternatives. While it offers an increasingly sophisticated array of services for many kinds of development requirements, it’s not always the simplest, fastest, or most affordable option. For example, I’ve found that it’s faster and more economical to host my WordPress sites on Digital Ocean than on AWS; last year I wrote on Envato Tuts+ about using the Digital Ocean API to launch and manage instances.
In addition to some first-tier competitors such as Microsoft and Google, there’s an increasingly growing list of cloud providers offering much or parts of AWS’s most useful services in ways that can benefit small developers with ease of use and affordability.
In this tutorial, I’ll outline some of the full-service competitors to AWS, some that are less established, and a handful of alternatives to individual cloud services useful to developers. I’ve written about a small number of these at Envato Tuts+ already, and I’ll detail those as we go.
Please note, this is a huge topic. I’m aiming today to provide a high-level outline to give you basic insights into alternatives. I won’t have time today to fully assess and compare each option in detail. Wherever possible, I’ll try to connect you to helpful resources for your own deeper analysis.
If you’d like to see more detailed analysis of full-stack providers or specific services, let us know in the comments below. You can also reach me on Twitter @reifman directly.
The Major Competitors
The AWS cloud offering continues to expand at a rapid rate, as reflected in its immense Management Console:
Amazon offers a variety of services that you certainly can’t find all together from a single vendor, nor can you even easily find some from individual vendors. But there’sful an ever growing array of alternatives.
In 2015, Gartner researched the Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service, Worldwide. It showcased the leaders (Amazon, Microsoft and Google) and a handful of up and coming provider networks, both Fortune 500 companies such as IBM and larger startups such as Rackspace and Joyent:
Let’s begin to explore the landscape ourselves.
The Two Big Competitors
Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Compute are the two biggest competitors to AWS attempting to offer a growing stack of service offerings.
Google Cloud Compute
There’s no simple visual way to see the scope of Google’s offerings, but they have steadily grown to offer a moderate subset of AWS. Here’s how they place their features into a discoverable hierarchy:
- Compute Engine: Run large-scale workloads on virtual machines hosted on Google’s infrastructure.
- Preemptible VMs: Preemptible VMs are a low-cost choice for distributed and fault-tolerant workloads.
- App Engine: A platform for building scalable web apps and mobile back ends.
- Container Engine: Run Docker containers on Google’s infrastructure, powered by Kubernetes.
- Cloud Storage: Powerful, simple and cost effective object storage service with global edge-caching.
- Nearline: A highly available, affordable solution for backup, archiving, and disaster recovery.
- Cloud SQL: Store and manage data using a fully-managed, relational MySQL database.
- Datastore: A managed, NoSQL, schemaless database for storing non-relational data.
- Bigtable: Cloud Bigtable is a fast, fully managed, massively scalable NoSQL database service.
- Cloud Networking: Connect your network to Google directly, via your carrier or using a secure VPN. Use reliable, resilient and low-latency DNS. Load balance traffic between Compute Engine instances using either HTTP or Network (TCP/UDP).
- BigQuery: Analyze Big Data in the cloud. Run fast, SQL-like queries against petabytes of data in seconds.
- Dataflow: Dataflow is a real-time data processing service for batch and stream data processing.
- Dataproc: Google Cloud Dataproc is a managed Spark and Hadoop service that is fast, easy to use, and low cost.
- Datalab: An easy to use interactive tool for large-scale data exploration, analysis and visualization.
- Pub/Sub: Connect your services with reliable, many-to-many, asynchronous messaging hosted on Google’s infrastructure.
- Translate API: Create multilingual apps and translate text into other languages programmatically.
- Prediction API: Use Google’s machine learning algorithms to analyze data and predict future outcomes using a familiar RESTful interface.
- Cloud Monitoring: Gain insight into the performance and availability of your cloud-powered applications.
- Cloud Deployment Manager: Developers can easily design, share, deploy and manage complex Google Cloud Platform solutions using simple, declarative templates.
- Container Registry: Fast, private Docker image storage on Google Cloud Platform.
- Cloud Logging: Manage all your log data for Compute Engine and App Engine to investigate and debug system issues, gain operational and business insights, and meet security and compliance needs.
As you can see, there’s a lot available. Here’s the Cloud Platform Console:
If you’d like a more detailed comparison between AWS and Google Cloud, check out this Cloud Academy piece.
Azure is Microsoft’s most important growing product; it will help the company transform as Windows and Office application growth slow.
Here’s a nice visual summary of Azure’s features compared to Google and AWS above:
If you’d like more detail to compare AWS and Azure, check out Amazon AWS vs. Microsoft Azure Buying Guide (Datamation).
If you want to read a brief comparison of all three of these major services, check out AWS vs. Google Cloud vs. Microsoft Azure: How do they compare and which one is right for your business? (CBR).
Other Full-Stack Providers
There are three well-known cloud providers that make a good effort at offering a variety of the services that AWS does.
Rackspace formally launched back in 1998 and has grown steadily to provide compelling cloud services. I’m a big fan of its Mailgun as well as its DNS offering, both of which I’ll describe further below.
Here’s how Rackspace categorizes its offerings:
You can visit the Rackspace Demonstration Site to see a bit of the control panel in action—but not much before you have to register.
One thing that’s unique is that it offers its services both on its own hardware or powered by Azure or AWS (kind of a pseudo-alternative to AWS):
Full disclosure: I’ve done consulting work for RackSpace in the past. Generally, I’ve found the services of theirs that I’ve used to be quite good.
I first used Joyent back in 2007 when they offered free hosting for the emerging Facebook application platform. It’s grown a lot since then to offer a variety of cloud services that you can run on your hardware or theirs.
They offer a unique container focus perfect for launching and managing Docker containers.
IBM Cloud Computing
IBM’s SoftLayer cloud offering isn’t easy to find through the marketing presentation on their website, but it seems to have a positive, growing reputation. It also includes $500 of trial funds to get started:
Many of the Rest
As I researched this topic, I found a variety of other services that seemed to have some basic merit and usage that you may wish to explore:
- OVH: The most common cloud services on a dedicated infrastructure.
- Kyup: Secure, fast and scalable Linux containers.
- Atlantic.net: Cloud VPS hosting, like Digital Ocean which I’ll describe more below.
- CloudSigma: More of an enhanced VPS host with some unique customization options.
- Hewlett Packard’s Helion Eucalyptus: « an open solution for building private clouds that are compatible with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Discover the benefits of moving public cloud workloads and data to your own private cloud. »
I’ve noticed that the bigger companies like HP and IBM have the most unwieldy product names, making it easy to get lost in the clouds.
If you’d like to build and manage your own (or launch a competitor to AWS), there are two that I found:
1. Apache CloudStack
Apache CloudStack is « open source software designed to deploy and manage large networks of virtual machines, as a highly available, highly scalable Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud computing platform…a turnkey solution that includes the entire ‘stack’ of features most organizations want with an IaaS cloud: compute orchestration, Network-as-a-Service, user and account management, a full and open native API, resource accounting, and a first-class User Interface (UI). »
OpenStack « controls large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a datacenter, managed through a dashboard or via the OpenStack API. OpenStack works with popular enterprise and open source technologies making it ideal for heterogeneous infrastructure. »
Service Specific Alternatives
Many Envato Tuts+ developers need cloud-based services for a vertical need but not a full stack. I’ve often found it easier to apply third-party solutions for specific needs and have moved away from Amazon for reasons I mentioned above.
Let’s begin to explore some of the more common cloud verticals.
I haven’t used Linode in a while, but it worked well when I did, and it has a solid reputation.
While many of us use our domain registrar’s free DNS services, they are not always the fastest or most reliable. If you need a higher service level, SolveDNS publishes a monthly speed comparison of the major providers:
Verizon is impressively fast:
But they are a bit obtuse about pricing—I presume the technician meant monthly, which is pricey:
« We don’t really disclose prices because it varies from case to case but roughly it will cost you $50 for the first 50 zones and $35 per additional 50 zones. » – Verizon Route Chat Support
Rackspace offers free, sophisticated DNS hosting for free as long as you have an account:
You may also want to read my tutorial at Envato Tuts+, Using the Digital Ocean API to Manage Your DNS.
Content Delivery Networks (CDN)
A lot of people begin using AWS with its CloudFront and S3 storage and global content delivery. But there are a lot of options emerging in this field as well.
CloudFlare launched itself focusing on DDoS protection, which can be vital for many sites, and integrates this closely with its CDN services:
After I wrote about KeyCDN for Envato Tuts+, I decided to become a user and have been quite satisfied. It’s simpler and more economical than AWS.
I’ve also written about Incapsula, another powerful security service which provides broad spectrum optimization, including CDN:
Data Storage and Backup
There are a wide variety of Data Storage and Backup services available.
You may also want to investigate my series here on CloudBerry, which offers data storage exploration tools for AWS S3, Azure, and Google:
When I used Amazon’s Simple Email Service (SES), I found it difficult to configure, monitor and maintain. Ultimately, I found Rackspace’s Mailgun to be much simpler and more reliable. This is often the case when you switch away from AWS’s breadth of features which get limited usability attention and native language customer support and to startups that are focused and attentive. Amazon has too large a focus on development and not enough on product design and product management—you can see this in weaknesses across AWS’s user experience.
Be sure to check out our Mailgun tutorials:
Full disclosure: I’ve consulted for Mailgun before. Most recently, I led the update of their WordPress Plugin to support List Subscription.
There’s also SendGrid, and while I’m not a fan of MailChimp due to their overzealous, unfair customer service (they shut down email lists of mine where we’d hand-collected emails in person during an initiative campaign), they offer Mandrill.
Yes, during that campaign, we married a corporation to a woman in Seattle to honor the absurdity of corporate personhood and its harmful effects on the United States (I thought you might need a humor break after all this cloud study):
Management Tools and Monitoring
Envato Tuts+ has a number of tutorials about New Relic, which is a highly reliable solution to website monitoring. It offers more focused, detailed features than AWS. Check out a couple of mine from Envato Tuts+:
I’ve also written about Stackify, which takes a direct path for development monitoring specializing in errors and logs:
One area where AWS distinguishes itself is in its gaming features. One startup I’ve seen that’s making a compelling alternative offering for game developers is PlayFab, who recently raised $7.4 million in venture capital funding:
PlayFab provides a sophisticated array of cloud-powered gaming infrastructure and APIs to speed game development. For more detail, download PlayFab’s Technical White Paper (pdf).
Full disclosure: I’m an acquaintance of its CEO James Gwertzman, and we worked together at Microsoft.
Certainly one of the greatest transitions of the past decade is the switch from desktop applications such as Office to cloud-based word processors, spreadsheets, etc.
Here’s a recent comparison of the two services from CIO.com.
I hope this tutorial has helped you get an overview of the landscape of options out there for you and your business (small and large)—they are immense. Obviously, I couldn’t go into detail of the pros and cons of all the alternatives, but if you’d like to see us explore some of these more deeply, please add this to the comments below.
Ultimately, please let us know your experience with AWS and the alternatives that you’ve experimented with. You can also reach me directly on Twitter @reifman. And, be sure to browse my Envato Tuts+ instructor page to see some of my other tutorials.
- Amazon Web Services generated $1.8B last quarter, up 81% from one year ago – GeekWire
- Interview: Microsoft Azure evolves, in bid to challenge Amazon in the cloud (GeekWire)
- Amazon Web Services versus Microsoft Azure, Google, Oracle (Business Insider)
- Cloud and Web Service Technology Alternatives to AWS (Flee the Jungle)
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