Azure vs. Alibaba: Cloud Platforms Comparison 2019

Posted on by Julia Poltavets

We continue posting our analysis and comparisons of the most significant cloud service providers on the global market. We started with two major players in this industry – GCP and AWS, and today we would like to share our findings on two more cloud platforms – Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Cloud.

While Microsoft Azure comes up quite often whenever cloud platforms are discussed, Alibaba Cloud seems to be a new kid on the block. And this impression is totally wrong, as Alibaba Cloud has been around for a decade already – since 2009. It is a part of the famous Alibaba Group and the largest cloud provider in China.

However, the geography of Alibaba Cloud has reached far beyond China and formed a truly global coverage. Thus, it would be fair to compare it with another cloud provider of the global scale, Microsoft Azure, to see the strengths and weaknesses of both.

Coverage

Alibaba Cloud, quite logically, has the largest presence in China – 7 regions. However, it also has quite a number of regions in the Asia Pacific, two regions in the US, two in Europe and one in the Middle East. Thus, we can say that the Alibaba network has created a global coverage and that its services are available in all parts of the world.

Microsoft Azure coverage is more dense – it has 54 regions on all continents. The Azure network has reached as far as Australia, Japan and South Africa where it also has dedicated regions.

In the context of coverage, we can say that while you can get both Alibaba and Azure everywhere, with Azure you can be closer to a data center and have a more reliable service.

Computing capacity

Let’s see how powerful a virtual machine you can get with Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Cloud. The computing capacity and, consequently, the machine performance, depends on the number of vCPUs and the RAM size.

With Alibaba, the largest VM you can get has 160 vCPUs and 1920 Gb RAM. In this respect, it outpaces Microsoft Azure that can go only as high as 128 vCPUs but can supply twice as much RAM – 3892 Gb.

As you can see, both cloud providers have quite flexible options as to the machine size and capacity. Check the Alibaba Cloud calculator and Microsoft Azure calculator for the available options.

Storage

Whenever you are launching a virtual machine in a cloud, you can request an additional storage volume together with it. Additional volume is needed for most apps to store databases and other app components.

In this respect, both cloud platforms offer sufficient volumes – up to 32,767 Gb with high performance and read/write speed of their disks.

Security

In cloud computing, security is one of the primary concerns. Users pay special attention to security measures, as their adequacy can tip the scales in their decision whether to trust the provider with their data.

Both Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Cloud apply rather extensive security measures. Advanced data encryption algorithms are used both client-side and server-side, and storages are encrypted, too, to protect data at rest.

Alibaba uses Resource Access Management to provide access to its services. The RAM system allows creating a multi-level access system with MFA for extra protection.

Microsoft Azure uses the Active Directory model for user and access management. Azure also has an effective MFA mechanism that increases the security.

Of course, both cloud providers ensure that their services comply with the applicable regulations. Both have HIPAA, PCI DSS and other certificates to prove compliance with the global, regional and industry security regulations. In more details, the security certifications are listed on the official websites of Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Cloud.

Pricing

Both Microsoft Azure and Alibaba Cloud use the pay-as-you-go billing model where charges are based on the exact time you are using the cloud resources. Comparing the prices of cloud providers is never easy, as you need to take into account lots of factors that add up to the virtual machine cost.

A quick comparison shows that Alibaba offers somewhat lower prices than Microsoft Azure. Of course, a lot depends on the virtual machine configuration and the region it is launched, but when we compare prices for machines of similar configuration, Alibaba is still a bit more attractive.

You can browse the available options and compare prices in the pricing calculators of both platforms – Alibaba Price Calculator and Microsoft Azure Pricing Calculator.

While Alibaba seems to win in the pricing category, Microsoft Azure offers a larger variety of available configurations. The list of virtual machines supported by Azure includes all sorts of vCPU/RAM combinations suitable for any purpose.

Summing up

The purpose of our comparison was never to conclude that one of the cloud providers is better than the other. On the contrary, we compared the most significant parameters of both cloud platforms to show that both can be used as a reliable and secure environment for your infrastructure.

Microsoft, due to its larger market presence and better recognition, can be considered more popular and more widely used. At the same time, Alibaba cloud is following closely and is going to make its rightful claim on its share of the cloud services market.

As to the choice of the best cloud provider, our recommendation is always to start with your project requirements. They are the base on which you should build your technology stack including the cloud resources.