Who is Azure for?

If you're looking for help with C#, .NET, Azure, Architecture, or would simply value an independent opinion then please get in touch here or over on Twitter.

As I’ve worked with a wider variety of cloud vendors in recent months I’m becoming increasingly unsure who Azure is a good fit for. To contextualise this a lot of my work has been based around fairly common application patterns: APIs, SPAs, data storage, message brokers, background activities. As some of this is self funded I’m often interested in cost but still want good performance for users.

For simple projects (lets say an SPA, an API and a database) you now have services like Digital Ocean which will deploy your app direct from GitHub and let you set up a database and CDN with a few lines of code or couple of button pushes in the portal. The portals are super easy to use and focused. Digital Ocean can also be cheap. If you’re a developer focused on code and product its about as simple as it gets.

Azure has some of this but its far less streamlined and doesn’t go as low on entry level price. It’s also mired in inconsistencies across its services.

So for a simple project – I don’t think it competes either on usability or price. And on the commericals – Microsoft are difficult to approach as a startup or as someone looking to migrate workloads. In contrast from my recent experiences AWS are far more aggressive in this regard.

At the other end of things if you want more control and access to more complex services you have AWS – like Azure they have a vast array of services for you to choose from. I would argue AWS has a slightly steeper learning curve than Azure – you quickly get involved with networking and IAM policies and roles – but its more consistent than Azure. Once you’ve got your head around those concepts things start to flow nicely. AWS feels like it was built bottom up (infrastructure upwards) and if you look at its history it was. Its benefiting from that now as it builds higher level components on top of that base. Azure in comparison feels (and was) built top down – it started with PaaS and has moved downwards. Unfortunately its harder to patch in a foundation and some of the issues we experience I would argue are due to that. I do think Azure has a better portal that brings deployed services together in a clearer way – but if you’re doing the more complex work that makes sense on something like Azure or AWS you’re almost certainly using Infrastructure as Code technologies (and if not – you should be!) so it becomes less of an advantage at this end of the scale.

And worryingly Microsoft have missed the two big recent advances in compute: serverless and ARM.

With serverless Azure Functions is barely a competitor to Lambda at this point. Its got some nice trimmings in things like Durable Functions but as a core serverless offering its slow both in terms of raw performance and cold start and its inflexible – its still suffering from being cobbled together like a monolithic Frankenstein’s monster from the parts Microsoft had lying around when Lambda was launched (the perils of Marketing Led Development).

On ARM, Amazon are on v2 of their Graviton support and you can obtain 20% to 40% cost savings by moving typical .NET 5 workloads onto ARM backed EC2 instances. Azure don’t even have anything in preview. How long will it be until AWS have got ARM rolled out in further services?

So ultimately who is Azure for? The only audience I’m coming up with are existing Microsoft customers who have large investments in the ecosystem or those locked into spending with Microsoft.

Otherwise I’m struggling to see why, if given a free choice, you would now choose it. I’d looked to put my latest side project on Azure – I felt I ought to give it another chance, I’m an Azure MVP for goodness sake – but I can’t find a compelling reason to and deploying it was painful. Performance experiments today (that will be published after my meetup talk tomorrow) were disappointing. Whereas I can find compelling reasons to deploy on AWS.

It genuinely saddens me to be writing this – I’ve had a lot of success with Azure over the years but Microsoft seem to have lost their way. In the chase for every feature and every customer the commercial focus has gone and it feels like they’re paying a price for chasing AWS from weak foundations. I’ll continue to engage with Product Teams and users as I can and I don’t think of myself as “walking away” from Azure but my latest project is headed to AWS. Commercially and productivity wise its a no brainer.

And all in it makes it very difficult to recommend Azure at this point if you have a free choice of cloud vendor.

Update: Its worth noting that some folk I trust, such as Howard van Roojen of Endjin, speak highly of Azure’s data platform capabilities and have delivered some serious systems based around that so as ever you do have to look at your use case. And if you’re looking at making a significant investment with a cloud vendor I highly recommend finding someone independent who has experience in the space and test with some representative workloads as soon as you can. Don’t rely on what the vendor is telling you. And don’t assume that because you’re using .NET that Azure is the answer – it may be, but it may not.

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  • If you're looking for help with C#, .NET, Azure, Architecture, or would simply value an independent opinion then please get in touch here or over on Twitter.

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