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Compare AWS Free Tier to free Google, Azure services

Cloud providers use several methods to attract enterprises, including offering free tiers of service. But each cloud provider's free service is different.

The AWS Free Tier is an entry point for IT teams that wan to test the waters of cloud computing. And while free...

services can be enticing, is it worth the effort?

AWS Free Tier levels include at least some access to services that include Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, Simple Storage Service, Relational Database Service and AWS IoT (Internet of Things). AWS also includes access to 700 free and paid software products that run on the AWS Free Tier. Some of the free tiers of service do not automatically expire, which gives IT teams many capabilities available to sample. Most Free Tier benefits expire after the first 12 months of use.

"[The AWS Free Tier is] a combination of 'get started using us for free,' and 'learn what you can do with some of our exciting new services for free'," said Forrester analyst Dave Bartoletti. "AWS has so many services that pricing is not easy or simple, but I don't think the Free Tier is any more difficult to understand."

AWS isn't the only public cloud provider with a free tier type of offering; Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure have similar products. GCP and Azure each offer a free tier that continues past the trial period -- but with very low usage limits after the trial period, noted Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd, an online software review platform. The reliability of AWS and GCP are now very comparable, while Azure seems to lag in uptime, he said.

According to Fauscette, there are a few factors that distinguish the free tiers of services:

  • AWS is available in more geographic regions and has greater resource capacity than GCP, as it provides more infrastructure services. There are more than 700 software products available on the AWS Marketplace, as AWS has been in the market longer than its competitors.
  • If you're looking for an end-to-end complete solution, AWS is still hard to beat.
    Michael Fauscettechief research officer at G2 Crowd
    Google Fiber gives Google Compute Engine (GCE), the infrastructure as a service portion of GCP, a performance advantage, meaning it doesn't travel over public internet.
  • GCE is on a single network without gateways or virtual private networks.
  • Amazon has more services and functionality. For example, AWS supports Windows instances as part of its Free Tier. GCE does not support Windows workloads.
  • Free term lengths differ between providers. AWS' Free tier lasts 12 months, while GCE's lasts 60 days and includes a $300 credit to apply to paid usage.
  • AWS Elastic Beanstalk supports more programming languages than GCE.
  • GCP includes instant auto scaling for GCE, while AWS charges for Amazon CloudWatch, which includes Auto Scaling. Google charges for the comparable Stackdriver monitoring service, but auto scaling integrates with it.
  • After the trial period, GCP charges by the minute -- with a 10-minute minimum. AWS charges by the hour.

According to Fauscette, G2 participants find AWS setup and operation to be more difficult and require more technical expertise over the other two cloud providers. On the other hand, companies that need the scale and coverage of AWS review it more positively, "particularly in IT shops with deeper cloud infrastructure skills," he said.

When it comes to uptime, "reviewers often praise the availability of AWS," Fauscette said. G2 reviewers preferred Google Kubernetes over other container services. Several reviewers stated that Google's 60-day trial period was sufficient to test the capabilities and decide on the cloud provider.

The AWS Free Tier also differentiates itself with its functionality.

"If you're looking for an end-to-end complete solution, AWS is still hard to beat," Fauscette said. But if an IT team wants to perform a task like process massive amounts of data or build or deploy applications, it should look at all three providers and compare features and options to find the best pricing and optimize performance, he advised. "Small organizations may benefit from Google's more granular pricing model, so if all other factors are equal, they could come out ahead on costs," Fauscette said.

Furthermore, each of the three cloud providers rolls out new features regularly and "Google and Microsoft are racing to reach parity of capabilities with AWS," Fauscette said. "The free trial services really are designed to help an organization validate that the service meets the requirements and has the capacity and availability that the company needs. Once the free trial is over, very few organizations could operate on the limited free offering."

Free trials are an effective way to attract IT teams, but what really matters is who can provide relevant services for their workloads, said Larry Carvalho, research manager and lead analyst, platform as a service, at IDC. "With the cost of cloud services being pretty low, [cloud providers differentiate themselves] by the variety and ease of use of the available services," Carvalho added. If the services aren't relevant, enterprise IT will likely move production workloads to a competing cloud service provider.

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