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Inside Azure and AWS regions and availability zones

One battleground of the public cloud provider war is the number of data centers that AWS and Azure have. But it is not an apples-to-apples comparison between respective regions.

In the world of cloud computing, regions are the physical locations where applications and data exist. In addition to choosing the cloud provider, most enterprise IT shops need to select the location where their cloud resources will reside. And that can require thorough planning. 

There are good reasons to understand the use of regions. First, administrators could run afoul of laws that don't allow data to leave the country or, in this case, the region. Second, there are performance considerations due to network latency around application configurations and requirements.

Amazon, for instance, requires a user to choose AWS regions and availability zones when launching Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service instances. Admins select a region to best deal with latency or compliance issues.

If it sounds complex, that's because it is.

With AWS, different services have different availabilities -- whether or not they are a part of particular AWS regions and availability zones. So it pays to study the list during the cloud usage planning process. It's an important part of the configuration of AWS usage, and it can save enterprises money and provide better-performing cloud applications.

Some AWS products, such as AWS Identity and Access Management, do not support regions. Thus, the endpoint does not include a region. And some services, such as EC2, let developers specify an endpoint that does not include a specific region, leaving AWS to route the endpoint to a region of its choice. This is something IT teams absolutely must track, because it might not be immediately apparent which resources reside in which regions.

AWS regions and availability zones vs. Azure

Functionally, Microsoft Azure is at parity with AWS in terms of points of presence, specifically regions around the world. And, even though new regions are being created all the time and changing the landscape considerably, Azure currently has a few additional regions compared to AWS regions and availability zones, such as one in India. Microsoft even provides its customers with a handy tool to determine which region will provide the best performance.

Microsoft Azure predicts performance by region.
Microsoft provides Azure users with a tool to determine best-performing regions.

However, in many instances, latency will come from applications communicating with other applications or data. This means Azure's performance tool may oversimplify things.

AWS requires administrators to plan which regions to use, and for which service. Use application and data storage requirements as the starting point to begin planning. Then select the services you need to use and the best regions for those services to run. Generally, applications should be close to the primary group that will use them and associated data. This will help reduce latency and optimize app performance. Keep in mind legal issues as well.

Both AWS and Azure will happily assist users in selecting the best regions for their applications and data. However, admins are the experts of their own applications and data, meaning the final decision is up to them.

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