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AWS v Azure – which is the best platform to build your career on?

Cloud computing is a rapidly growing industry, with some 69% of businesses moving their business-critical applications to the cloud. As a result, cloud computing has become a popular choice for developers or IT staff who are looking to future-proof their career. In fact, it’s estimated that 38% of IT positions will be cloud related by 2021.

If you’re just starting out in cloud computing, you have a decision to make: which of the two major platforms – AWS and Azure – do you choose from?

AWS and Azure – a brief overview

AWS (Amazon Web Services) was launched in 2006 as an Amazon side business. Since then it has grown to account for more than half ($7.3 billion, 2018) of Amazon’s operating income, which alone gives an idea of the ubiquity of AWS. As well as being the first-mover, it has the largest market share and a wide range of infrastructure applications. AWS comprises 165+ services, covering computing, storage, networking, database, analytics, application services, deployment, management, mobile, developer tools, and tools for the Internet of Things. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) are the most popular of these.

With the second-largest market share (under half of AWS’s, depending on which estimate you read), Microsoft’s Azure is growing quickly with hybrid cloud functionality, led by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s ‘cloud first’ focus. Azure services number a dizzying 600+, with App Services, DevOps Project and Data management (Azure Cosmos DB) among the most popular.

Both services offer machine learning tools and features that serve emerging technology areas, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and serverless computing, therefore making them both great platform choices on which to base your career. But, before you make a decision, let’s look at what the career paths might look like for both AWS and Azure.

AWS certifications and career path

AWS currently offers one foundation, three associate, two professional and three specialty certifications. You can take these in five areas:

  • Architecting – for designers and deployers of distributed systems on the AWS platform. Start with the Certified Solutions Architect - Associate and develop to Professional.
  • Developing – for developers and maintenance. Start with the AWS Certified Developer – Associate, followed by the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional.
  • Operations – for architecture and development. Associate-level operations certification aims at system operators (SysOps) administrators, with the highest being AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional.
  • Cloud – at foundation-level, the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Cloud focuses on AWS Cloud technologies, concepts and security. It is a prerequisite for specialty or associate-level certifications.
  • Specialties – credentials for skills such as networking, big data and security.

How much will this set you back? The Cloud Practitioner exam is $100, Associate-level exams are $150, and Professional level and Specialty exams are $300. So, someone starting out and choosing to take six certifications up to Professional level would need to spend around $1150 (£890) on the exams. Unlike Azure, AWS requires certified practitioners to recertify every two years, which means retaking the exam for your highest certification (at a 50% discount).

Azure certifications and career path

Microsoft announced a new role-based Azure certification path for 2019, offering a clear learning path from Fundamental to Associate and Expert level. This makes navigating the certification path a little easier compared to their previous structure, and it works better for individuals wanting to validate their expertise through their day-to-day work. A good place to start is working out which certification is closest to your current experience or role.

There are a number of Microsoft Azure Certification paths for Azure-based roles.

  • Azure Fundamentals
  • Azure Administrator Associate
  • Azure Developer Associate
  • Azure Security Engineer Associate
  • Azure Data Engineer Associate
  • Azure Solution Architect Expert
  • Azure DevOps Engineer Expert

You’ll need to pass the Azure Fundamentals exam, and then either one or two further exams, depending on your chosen path, to achieve Associate level, which is aimed at those with 2+ years’ experience. Experts generally have 2-5 years’ experience and need to pass 2-3 exams, but you’ll need to check the prerequisites for those. Exam costs are currently £113 for each module, depending on whether you take it at a physical assessment centre or via an online proctored method. This means that you’ll need to spend around £680 to get up to expert level, but the certification will last you for life.

So, which way do you go?

Choosing which one to focus on is hard. If you can, go deep with one, then develop breadth in both – or even consider other platforms if you’re really sold on a career in the cloud. If you really hate doing exams then the fact that Azure certifications last for life may be enough to help you decide. Certification costs are cheaper overall for Azure, but probably not enough to make a difference in the long-term.

Ultimately, it comes down to where you want to work and the type of employer you’re looking for. A good acid test is to look at the jobs in your area (or the area you’d like to live in) and see which platform has more cloud architect positions listed. If you’re still stuck then it makes sense to start with AWS, as it’s the most dominant. Another thing to bear in mind is that many enterprises are now opting for a multi-cloud approach, so you may end up having to learn both during the course of your career.

Whichever route you take, you’ll need good training. Take a look at our AWS and Azure courses to help maximise your study time.