Azure Websites, Cloud Services, and Virtual Machines comparison


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Azure offers several ways to host web sites: Azure WebsitesCloud Services, and Virtual Machines. This article helps you understand the options and make the right choice for your web application.

Azure Websites is the best choice for most web apps. Deployment and management are integrated into the platform, sites can scale quickly to handle high traffic loads, and the built-in load balancing and traffic manager provide high availability. You can move existing sites to Azure Websites easily with an online migration tool, use an open-source app from the Web Application Gallery, or create a new site using the framework and tools of your choice. The WebJobs feature (currently in preview) makes it easy to add background job processing to your app.

If you need more control over the web server environment, such as the ability to remote into your server or configure server startup tasks, Azure Cloud Services is typically the best option.

If you have an existing application that would require substantial modifications to run in Azure Websites or Azure Cloud Services, you could choose Azure Virtual Machines in order to simplify migrating to the cloud. However, correctly configuring, securing, and maintaining VMs requires much more time and IT expertise compared to Azure Websites and Cloud Services. If you are considering Azure Virtual Machines, make sure you take into account the ongoing maintenance effort required to patch, update, and manage your VM environment.

The following diagram illustrates the relative degree of control versus ease of use for each of these web hosting options on Azure.


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Scenarios and recommendations

Here are some common application scenarios with recommendations as to which Azure web hosting option might be most appropriate for each.

I need a web front end with background processing and database backend to run business applications integrated with on premise assets.

Azure Websites is a great solution for complex business applications. It lets you develop apps that scale automatically on a load balanced platform, are secured with Active Directory, and connect to your on-premises resources. It makes managing those apps easy through a world-class management portal and APIs, and allows you to gain insight into how customers are using them with app insight tools. The new Webjobs feature lets you run background processes and tasks as part of your web tier, while hybrid connectivity and VNET features make it easy to connect back to on-premises resources. Azure Websites provides three 9’s SLA and enables you to:

  • Run your applications reliably on a self-healing, auto-patching cloud platform.
  • Scale automatically across a global network of datacenters.
  • Back up and restore for disaster recovery.
  • Be ISO, SOC2, and PCI compliant.
  • Integrate with Active Directory

I need a reliable way to host my corporate website that scales well and offers global reach.

Azure Websites is a great solution for hosting corporate websites. It enables sites to scale quickly and easily to meet demand across a global network of datacenters. It offers local reach, fault tolerance, and intelligent traffic management. All on a platform that provides world-class management tools, allowing you to gain insight into site health and site traffic quickly and easily. Azure Websites provides three 9’s SLA and enables you to:

  • Run your Websites reliably on a self-healing, auto-patching cloud platform.
  • Scale automatically across a global network of datacenters.
  • Back up and restore for disaster recovery.
  • Manage logs and traffic with integrated tools.
  • Be ISO, SOC2, and PCI compliant.
  • Integrate with Active Directory

I have an IIS6 application running on Windows Server 2003.

Azure Websites makes it easy to avoid the infrastructure costs associated with migrating older IIS6 applications. Microsoft has created easy to use migration tools and detailed migration guidance that enable you to check compatibility and identify any changes that need to be made. Integration with Visual Studio, TFS, and common CMS tools makes it easy to deploy IIS6 applications directly to the cloud. Once deployed, the Azure management portal provides robust management tools that enable you to scale down to manage costs and up to meet demand as necessary. With the migration tool you can:

  • Quickly and easily migrate your legacy Windows Server 2003 web application to the cloud.
  • Opt to leave your attached SQL database on-premise to create a hybrid application.
  • Automatically move your SQL database along with your legacy application.

I’m a small business owner, and I need an inexpensive way to host my site but with future growth in mind.

Azure Websites is a great solution for this scenario, because you can start using it for free and then add more capabilities when you need them. Each free website comes with a domain provided by Azure (, and the platform includes integrated deployment and management tools as well as an application gallery that make it easy to get started. There are many other services and scaling options that allow the site to evolve with increased user demand. With Azure Websites, you can:

  • Begin with the free tier and then scale up as needed.
  • Use the Application Gallery to quickly set up popular web applications, such as WordPress.
  • Add additional Azure services and features to your application as needed.
  • Secure your website with HTTPS.

I’m a web or graphic designer, and I want to design and build websites for my customers

For web developers and designers, Azure Websites integrates easily with a variety of frameworks and tools, includes deployment support for Git and FTP, and offers tight integration with tools and services such as Visual Studio and SQL Database. With Websites, you can:

  • Use command-line tools for automated tasks.
  • Work with popular languages such as .NetPHPNode.js, and Python.
  • Select three different scaling levels for scaling up to very high capacities.
  • Integrate with other Azure services, such as SQL DatabaseService Bus and Storage, or partner offerings from the Azure Store, such as MySQL and MongoDB.
  • Integrate with tools such as Visual Studio, Git, WebMatrix, WebDeploy, TFS, and FTP.

I’m migrating my multi-tier application with a web front-end to the Cloud

If you’re running a multi-tier application, such as a web server that connects to a database, Azure Websites is a good option that offers tight integration with Azure SQL Database. And you can use the new WebJobs (in preview) feature for running backend processes.

Choose Cloud Service for one or more of your tiers if you need more control over the server environment, such as the ability to remote into your server or configure server startup tasks.

Choose Virtual Machines for one or more of your tiers if you want to use your own machine image or run server software or services that you can’t configure on Cloud Services.

My application depends on highly customized Windows or Linux environments and I want to move it to the cloud.

If your application requires complex installation or configuration of software and the operating system, Virtual Machines is probably the best solution. With Virtual Machines, you can:

  • Use the Virtual Machine gallery to start with an operating system, such as Windows or Linux, and then customize it for your application requirements.
  • Create and upload a custom image of an existing on-premises server to run on a virtual machine in Azure.

My site uses open source software, and I want to host it in Azure

If your open source framework is supported on Websites, the languages and frameworks needed by your application are configured for you automatically. Websites enables you to:

  • Use many popular open source languages, such as .NETPHPNode.js, and Python.
  • Set up WordPress, Drupal, Umbraco, DNN, and many other third-party web applications.
  • Migrate an existing application or create a new one from the Application Gallery.

If your open source framework is not supported on Websites, you can run it on either of the other two Azure web hosting options. With Cloud Services, you use startup tasks to install and configure any required open source software that runs on Windows. With Virtual Machines, you install and configure the software on the machine image, which can be Windows or Linux-based.

I have a line-of-business application that needs to connect to the corporate network

If you want to create a line-of-business application, your website might require direct access to services or data on the corporate network. This is possible on Websites, Cloud Services, and Virtual Machines using the Azure Virtual Network service. On Websites you can use the new VNET integration feature, which allows your Azure applications to run as if they were on your corporate network.

I want to host a REST API or web service for mobile clients

HTTP-based web services enable you to support a wide variety of clients, including mobile clients. Frameworks like ASP.NET Web API integrate with Visual Studio to make it easier to create and consume REST services. These services are exposed from a web endpoint, so it is possible to use any web hosting technique on Azure to support this scenario. However, Websites is a great choice for hosting REST APIs. With Websites, you can:

  • Quickly create a website to host the HTTP web service in one of Azure’s globally distributed datacenters.
  • Migrate existing services or create new ones.
  • Achieve SLA for availability with a single instance, or scale out to multiple dedicated machines.
  • Use the published site to provide REST APIs to any HTTP clients, including mobile clients.

Feature Comparison

The following table compares the capabilities of Websites, Cloud Services, and Virtual Machines to help you make the best choice. For current information about the SLA for each option, see Azure Service Level Agreements.

Near-instant deployment X Deploying an application or an application update to a Cloud Service, or creating a VM, takes several minutes at least; deploying an application to a Website takes seconds.
Scale up to larger machines without redeploy X
Web server instances share content and configuration, which means you don’t have to redeploy or reconfigure as you scale. X
Multiple deployment environments (production and staging) X X
Automatic OS update management X X
Seamless platform switching (easily move between 32 bit and 64 bit) X X
Deploy code with GIT, FTP X X
Deploy code with Web Deploy X X Cloud Services supports the use of Web Deploy to deploy updates to individual role instances. However, you can’t use it for initial deployment of a role, and if you use Web Deploy for an update you have to deploy separately to each instance of a role. Multiple instances are required in order to qualify for the Cloud Service SLA for production environments.
WebMatrix support X X
Access to services like Service Bus, Storage, SQL Database X X X
Host web or web services tier of a multi-tier architecture X X X
Host middle tier of a multi-tier architecture X X X Websites can easily host a REST API middle tier, and the WebJobsfeature of Websites (currently in Preview) can host background processing jobs. You can run WebJobs in a dedicated website to achieve independent scalability for the tier.
Integrated MySQL-as-a-service support X X X Cloud Services can integrate MySQL-as-a-service through ClearDB’s offerings, but not as part of the Management Portal workflow.
Support for ASP.NET, classic ASP, Node.js, PHP, Python X X X
Scale out to multiple instances without redeploy X X X Virtual Machines can scale out to multiple instances, but the services running on them must be written to handle this scale-out. You have to configure a load balancer to route requests across the machines, and create an Affinity Group to prevent simultaneous restarts of all instances due to maintenance or hardware failures.
Support for SSL X X X For Websites, SSL for custom domain names is only supported for Basic and Standard mode. For information about using SSL with Websites, see Configuring an SSL certificate for an Azure Website.
Visual Studio integration X X X
Remote Debugging X X X
Deploy code with TFS X X X
Network isolation with Azure Virtual Network X X X See also Azure Websites Virtual Network Integration
Support for Azure Traffic Manager X X X
Integrated Endpoint Monitoring X X X
Remote desktop access to servers X X
Install any custom MSI X X
Ability to define/execute start-up tasks X X
Can use custom ETW events for tracing and debugging X X

Next Steps

For more information about the three web hosting options, see the following resources:

To get started with the option(s) you choose for your application, see the following resources:

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