Microsoft Workloads on AWS

Why you should migrate your Windows workloads with AWS (and how we can help)

You’re convinced. Your business can’t adapt quickly enough to changing customer demands while running your infrastructure on-premises; it’s time to move to the cloud. To resist is like fighting gravity. But knowing this is not the same as doing it, and your teams are experts in building and running your Windows applications on-premises. The thought of changing that operational model is daunting.

Take courage. The Windows world you’ve loved in your data center can actually be even better in the cloud. Like, “all-that-great-Windows-functionality-without-the-burden-of-managing-it” better. At AWS, we’ve helped migrate thousands of Windows customers like Autodesk, which has been running Windows workloads on AWS for over 10 years. We’ve also helped companies migrate workloads at serious scale like Salesforce, which has over 10,000 Windows instances running on AWS. In fact, we have more years of experience running Windows in the cloud than Microsoft. We stand ready to help you, too.

Let’s take a look at how much more reliable, cost effective, performant, and scalable your Windows world can be when running in the cloud, and how easy it is for you to get there.

The Windows you love, but better

A critical question is what will I have to sacrifice. If moving to AWS, the answer is easy: you give up nothing, and gain much. All the critical Windows infrastructure you depend on, made more dependable. Things like user access and the application development experience, at a compelling price, with more reliable infrastructure than you’ve been able to commit to in an on-premises world. I’ll talk about each in turn.


The first component is access to your Windows services. At AWS, we make familiar Windows services even easier to use. Take Amazon FSx for Window File Server. It’s a fully managed, native Microsoft Windows file system that provides shared file storage, including full support for the SMB protocol and Windows NTFS. AWS Managed Microsoft AD is built on actual Microsoft Active Directory and does not require you to synchronize or replicate data from your existing Active Directory to the cloud. Customers like Infor have turned to Amazon FSx to reduce operational overhead and lower costs by 50%. This allows Infor to focus on their core business, which is what Greg Bell, Infor’s Manager of Cloud Services, says is “delivering great software to our customers.”

Amazon FSx also tightly integrates with AWS Directory Service, which lets you run AWS Managed Active Directory (AD) service to provide seamless identity and access management. You can use standard Active Directory administration tools and take advantage of built-in Active Directory features, such as Group Policy and single sign-on (SSO). But we also manage the service for you, freeing up developer and administrator resources from time-intensive maintenance to enable them to focus on innovation. This is an upgrade over what customers are used to running Active Directory in their data centers, or on Azure. Small wonder that DevOps engineers like RepricerExpress’ Damien Elder say, “Because it’s a managed service on AWS, it’s much simpler to run Active Directory on AWS than on Azure.”

One question that many Windows customers ask is about security and, specifically, firewalls in the cloud. A typical three-tier, on-premises architecture looks like this:

before AWS architecture

However, on AWS, it looks more like this:

AFter AWS architecture

Within this cloud-centric architecture, you can use built-in AWS firewall functionality, offerings from AWS security partners, a network access control list (ACL), or a network access control list (network ACL) function that acts like a firewall across subnets and provides stateless screening.

Application development

The second area is application development. Windows developers rightly love their .NET environments, and AWS provides all the familiar tooling and integrations .NET developers expect, like Visual Studio. The AWS Toolkit for Visual Studio is an extension for Visual Studio running on Windows that makes it easier for developers to develop, debug, and deploy .NET applications, while easily tying into AWS infrastructure services like Amazon S3, Amazon EC2, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and Amazon DynamoDB.

In addition, AWS enables .NET developers to tap into the most innovative containers and serverless technologies, such as AWS Fargate and AWS Lambda, Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS).  In fact, container services like Amazon ECS support Windows containers on container instances that are launched with the Amazon ECS-optimized Windows Amazon Machine Image (AMI). We’re also proud to be the first Cloud provider to have Windows containers on Kubernetes.

One important area for completing the Windows development experience involves data; specifically, SQL Server. AWS offers a variety of ways to run SQL Server. If you want to manage SQL Server, but gain the cost, scale, and performance benefits of running it on Amazon EC2, you can bring your own licenses or use our licenses. If instead you’d like to have AWS manage the intricacies of database administration like managing backups or detecting failures and recovering, we offer SQL Server 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017 as part of Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). In either case, customers like Globe Telecom and MilesWeb report immediate cost savings of 30%, while gaining business agility and other benefits.

Worried that in this shift to cloud you’ll lose track of software licenses? Don’t be. With AWS License Manager, you can easily manage your Windows and SQL Server licenses (as well as SAP, Oracle, and IBM) in a single, easy-to-navigate control plane. Administrators create customized licensing rules to manage, discover, enforce, and report software license usage.

Lower costs, better reliability

These access and development improvements might not be as compelling if AWS weren’t also the most cost-effective place for you to run your Windows workloads. The analyst firm IDC reports that customers running Windows on AWS average 442% ROI over five years, experience 98% less unplanned downtime, and achieve 56% lower five-year cost of operations. For example, SSP, which provides software that insurers use to manage pricing, quotes, policy administration, and claims, cut Windows costs by 40% when it migrated to the AWS cloud.

Behind the scenes, AWS offers the best global infrastructure for running Windows workloads that require high availability with 76 Availability Zones (AZ) across 24 Regions. AWS provides twice as many Regions with multiple Availability Zones than the next largest cloud provider, resulting in more uptime for your Windows applications.

In short, your Windows experience can be markedly better by moving it to AWS. By migrating Windows workloads to AWS, you keep all the familiar things you love about Windows, while tapping into significant cost savings, greater business agility, and lower maintenance overhead. If you decide that you don’t want to continue paying the Windows or SQL Server license tax, we have tons of options to help you move to open source, native services, and purpose-built databases. With AWS, the choice is yours to make.

So how do you get there? I’ll tackle that in a follow-up post. Stay tuned!

More to come

To see how your organization can save money while driving innovation and improving performance, please continue to join me as I how you can modernize with AWS. AWS can help you assess how your company can get the most out of cloud. Join the millions of AWS customers that trust us to migrate and modernize their most important applications in the cloud.

To learn more on modernizing Windows Server or SQL Server, visit Windows on AWS.  Contact us to start your migration journey today.

Matt Asay

Matt Asay

Matt Asay (pronounced "Ay-see") has been involved in open source and all that it enables (cloud, machine learning, data infrastructure, mobile, etc.) for nearly two decades, working for a variety of open source companies and writing regularly for InfoWorld and TechRepublic. You can follow him on Twitter (@mjasay).