When discussing cloud providers and pricing, it’s common to compare within the ‘big three’ (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud), but what about Alibaba cloud pricing? After all, they’ve been regarded as the #4 cloud provider (at least in terms of revenue) and they’re rapidly growing in the cloud space. They’ve already made a name for themselves in China, and as they continue growing, the time is ripe for a cloud cost comparison.
Let’s explore Alibaba cloud pricing for its Elastic Compute Service (ECS) in comparison to a more familiar service offering — AWS EC2.
The Alibaba/Aliyun Confusion
When it comes to cloud service pricing comparisons, a quick glance won’t do it. There are different services, pricing models, and other offerings mixed in between each provider, making it hard to do a casual comparison.The same can be said with Alibaba, as finding pricing alone gets complicated, and can be found in different places and at different rates.
Search for Alibaba pricing here, which we will call the “Alibaba Cloud” site, and you’ll get one rate. But if you go ahead and sign up for an account, and you’re ready to buy an instance, you might end up here or here, which we can call the “Aliyun” site — the original name of Alibaba’s cloud arm.
Confusing? yes. So here’s what both sites tell us:
- Alibaba’s pricing model includes Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG), with per-second billing.
- But you must enable “No fees for stopped instances” if you want to save money on stopped instances. This feature isn’t available for instances with local disks, which is unlike AWS, where local disks are deallocated when not in use.
- But like AWS, system/data disks continue accruing charges, even for stopped instances.
- Both sites show that Alibaba also has a one-month prepaid Subscription model.
- From the pricing listed for the us-east-1 region on the Alibaba Cloud site, the monthly subscription discount shows a 30–60% discount compared to a PAYG instance left up for a full month.
- For a non-production environment, let’s say only needed within normal business hours (9 hours a day on weekdays), it’s more cost-effective to opt for PAYG and use ParkMyCloud to shut the instances down during off-hours, saving 73%.
And that’s the extent of their similarities. If you want actual pricing, instance availability and types, you need to sign up for an Alibaba account to start some deep digging. If you already know that you prefer PAYG, the Alibaba public site lists PAYG pricing for all available instance types (although it doesn’t seem consistent with that you’ll find in the actual purchasing console).
Instance Types — “Entry Level” and “Basic”
Instance types on the Alibaba Cloud site are broken down between “Entry Level” and “Enterprise,” with various options under each category.
Entry Level Instances
- Described as “Shared Performance” because the underlying hardware is shared between multiple instance in a way that is not predictable. Or as Alibaba would put it “their computing performance may be unstable, but the cost is relatively low”
- You can find these instance types on the internal purchasing site, but they do not offer a point of reference for a AWS vs. Alibaba Cloud pricing comparison.
However, if you log into the Alibaba management console and get to the Aliyun side of the site, entry level and enterprise is not a thing. Instead, you’re given the top-tier options of “Basic Purchase” vs “Advanced Purchase”.
- Four “t5” instance types, directly corresponding to the first four AWS t2 instance types, in terms of building up CPU credits.
- The t5 instances types don’t seem to support the PAYG pricing model. Pricing is on a monthly subscription basis. There’s also a 1-year purchase plan, but it breaks down to just the monthly price x12.
- Note: the Aliyun site has issues. It lists the t5 instance types in all of the Alibaba regions, but I wasn’t able to purchase any of in the us-east-1 region — “The configuration for the instance you are creating is currently not supported in this zone.” (A purchase in us-west-1, slightly more expensive, was fine).
Here’s a price comparison for Alibaba vs AWS “t” instance prices in various regions. The AWS prices show the hourly PAYG pricing, multiplied by an average 730 hour month.
AWS prices are higher, but the instances are PAYG, meaning you can stop them when not in use. This strategy is common for t2 instances used in a dev-test environment and could save you over 73%. To compete with comparatively lower Alibaba prices, those are the kinds of savings you need.
Aliyun “Advanced Purchase”
From the “Advanced” part of the Aliyun purchasing site, there’s a lot more options, including PAYG instances. For simplicity, the scope here is limited to a couple of instance types, comparing some m5 and i3 instances with Alibaba equivalents. PAYG pricing is listed where offered.
- The prices listed for monthly AWS charges reflect the hourly PAYG price, multiplied by 730 hours per month.
- The italicized numbers under Alibaba are PAYG numbers that got pulled from the public website because the instance type was not available on the internal site.
- Upon review, it looks as though PAYG is only offered by few standalone instance types on Alibaba
What about auto scaling? That’s one reason I got PAYG pricing from another source. According to Alibaba, “all ECS instances that Auto Scaling automatically creates, or manually adds, to a scaling group will be charged according to their instance types. Note that you will still be charged for Pay-As-You-Go instances even after you stop them.”
But one thing you can do is manually add subscription-based instances to an auto scaling group, then configure them to be not removed as you scale down. Generally speaking, the full price of AWS Linux instances over a 1-month period is up to 35% higher than what you pay with a 1-month Alibaba subscription. For an AWS Windows instance over a 1-month period, it’s anywhere from 9–25% higher than an Alibaba subscription.
The Gist of AWS vs Alibaba Cloud Pricing: Alibaba wins, but…
Alibaba is less expensive than AWS for the one-month subscription — that’s a fact. But for longer-lived instances, AWS Reserved Instances are more affordable, being about 40–75% less expensive than AWS PAYG, and less than some or possibly all Alibaba monthly subscriptions. AWS RI’s are also more easily applicable for auto scaling than a monthly subscription.
For non-production instances that you can turn off when not in use, PAYG is more affordable for both cloud providers, and ParkMyCloud can automate the scheduling. The only problem with Alibaba will be finding instances types that you can use with the PAYG option.