For an explanation on the "cloud" see what is cloud
Azure was created 3 years after AWS and as is normal in the tech industry if you are the creator of a major new advancement you will lead the industry for possible years (think of Apple in the smart phone market) so Azure has been playing catch up.
But they have been progressing and developing quickly as seen by this graph.
From Microsoft's site
"Achieve global scale with 40 announced Azure regions. Our priority on geographic expansion means you can choose the datacenter and region that’s right for you and your customers, with the performance and support you need, where you need it."
"Azure is the only public cloud that provides Cognitive APIs, Bots, Machine Learning, and Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) capabilities for developers and data scientists. Build intelligent solutions at scale by pairing these capabilities with powerful GPU-based compute to accelerate deep learning, enable HPC simulations, and conduct real-time data analytics using Azure N-Series Virtual Machines."
Certainly from the adverts on television they seem to be pushing the machine learning side of their cloud.
If you want a free trial have a look at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/free/?v=17.23h free trial
+ve and -ve
The main advantage over small providers such as Digital Ocean/Linode is that like AWS Azure is designed more as an enterprise solution. Comparisons against AWS look a lot harder, here are some of the things i have managed to find:
- One of the main selling points seems to the simple integration with Microsoft products (.net,office 365...)
- I did see one site that stated Azure offered "more (than AWS) comprehensive compliance coverage with 50 compliance offerings" but doing other research i don't feel 100% comfortable with that statment.
- Another selling points is the ease that apps can be built and pushed.
- Its build around tools and platforms that millions of developers already rely on (Java,Linux,.net,Docker...)
- Azure’s compatibility with the .Net programming language is one of the most useful benefits of Azure, which gives Microsoft a clear upper hand over AWS and the rest of the competitors
- AWS is widely perceived as being complicated. This is evident by the numerous tutorials, user guides, and troubleshooting documents that are out there. Conversely, Azure allows the utilization of the same tried and trusted technologies that several businesses have used in the past and are still using today (familiarity is an important point when selling a product see http://salestrainingconnection.com/2011/12/19/selling-and-the-power-of-familiarity/ for more info.
- While Amazon is still testing the hybrid waters, Azure already has its hybrid capabilities in place. It seamlessly connects datacenters to the Cloud. Azure provides a consistent platform which facilities easy mobility between on-premises and the public Cloud.