In the mid-2000s, Microsoft started an internal project code-named Project Red Dog that would forever change not just its own fate but a whole spectrum of businesses around the globe. While admittedly it was playing catch up Amazon, not in the retail business, but elsewhere, it had already started causing waves in the world of cloud computing. By 2008, the internal project had started taking shape and an announcement for Microsoft’s own cloud computing service was named Microsoft Windows Azure.
Thrown open for commercial availability in 2010, it came up with five key categories of cloud services namely:
- Windows Azure for computing, storage, and networking
- Microsoft SQL Services for databases
- Microsoft .NET Services
- Live Services
- Microsoft SharePoint Services and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Services SaaS
Azure is now among the most widely used PaaS and IaaS solutions. What was a spartan service in 2010 has evolved into a behemoth with the support for a wide range of programming languages, frameworks, and operating systems including Linux, which was unimaginable for Microsoft products until not long ago.
Let us try and understand what Microsoft Azure is:
What Does Azure Mean?
In many Roman languages, the word ‘Azure’ is synonymous with blue color. The paradoxical dictionary definition of Azure is “bright blue in color like a cloudless sky.” The irony is, there is nothing “cloudless” about Azure. On the contrary, it is all about the cloud when you define Azure as a Microsoft solution. The more appropriate question to address in this context is, “What is Azure Cloud service?”
Azure Services can be defined as a collection of traditional cloud offerings such as virtual machines, object storage, and content delivery networks (CDNs) that have been bundled with proprietary Microsoft technologies which are typically cloud-hosted versions of common enterprise Microsoft solutions such as Servers and Active Directory. In other words, it is a cloud-based platform that includes servers, storage, databases, networking, analytics, and other tools that businesses need for virtual computing tasks. Unlike in the previous era in which businesses needed extensive physical hardware such as servers, storage vaults, and Ethernet switches for building, deploying, and managing applications, Azure cloud essentially enables businesses to rent these computing resources helping businesses reduce costs and improve efficiency. Let us look at some of the most important features of Azure Cloud.
What Are the Features of Azure?
Because Azure is such a vast and distributed solution, it is impractical to cover the features of all the products and services under its ambit. As a primer to Azure for novices, this blog focuses on the overarching capabilities of Azure products and services their features.
Resilience and Business Continuity
Downtimes are perhaps the most expensive contingencies of modern-day businesses. Every second of the lack of availability of mission-critical hardware, operating systems, and applications can result in huge losses. As a cloud offering, resilience is undoubtedly the most important aspect of Azure. It is designed to withstand planned outages as well as black-swan events. No matter where you are, your data is always secure and available with guaranteed 99.99% uptime. This is because Microsoft has several data centers distributed across the globe for storing Azure data. The Azure Site Recovery replicates workloads from one location to another and ensures uninterrupted availability. The data you store is replicated thrice in different data centers that act as backups in the event of a failure. With Azure Traffic Manager a region-specific failure also results in automatic traffic rerouting to ensure that the contents and services on a website are always available.
For all practical purposes, there is unlimited storage and processing power for enterprises to run their operations. Are you expecting huge footfalls for Black Friday? Well, Azure is very helpful in such cases. It can handle high-volume workloads with incredible dexterity without your having to purchase or rent hardware. You can simply lease those capabilities for the duration in which you expect an increase in traffic. The built-in analytics tool will help you arrive at data-backed decisions on estimating the additional resource requirement as well as the duration. These decisions can be made quickly, and an appropriate plan can be purchased from the same panel on which you can view your resources. This is not only a convenient way of managing resources but a cost-effective one too.
One of the major drawbacks of on-premises computing environments is that it is hard to estimate how much more resources must be added to them for ongoing development and testing. Consequently, developers often become too conscious of the availability of space or its lack thereof and put off promising innovations citing insufficiency of space or processing power or both. Azure can help organizations overcome this inhibition as it is based on the utility computing model. It empowers developers to come up with as many scenarios as needed and test them adequately with provisions for templates, services, and solutions that reduce the time-to-live without significant escalation of costs for procuring new hardware. Below are some of the notable Azure DevOps capabilities:
- Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team Services, a set of services for organizing work items and managing source code more efficiently with a collaborative approach in teams.
- Seamless integration of third-party DevOps tools like Jenkins, Chef, Terraform, and Ansible.
- Azure DevTest Labs platform to facilitate QA teams in building test environments efficiently using Azure.
With the availability of these tools, productivity increases while innovation accelerates at lower costs.
Cost management is the priority of all aspects of businesses and infrastructure accounts for the lion’s share in most cases. This is where Azure truly comes to the fore with its practicality. Virtually everything on Azure inherits the pay-on-the-go model.
There are no capital costs involved in data centers, networks, or software procurement and operations. The cost of all these aspects is included in the subscription for the cloud computing infrastructure you rent from Microsoft. Consequently, you also do not need warranties or dedicated personnel to manage the on-premises computing hardware. Additionally, it provides tools for managing costs better.
Azure Cost Management is a solution for estimating the expenses incurred in running multiple cloud services. It reduces the complexity of cost optimization by acting as a unified platform for monitoring, allocating, and optimizing resources for cloud computing.
With Azure Reserved VM Instances (RIs) you can pre-book virtual desktops for a one- or three-year period. While the discounts save you money, the option also makes cost-outgo more predictable in a longer timeframe.
Lastly, the Azure Pricing Calculator is a handy tool for estimating the overall costs arising from computing and networking resources, databases, analytics, developer tools, and other variables.
Cloud computing presents many capabilities that cannot be implemented with on-premises infrastructure despite their flexibility. Azure includes some of the most cutting-edge technologies like machine learning and automates many tasks. These capabilities are available at no additional cost or expertise. Take for example the deployment of Linux servers. What could normally take several hours or maybe a few days is reduced to a few hours with Azure. All these capabilities are easy to access. The Azure Quickstart Template is one such platform where you can find assistance for quickly deploying Azure Resources. Likewise, Azure Marketplace is an app store for software options deployed on the cloud platform. You can even try your hand at building niche applications using Azure AI Platform and Azure Machine Learning.
What Are the Services in Azure?
Azure services extend beyond Microsoft services and cloud-based products to virtual machines, content delivery networks, and storage provisions. Below are some of the other services based on Azure:
- Azure Kubernetes is a managed solution for developers to deploy their Kubernetes clusters on the cloud and containerize applications at scale while automating resource allocation, load balancing, and other important activities.
- Azure Blockchain Service is a managed ledger service for enterprises to leverage the blockchain technology to build, govern, and scale blockchain networks.
- Azure IoT Hub is a suite to deploy and manage devices streaming data using telemetry and generate key insights from the data analysis.
- Azure HDInsight is a cloud-based service for generating on-demand big data clusters using Hadoop.
- Azure Digital Twins is a service for rendering physical environments digitally while accurately depicting relationships and interactions between people, places, and devices.
- Azure Media Services is a cloud-based media workflow platform for video streaming, encoding, and indexing allowing a large audience-base to access digital content in real-time.
Additionally, Microsoft has developed solutions with vendors like Lenovo, Dell EMC, HP Enterprise, Cisco, and Huawei for unique solutions for hybrid deployments with on-premises hardware to extend their capabilities with Azure Stack.
What Can Be the Operations in Microsoft Azure?
Azure can be used by organizations in any of the four available cloud models or their combinations. With the on-premises model, all operations are handled by the subscriber, whereas in the SaaS model, all backend operations are handled by Microsoft end-to-end and the users can directly avail of the applications running on Microsoft’s infrastructure. With Infrastructure as a model (IaaS) and Platform as a model (PaaS), the operations are distributed between the subscriber and Microsoft to varying degrees.
In general, IaaS is the more flexible of the two options given the fact the users have the right to customize their machines with the middleware, operating system, and applications of their choice without worrying about the underlying hardware. Therefore, it offers nearly the same experience as an on-premises Azure deployment without the burden and expenses of managing the underlying hardware. The PaaS model too has its benefits. It is mostly preferred for lean operations involving application development and deployment. The SaaS model subscription is ideal for individuals and businesses interested in consuming applications such as MS Word or Excel right off the cloud.
As one transition from an on-premises deployment of Azure through IaaS and PaaS to SaaS, there is a greater degree of automation. Consequently, it lowers the chances of encountering errors. This comes with a trade-off for flexibility through the progression. An on-premises deployment with Azure Stack needs much more expertise in handling operations but allows for the maximum possible customizations and stringent compliance requirements. Compare that with an Office 365 subscription where you can use the familiar Word, Excel, and PowerPoint software in their out-of-the-box configuration with the bare minimum customization if possible.
While both the above examples leverage Azure capabilities, they are the use cases for consumers spanning across the extremities of the spectrum of Azure services. Consequently, organizations can be selective about the model(s) of Azure deployment that will be beneficial to their business requirements.
While some organizations implement Azure for simplifying the management of certain technologies like their on-premise Windows Server, Active Directory, and SharePoint farm, others might use it as a solution for developing applications without incurring the costs associated with leasing dedicated servers or even software licenses. It is the billing flexibility of Azure that turns it into such a versatile platform.
Azure vs AWS – Two Giants of Cloud Market
Although AWS is a market leader in the cloud solutions primarily because of its head start, Azure most certainly is gaining ground. It has some important inherent advantages working in its favor over its competitors. To begin with Microsoft, with its product ecosystem inherits a large user base across the globe. Its operating systems and productivity applications are used by many businesses who would vouch for the enterprise computing need to which Microsoft caters.
The combination of Azure, Office 365, and Teams is what is helping Microsoft consolidate its position in the cloud computing space. Additionally, the wide reach of Azure in emerging markets positions Azure to enjoy sustained growth for the foreseeable future. Microsoft’s thrust in the continuous addition of features makes Azure one of the strongest competitors in the cloud computing space.
Is Azure Implementation Easy?
The complexity of Azure implementation would depend on the model your organization opts for with the SaaS model being the easiest to implement. However, regardless of how you plan your transition to Azure cloud, here are some factors you need to be mindful of:
Migrating Data to the Cloud
It is often easier to build an application from the ground up on the cloud than to move all the data. This difficulty primarily stems from the fact that the architecture of the cloud infrastructure is fundamentally different from that of the on-premises version. So, it is important to be familiar with the available options.
Strong Access Management Policies
Cloud security in general and access management, in particular, have to be the priority of admins. The cloud provides centralized access to resources for even remote devices. These devices outside the network perimeter might be points of vulnerabilities. It is, therefore, critical to enable security features like multi-factor authentication (MFA) to protect sensitive data.
Efficient Resource Management
With Azure, every byte and every second is chargeable. Thus, monitoring resource usage in a virtual machine, virtual network, and database are important. Thankfully, all the information is made available in the Azure Resource Manager.
In recent years, the growth trajectory of Microsoft Azure has started becoming steeper as more features get added and more businesses have begun embracing it.
Azure Services at Apps4Rent
At Apps4Rent, we believe that the time is ripe for your business to take the plunge into the Azure Cloud as well. As a leading Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider (CSP), Apps4Rent can help your business exploit the capabilities of the popular platform. We offer a wide range of managed Azure services from planning and assessment, migration, and deployment to management. We can help you create data backups on Azure. If you are looking for Azure AD services, we can help you with that too. If you secure your authentication access, we help you set up Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) on Azure Cloud. We also offer over 200 readymade Azure VM images for open source applications that are packaged with operating systems, which can be downloaded and used instantly from Azure Marketplace.
If you have any questions on managing Azure, our consultants provide round-the-clock support to empower your IT and virtualization teams to administer, secure, and monitor Azure cloud resources. Feel free to initiate the chat in the bottom right section of the screen.