What was once called Windows Azure is now known as Microsoft Azure and if you like to keep up-to-date with current tech-related news, you have probably heard the name a lot. Perhaps though, you have heard about it but have no idea what it actually is. In this post, our definitive guide to Microsoft Azure, we will outline the basics and some important specifics about Microsoft Azure, lifting the lid on what it is used for and why it is important.
What Then Is Microsoft Azure?
Microsoft Azure is the computing giant’s cloud computing service which in a very similar way to both Google’s Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services, otherwise known as AWS.
Now before you think you know what we mean when we say Cloud Computing, it’s worth pointing out we don’t mean that very open-to-interpretation term that is tagged on to every and any consumer service that stores your data and personal data on a remote server somewhere in America.
Microsoft Azure is actually cloud computing in the form of a service designed for anyone from big organisations and companies to individual users who want to benefit from it.
In the past, it was normal for organizations and companies to handle the hosting of their own infrastructure. So a company would have its own hardware that handled its own server, be it a web or email server. If it required more power, the company would need to purchase more hardware. The company would also need to pay for a solid internet connection for its customers to use and an individual to take care of hardware administration. As an alternative, many web hosting companies offer hosting for business services using their server hardware inside their own data centres, at cost.
Cloud computing however, works in something of a different way though. Instead of running your own hardware or paying to use hardware in another company’s data centre, you essentially pay to access a directory of resources provided by Google, Amazon, or in this case, Microsoft.
This gives you the option to host whatever you want, whether it is user directories, virtual machines, servers for storing files, databases, email servers or web servers.
If you need further computing resources, there is no need to buy new hardware, because as and when you need it, the ‘cloud’ can share with you the hardware and assigning the work automatically. You only pay for the amount of resources you require and not a set amount of hardware servers, stored away somewhere.
How You Can Use Microsoft And Why You Might Want To
When you use cloud computing via Microsoft Azure, it costs less upfront. There is no need to spend a lot of money, for instance, on setting up your own data centre, filling it with the necessary hardware and then hiring a workforce to run it. There is also never a risk of paying too much for more hardware than you require and likewise, there is no risk on buying not enough or not having the resources you require.
Rather you just host the resources you require in the cloud through Microsoft Azure. You pay for what you use, when you use them. When you require more, it can be set up to automatically expand to take on the greater demand. Whereas, if you do not need quite as much, you won’t be paying for resources you aren’t using.
This is why everything from an organisation or business’s public access websites to their mobile app services to their company email server are being held via cloud computing.
What Can You Do With Microsoft Azure?
On its website, there is a full directory consisting of numerous services available for you to use, including backups, file storage, databases, full virtual machines and web and mobile app services.
The reason its name was changed from Windows Azure to Microsoft Azure when it was developed and expanded to handle more than Windows. In fact, you are able to run both Linux and Windows virtual machines with Azure, as you require.
When you start to browse through the directory of services, you will be see you can use Azure to do just about anything. Anything you need to do that Azure can’t do directly, you can create a Linux or Windows virtual machine to host and use whatever software you need. If you wanted or needed to, you could host a Linux or Windows desktop in the cloud using a virtual machine and set up a remote connection to it. This is just another example of how you can use cloud computing resources.
In the next part of our post we will now take a look at some more of the specifics of Azure and how it can be used. We will cover:
- Azure Backup
- Azure VM
- Azure Active Directory
- SQL In Azure
- Major Benefits Microsoft Azure Brings To Businesses
As the name suggests, Azure Backup is a service that enables you to protect or backup data into Microsoft’s cloud. This service can be used therefore to replace any existing off-site or on-site backup facilities you may already have with a solution based in the cloud that is not only affordable, but secure and reliable.
This service offers various components that you can download and use either in the cloud or on an appropriate server or computer. The particular agent or component you use will depend on the what you need to backup or protect. All of the available components of Azure Backup can be used for backing up data into a vault for Recovery Services within Azure.
Why Would You Backup With Azure?
Normal solutions for backup have developed to use the cloud merely as a static storage location in in a similar way to tapes and disks or an endpoint. Although this is a simplistic approach it is also restrictive and therefore translates to an inefficient and rather expensive backup solution because it doesn’t make use of any underlying cloud platform.
Further to this, other backup solutions are expensive as you end up paying a lot for storage that is not useful for you or storage that is the wrong kind. Also, they are inefficient as they do not provide you with the amount or kind of storage you require or administrative tasks involved with running them take up too much time.
Azure Backup, on the other hand, delivers key benefits such as:
- Auto Storage Management
- Unlimited Scaling
- Multiple Storage Options
- Unlimited Data Transfer
- Data Encryption
- Application-Consistent Backup
- Long-Term Retention
Azure Active Directory
Azure AD or Azure Active Directory is cloud-based identity and directory management service. It is a combination of application access management, advanced identity governance and core directory services. Azure Active Directory also provides a comprehensive and platform based on standards that allows developers to offer access control for applications based on central rules and policy.
Azure AD for IT administrators provides an easy and cost-effective solution for business partners and employees to access numerous SaaS applications in the cloud via an SSO or single-sign on. Applications such as Concur, DropBox, Salesforce.com and Office365.
Azure AD for developers of applications, enables you to focus your attention on building your applications by making it simpler and quicker to create integrations world-class identity management solutions utilized by literally millions of individuals and organizations throughout the world.
With Azure Active Directory, there is also a whole identity management capability suite that includes:
- Security monitoring and alerting
- Rich auditing
- Application usage monitoring
- Role-based access control
- Privileged account management
- Self-service group management
- Self-service password management
- Device registration
- Multi-factor authentication
What Are Azure Virtual Machines?
Azure Virtual Machines or Azure VM gives you the versatility to virtualise a wide array of computing solutions, such as data centre extensions, application running, development and testing. It gives the freedom of open source software that has the configuration you require. Consider this like another rack in your data centre, that gives you the ability to deploy a specific application not in the weeks it took in the past, but in mere seconds.
You Get More Choice
When it comes to Azure VM it’s all about the range of choice you have. You can choose either Windows or Linux and then can choose whether you want it to be in the cloud on the premises or both.
Scaled To What You Require
A Combination of supercomputer performance with the cloud’s scalability. Scale it from either one virtual machine to thousands. You can easily scale worldwide, to be closer to your customers, thanks to the increase in regional Azure data centres.
You may have heard of SQL Azure – it is an important part of Windows Azure and is a services suite that provides data services web services infrastructure and hosted computing. This component of Azure, combines cloud computing service functionality with an SQL Server’s complete relational database functionality. This is service is hosted from Microsoft data centres across the world.
This is normally a good option when you require the services of a database. However, there are few aspects of business that SQL Azure would be particularly useful for:
Collaborating – SQL Azure can be used to help establish a hub for collaboration, by storing your data in the cloud. In order to share information access across various boundaries within organisations, from one branch office to another etc. When you make use of hosted services, you can keep your data safe and secure, while eliminating roadblocks on the network.
Scale – One of the biggest advantages of cloud computing is being able to add infrastructures when required. This makes it easier for you to scale up and expand or scale down the capacity of an application as and when it is necessary. Which is especially useful when there are dramatic changes to hosted application peak usage.
Consolidation – As the relational database functionality need increases and starts to trickle down to specific work groups and departments, it can be a challenge to database sprawl internal management. With SQL Azure you can consolidate simplified management, turn-key provisioning with work group and departmental databases, to enable administrators can meet the needs of departments much easier.
Hosted Applications – If you have already started using Windows Azure to host various workloads, it will be easy to integrate workloads of hosted relational databases. It can also assist in maximizing performance of applications by decreasing the volume of traffic on the network.
Cost-Effective – It depends on the workloads you want to install, but cloud computing offers a PAYG model that may be the most effective approach in terms of expense.
Major Benefits Microsoft Azure Brings To Businesses
Now that we have discussed a little more about Microsoft Azure, it is worth understanding the actual benefits it can give businesses.
Microsoft Azure Is Very Fast In All The Important And Best Ways
In any business, speed is crucial and is generally seen as a advantage over competition. Azure benefits businesses in speed in three specific ways –
- Deployment Speed
- Operation Speed
- Scalability Speed
Even the most experienced and successful cloud providers would find it virtually impossible to compete against a business with all three functions firmly in place.
Microsoft Azure Helps Increase Business Agility
Businesses that make use of Azure have faster cycles for deployment than those using solutions on-premises. This enables them to become more iterative and benefit from greater amounts of responsive feedback while they develop applications.
This then provides them with the opportunity to explore technology outcomes in a way that will suit the objectives of their business.
In terms of finances – these cycles enable a measure of suitability without a complex infrastructure set up or outlay that costs too much.
Business agility, we are sure you can see, is about failing faster, but growing quicker, rather than only maintaining standards.
Your Global Reach Can Be Matched By Azure
If your clients need data capabilities built for a worldwide scale, it can be hard if you are just relying on traditional data centres. In this regard Azure offers a huge advantage in that it can adapt to coincide with the utilisation and performance requirements of your business. This then reduces the necessity for a team to monitor behaviours and rather, focus on your business objectives.
From the point of view of users, their experience will always be great and how great it is will not be determined by their location.
While there is an argument that smaller organisations are the only kinds of businesses that can exploit this scale. This is not strictly true. BP, for example, only recently utilised this functionality of Azure as a migration driver.
The Integration Development Environment
Along with what we have already stated Azure benefits from Visual Studio – the leading development environment in the world. Which really is a game-changer. This means the dramatic reduction in the learning curb that comes with using a new platform. This is great in two important ways:
It helps you to avoid a skill mismatch
Enables teams to be deployed quickly and to learn while they work on a project or task.
As part of this integration, Azure shows the willingness of it to adapt to what developers need. From a day to day perspective, developers are who benefit the most from Azure.
The Full Integration Delivery Pipeline Provided By Azure
When trying to show the true benefits of using Azure that Google and AWS don’t provide,, it is more about the whole package rather than just the storage.
So when you look at Azure from the perspective of architecture, you need a unified delivery pipeline. When it comes to Azure, this is:
- Source control
- Unit testing
- Integration testing
- Go live tools
Along with this, many could argue that it would benefit businesses to make use of specific tools from a variety of different providers. Ensuring greater ease of use for the majority of providers through APIs etc. Although, when it comes to fears regarding issues of integration and improved continuity, you are in a better position when all the tools you are using are all in the same place.
When it comes to future updates though, Azure does this in a way that is still of benefit to others in their pipeline. This ensures that there is going to be long-term success.
Azure Solves The Problem of Recovery Disasters
If you have a business that has a worldwide footprint, you may need a solution that coincides with your need to transfer data on a global scale. Along with this, the CSOs have a stronghold to maintain so that disaster recovery capabilities are considered, including objectives for recovery points and locations for fail-overs. Azure has this covered.
They do this by having:
- Fail-over options on a global and regional level
- Standby models both cold and hot
- Capabilities for rolling reboots
All of these can be worked with straight from the box. Which puts them far ahead of the standard options available from on-premises platforms.
Although the topic of data recovery may not always be considered the most important business decision, a company could face disastrous legal implications if they are separated from their data at all for even just a day.
Although it is perceived to be cheaper than using private cloud computing, Azure isn’t really. This is not a problem, though. One particular advantage of computing in the cloud with Azure is you’re able to test band new solutions and how they impact, in a cost-effective way. Once you have finished this, you are then able to scale the areas that give the best outcomes for your business in a very tactful way.
Increase Your SQL Databases’ Return On Investment – While your costs may increase, your ROI is likely to improve, while decreasing the amount you pay for resources that are inefficient. When you choose to make changes to revenue models or experience differences from season to season, you only need to adapt things in your Azure Portal. Your CFO will see this as a success in the long-term.
Using Azure To Become Securer
One of the most important and impactful parts of Azure’s security is the facility for seamless and secure logging on and off for users. Whether that is with regards to business to consumer or business to business.
Users have easy access to all relevant platforms without having to remember complicated passwords, using Azure SSO. By doing this, you are able to decrease the chance for hackers to access important accounts, while enabling controls that are device and location specific.
Azure Can Help You Meet Compliance Regulations
Taking the bigger picture into consideration, organizations do not want to consider that solutions they choose or their data is meeting policies based on locations or meeting industry standards.
It is likely that you would rather focus in on the outcomes of business.
The heritage of Microsoft enables them to provide platforms suiting this requirement constantly, and have taken on all the heavy lifting. Particularly within sectors such as finance, which with data policies and GDPR, they have been able to establish solutions that give great scope with maintaining the sovereignty
You Can Deploy Azure Absolutely Anywhere
Unlike other cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services for instance, that try to push of a future where cloud-first is a way of life in business, others consider it to be more appropriate to adopt a more hybrid model.
Microsoft built the Azure Stack offering, with the above in mind, as a way to ensure their customers and clients benefit from all of the different benefits we have mentioned above and Additionally to practices and patterns. This is done while making use of wide array of providers of proven hardware for all their requirements on-premises.
Moving forward, as a business you can select exactly where you want your data to reside. The change can actually be a lot easier than you suggest when choosing to press on with Azure.
For more information on Microsoft Products or Services, contact our team at Royal Discount. Your source for Microsoft software and licensing. Reach our azure licensing desk directly at 1-877-292-7712.