Microsoft Azure Cloud Computing Platform & Services

An IT Pro’s Guide to Microsoft Azure

Whether you are considering cloud for your company or you are already utilizing cloud services it is likely that you have heard of Microsoft Azure. Our guide will provide a high-level overview of this cloud platform, the different applications, the benefits and the potential drawbacks.

What is Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure is Microsoft’s public cloud computing platform. It was introduced in October 2008 as Windows Azure but was later rebranded as Microsoft Azure in April 2014/ It provides a range of cloud services, including those for compute, analysis, storage and networking, as well as cloud based versions of enterprise Microsoft solutions such as Active Directory and SQL Server. It is designed to allow businesses to have a way to easily build and manage customized applications and other services, which are then deployed on an enterprise grade data centre that’s supported or managed by Microsoft.

azure cloud services

What Services Does Microsoft Azure Provide

The directory of Azure services is growing all the time so for the most up to date information it is recommended that you check their website. Below we have broken the services down into key types.

Compute – Including virtual machines, cloud apps, containers, batch schedules and APIs
Networking – Provision private networks, load balancing, VPN gateways, manage traffic and monitor network performance.
Storage – These services include cloud storage, blob storage, queue storage, file storage and disk storage as well as cloud backup and recovery.
Web and Mobile – These services allow you to do things like create and deploy cloud apps for web and mobile, automate access and use of data, build cloud APIs, send phs notifications and deliver content virtually to all devices
Containers – Including container registry, container instances, and service fabric and container server
Databases – These services include managed SQL database and managed MySQL database as a service, data transformation and movement and Azure Cosmo DB.

Examples of Microsoft Azure Products

Data & Analytics – Among others things, these services allow you to build, deploy and manage predictive analytics solutions, create interactive data visualization and manage data transformation,
AI and Cognitive Services – Includes a range of APIs such as emotion recognition, facial detection, computer vision and speech conversion.
Internet of Things – These services help users to capture, monitor and analyze IoT data from sensors and other devices.
Enterprise Integration – Enables users to connect cloud environments and automate the access and use of data.
Security and Identity – Manage Azure deployment, schedule and run jobs and create automation. Identify and respond to security threats,
Developer Tools – Collaborate with other users, create environments and detect, triage and diagnose issues within web apps and services.
Monitoring and Management – Monitor, manage, analyze and automate your Azure resources.

What are the Benefits of Microsoft Azure?

Fast – Azure is fast to deploy, operate and scale.
Easy Transition – Typically easier to use “out-of-box” and more user-friendly. This, alongside the fact that Azure virtual machines integrate with other Microsoft products, generally makes the transition to cloud infrastructure smoother.
Security – Microsoft holds a number of security accreditations including ISO/IEC 27018, iso 27001, ISO 9001, Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) STAR Self-Assessment, ITAR, HIPAA and the HITECH Act, FEDRamp and IRS 1075. With Azure, you also have complete control of the collection, access, use and distribution of your company data, as well as complete visibility and control over data storage and access.
Development – Microsoft regularly adds new features and solutions to Azure’s directory.
Agile – Enables businesses to develop, test, feedback and retry when developing applications without expensive outlay or complicated infrastructure.
Scalable – Microsoft Azure can typically be leveraged for any size business, from a start-up right up to enterprise level organisation.
Flexible – Like other cloud service providers, Azure offers the ability to instantly provision computing resources on demand.
Fully Integrated – Contains many elements beyond storage, including a unified delivery pipeline, IoT integrations and a development environment. Azure is also closely integrated with other Microsoft tools such as SharePoint, Office 365 and Outlook.
Protected – Azure has regional and global fail over options, hot and cold standby models as well as rolling reboot capabilities.
Compliant – For tightly regulated industries like financial services, Azure is compliant with regulations.
Deployment – Azure can be deployed anywhere, whether that’s your own data centre or a single model to deploy on premise and to the cloud.
Reduced IT Costs – Helps you to reduce costs typically associated with expanding infrastructure.

Potential Negatives of Azure

Microsoft is widely considered to be one of the top three public cloud platform providers, alongside the likes of Google and Amazon Web Services, but that said it doesn’t mean their platform is perfect. Azure does have a reputation for being difficult to manage, but one of the biggest issues is downtime. CloudHarmony reported that, during the course of 2016, Azure experienced a total of 270 minutes of downtime, compared to Amazon Web Services which experienced a total of 108 minutes and Google which experienced a total of 74 minutes.

Microsoft also experienced a further lengthy outage in March earlier this year when a storage cluster lost power and caused difficulties for the users of Microsoft’s Azure storage services. The first brownout hit the service’s East US region and impacted a number of Azure services for around 8 hours. This was followed by a second shorter, but more widespread, incident that impacted users as far away as India.

Although the amount of downtime suffered by Azure looks shocking compared to the other vendors, it is important not to take these findings completely at face value. According to Microsoft, this is due to the fact that because Azure operates in 34 regions across the world, more than any other provider, average downtime statistics can look disproportionate. They argue that when looking at average uptime across regions Azure reliability is “in line with that of the other cloud providers measured”.

It is also important to note that Microsoft is not the only public cloud provider to have experienced issues or outages. Amazon Web Services suffered a massive S3 outage back in February which lasted for five hours and severely affected services including CloudWatch, WorkSpaces, Simple Email Service, Cognito and DynamoDB.

Another thing to bear in mind is that Azure requires a certain level of management, including patching and server monitoring, to ensure optimal performance. Also although Azure is touted as “user-friendly” and easy to set up, at a management level is also requires some level of expertise to ensure that all the parts of the platform are working together efficiently. Of course, one way to obtain this level of expertise – and simultaneously reduce the burden of management – is to engage with a managed service provider who has experience in managing and operating cloud infrastructures.

For many businesses, cloud computing is a perfect tool for moving a business forward. Providing access to advanced technologies and infrastructure without the associated cost of on-site resources. Deciding which cloud platform is right for you comes down to your needs. Although the cost of using cloud is a big concern, that alone shouldn’t inform your decision making. Many cloud services providers can offer you a free trial so you can experience what each platform is like hands on. Furthermore, if you need an Azure integration specialist or consultation, please give us a call.