This is the first in a series of blogs attempting to demystify Azure and all its complicated parts. In this post we will try to give a basic outline of Azure, its common benefits and uses. This will set the platform for future blogs where we dig into the key use cases.
This infographic from Microsoft “explains” Azures services:
For the standard organisation the above couldn’t be less helpful (it’s not much better to us and we’re an IT company!).
So, what is Azure?
This is the official description straight from the Microsoft website:
Microsoft Azure is an ever-expanding set of cloud services to help your organisation meet your business challenges. It is the freedom to build, manage and deploy applications on a massive, global network using your favourite tools and frameworks.
This doesn’t really give a good description of what Azure is in the context of how it might fit into a business’s IT environment.
We will have a bit of a go…
Azure is Microsoft’s cloud hosting platform. Like Office 365 it is not one service but a range of services, tools and products under one umbrella. The most common use is for hosting Servers (Compute), Files/Data (Storage), Applications and many other available add-ons – the combination of these allows you to run your entire IT system within Azure. The hosting of these items is across Microsoft’s worldwide network of datacentres thus allowing your IT systems to be reliable, fast, scalable and secure.
IaaS & PaaS:
In IT terms the Microsoft Azure focuses on two services;
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Best described as server and server related Infrastructure at scale – allowing you to run Virtual Servers and related infrastructure in a hosted environment or the ‘Cloud’ instead of running onsite physical server equipment. IaaS includes Compute (servers), Storage (files/data), Networks and more.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Allows you to bring applications and host or deploy them on existing endpoints while avoiding the need to manage the underlying systems. An example being Microsoft SQL, rather than running a SQL server (with OS and SQL Server Application) for your SQL Database, the PaaS hosts your SQL Server – you just upload it and its ready to go. This includes Applications, Databases, Web hosting (and more).
Still confused? This diagram from Microsoft might help:
In more detail what can Azure do?
Microsoft maintains a growing directory of Azure services, with more being added all the time. All the elements necessary to build a virtual network and deliver services or applications to a global audience are available.
The Azure service portfolio is extensive. The core of these items revolve around: Compute, Data Storage, Analytics, Networking, Media/Content Delivery Network, Hybrid integration, Identities and Access Management, Web hosting, Internet of Things, Security, AI & Machine Learning, Software Development, Containers, Databases, Dev Ops, Mobile App & Management and Backups.
In future blogs we will select several of these to delve into, providing you with real use cases.
Why would you put your IT systems in Azure?
The writing is likely on the wall for having your servers in your office. The productivity and cost benefits of hosted infrastructure in providers like Azure is growing. Here are some of the common reasons for you to consider a shift:
Azure gives you the ability to spin up and modify your servers and applications resources on the fly to match your performance needs, so in time of heavy load you can upscale resources to servers to match the required performance and then lower them back down once its passed. This can be done with the push of a button rather than requiring months of planning and ordering new hardware.
Often the price of Azure servers will be lower than static datacentres. They offer both a Pay-As-You-Go model where you pay per hour of use on servers or set increments of other services. The other option is to “Reserve” your servers for set periods (1 or 3 years) for a significant discount but are locked in for the period agreed to.
3. Disaster Recovery
Either a global/national disaster or local business disaster is likely to impact you at some point of your business’ lifecycle. Having your systems setup in Azure gives you a strong degree of disaster recovery for a national or global disaster due to their extensive network of datacentres all over the world which eliminates the need for local backups and redundant hardware in your office, typically as long as you can access the internet you will be able to access their services.
4. Your Infrastructure is always up to date
You don’t need to worry about keeping the hardware up to date and its performance. Rolling hardware upgrades occur frequently with older systems being phased out.
This all sounds easy, what’s stopping us from doing this now?
Unfortunately, you can’t just move your systems to Azure. Whilst it is very easy to setup a server or a platform service, getting your data in there and accessible to your team is the complex part.
Azure is more of a “sandbox” than Office 365. It’s a great product but requires the right configuration and setup to use it well. Server structure, networking, latency and applications all play a big part and need to be planned, tested and setup carefully (just like an onsite system). Once the migration is all done however, the benefits are there.
In the next Azure Blog, we will be delving into how you can host your servers in Azure – how a transition/migration works and the challenges to overcome. In the meantime, should you have any questions about how Microsoft Azure could benefit your organisation don’t hesitate to contact us.