Why You Should Consider Microsoft Azure?
The dominating trend in Information Technology today is cloud computing. Cloud computing enables access to IT resources (such as networks, servers, storage, applications and services) and these services are offered as an alternative to customers building their own IT infrastructure. There are often compelling business drivers for customers to choose the Cloud Computing model, and those will be explored later. Vendors offer cloud computing services in three models:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
The graphic below will hopefully illustrate the core differences between the IaaS, PaaS and SaaS models in contrast to hosting IT infrastructure on premises
There are many cloud computing vendors with offerings in the marketplace, but the top three are (in order of current market share): Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google. All three vendors have IaaS, PaaS and SaaS solutions, but the focus in this brief paper will be Microsoft’s IaaS and PaaS offerings (hosted in Azure).
Why You Should Consider Microsoft Azure?
Microsoft Azure is Microsoft’s offering for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Azure is hosted in Microsoft data centers, and those datacenters are part of regions. Microsoft has 50 regions (most of any cloud provider) and is available in over 140 countries. In the US, Microsoft has commercial regions and regions that support the US Government (including separate regions for US Government and the US Department of Defense). Azure regions dedicated to the government are referred to as Microsoft Azure Government and they are subject to specific guidelines mandated by the government for cloud computing. It is also important to note that most new Azure services and offerings tend to be released to the Azure Commercial Cloud first before being released to Azure Government. The lag time can vary, but in most cases, it will take 6-9 months for the service or feature to be released. Most government agencies (Federal as well as State and Local) decide to use the Microsoft Azure Government (MAG) cloud and just plan to wait for the Azure services they need (unless there are special circumstances that dictate otherwise).
Microsoft’s cloud offerings consist of Microsoft Azure (IaaS and PaaS) and Microsoft SaaS offerings like Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Intune. Azure is also unique to the Cloud marketplace in that Microsoft also offers a hybrid (on-premises and cloud) implementation of Azure to give customers flexibility when mapping out their cloud strategy. Azure (IaaS and PaaS) addresses many scenarios where customers can replace/extend/improve upon their existing on- premises IT capabilities, including:
- Core infrastructure services (Virtual Machines (VMs), DNS, load balancing, etc.)
- Azure Web Apps, Mobile Apps, Function Apps etc.
- Development and test environments
- Backup and archive
- Disaster recovery
- Data analytics
- SharePoint (hosted in Azure as IaaS, not SharePoint Online, which is part of Office 365)
- Business Intelligence (BI)
- Internet of Things (IoT) (Analyzing data from intelligent devices to gain business advantage)
- Hosting business critical applications (line of business and custom apps)
- Development framework
- Active Directory
Azure Business Drivers
As stated previously, customers have varying reason why choose to consider a cloud computing model. Realizing cost savings tends to be at the top of most customers’ lists. When customers leverage IT resources offered by Azure, they can save on capital costs related to hardware like servers, network equipment and storage devices. Improving an organization’s ability to respond quickly to changing business conditions is also a major benefit of cloud computing. The classic illustration of this is a retail business that has peak times in terms of selling their goods and services. A business can leverage the Cloud to add capacity during those times and scale back down when it is no longer needed. Given the Cloud’s pay as you go model, this can result in cost savings as opposed to purchasing new servers and storage for peak times and then having to let that new hardware be idle when the peak period ends.
There are also potential benefits to leveraging Azure from a reliability and security perspective as well. Azure ensures high availability by allowing replication of components and services across different datacenters and/or regions. Customers have the freedom and flexibility to decide what type of failover works best for them based on their needs and budget.
In terms of security, Microsoft has years of experience hosting and securing some of the largest online services in the world and leverages that knowledge to secure Azure. Microsoft also employs an ‘assume breach’ approach and their global incident response team works hard to mitigate risks introduced because of an incident. Finally, Microsoft complies with international and industry-specific standards and participates in third party audits to verify security controls. Given the strong focus Microsoft has in securing their Azure offerings, many customers find that it is in fact more secure than their own IT infrastructure.
Azure can also help foster increased productivity to customers as they develop applications. It is designed to facilitate application development by creating a cloud-based platform that includes tools developers need to create and deploy applications. Azure allows customers who have been leveraging existing Microsoft development tools to continue to use them with the added benefits that the cloud provides. Further, given Azures pay as you go model, customers will find that leveraging Azure makes application development more affordable.
One key advantage that Microsoft and Azure has over other leading cloud vendors is the ability to implement the cloud model in a hybrid configuration (with components hosted on-premises and in the cloud). There are many scenarios where it is not feasible to deploy a solution or a service exclusively to the cloud. Drivers for hybrid cloud scenarios could include factors such as network latency, groups that have requirements for Azure services but no network connectivity, regulatory and/or data sovereignty requirements, etc. Microsoft worked with specific hardware vendors to develop an appliance called the Azure Stack to address these requirements. Azure Stack allows customers to extend the benefits of Azure to their on-premises environment. Azure and Azure Stack share the same set of services, APIs, DevOps processes and tools, so customers have the flexibility to leverage both in their environment based on their needs.
Next Step: Try Azure
Most organizations today are either using some form of cloud or seriously considering doing so. Those that are already leveraging cloud computing and seeing good results tend to start looking for additional scenarios to continue reaping the benefits that cloud computing offers.
Those organizations that have not yet tried Azure should look for low-risk opportunities that will allow them to evaluate it and determine if it warrants more serious consideration going forward. The Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model is often a good starting point for organizations to consider as a first step. A great opportunity for Azure evaluation is the development and test scenario.
Most organizations have development and test environments (that are separate from production) to evaluate newly developed applications, new versions of software, new capabilities, etc. prior to releasing them to their users in the production environment. Theoretically it makes sense for organizations to have multiple environments (dev/test, quality assurance, staging), but many times budget constraints can force these environments to be combined. Azure IaaS can help with by allowing the use of virtual machines, network and storage to build a test environment in the cloud.
Another common scenario for customers is backup and restore. Azure Backup allows for the backup and restoration of data stored on Windows and Linux servers in the cloud or on-premises as physical or virtual server instances (virtual or physical) running on Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware. Azure Backup provides a dashboard, which makes it easy to see status of backup and restore activities.
Finally, customers that have implemented Microsoft Office 365 (Exchange Online, Skype for Business Online, SharePoint Online) are already using Azure (in the form of the Azure Active Directory service). Many customers who have a need for multi-factor authentication (MFA) choose to leverage Azure Active Directory Premium (which provides MFA capabilities) for that requirement. It is not difficult to upgrade from the standard Azure Active Directory service deployed with Office 365 to Premium.