What is Microsoft Azure cloud?
As a Microsoft Partner we have been aware of the “Azure” product line from Microsoft, but were somewhat unclear if it would benefit us or our customers.
In 2016 we began to train up with the product and learn about its potential and discovered that in short, Azure represents the future of cloud computing.
Physically, Azure consists of giant datacentres strategically placed around the world, all operating on a standard lorry container principle with each container running a miniature data centre – meaning they can be swapped in and out of datacentres and provide a very convenient way to build, update and replace like cassettes. In practice this has led the creation of a world-wide network of powerful computer centres.
The prospective Azure user sees none of this and doesn’t need to be aware of it, other than there are Azure instances all around the world. Instead, we are presented with a portal. Once registered as a user the portal can be used to select some or all of the many, many Azure services. I am not going to try to list all of these in this article, but to concentrate on a few important ones.
The most interesting, in my view, is the Virtual Machine or “VM”, which represents a computer in one of the Azure centres. To create a VM a few other items need to be created first (specifically, a “Virtual Network” that is the equivalent of router hardware and cabling, “Network Security” which is the equivalent of a firewall, Storage Account which holds all the disks and data and a “Resource Group” to wrap all of the above in a box with a name). Once the prerequisites are there, any number of VMs can be set up quickly and easily, with a choice of specification, Windows version and location, such as “UK”, or “Northern Europe”.
So what is wonderful about this? It is the flexibility and speed. Once up and running these VMs can be configured as file servers, SQL servers, Web servers or whatever and can be scaled up and down with minimal fuss and downtime – typically about 2 minutes to move the machine up to a higher specification. In an extremely good move, Microsoft also allows a VM to be scaled down again – so if a peak of activity is expected it is literally simple to make the computer bigger for an hour, a day or a week and then scale it down again. Likewise it is a simple matter to move it from one physical location to another.
The flexibility does not end there. Disk sizes can be increased with equal speed and although these cannot then be decreased again, the disk space price is very low and again, changes take minutes, not hours. Likewise disk storage can be moved between physical rotating drives and the faster (but more expensive) sold state disks.
Then there are the many, many add-on services. I cannot list them all but for example, backup is available, at any schedule to suit. There is active monitoring of resources used, load balancing and security enhancements.
So what about value for money? Well, Azure is not cheap – but it isn’t an open chequebook either. Each item you add to your Resource Group will accrue cost at a fraction per hour – so cost can be reviewed on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis and resources can be reduced or stopped if cost saving is more important than functionality.
Not everyone is going to find such a range of facilities and power to their liking – technical problems still persist as they do with all IT systems, and the Azure Portal dashboard, while a good tool, doesn’t answer every question or provide clarity on why something is not working. From a personal point of view that is good – that is what Paradise are here for – but as a future of cloud computing I believe Microsoft has done a fine first job – it may still be an imperfect platform, but you can see the future by standing on it. My prediction is that 50% of the world’s IT systems will be running in Azure by 2025.
For more information on how moving to Azure could benefit you and your company, call us on 01604 655900.