Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform has taken the business world by storm, adding a record 120 thousand customers every month last year, 6 million total users, and holding an estimated 1.4 million SQL databases.
If you’re not technical, you could be forgiven for being unsure of what it actually is or how it works. We can’t hope to cover the over six hundred potential applications, but here’s a crash course guide to understanding Azure.
What is it?
Microsoft Azure is a business ‘cloud computing’ service created by Microsoft for operating IT applications and services from the cloud.
Everything run, tested, built, shared, stored (and more) from Azure exists in one or more of a number of secure Microsoft data centres around the World (or via a local service if you prefer.)
OK, but what is it actually?
Think servers. Lots and lots of servers. Locked down, climate controlled warehouses full of servers humming away running every computing process imaginable from email to databases, virtual desktops to machine learning, file storage to phone apps.
Customers who purchase Microsoft Azure services get access, via the internet, to a tiny fraction of this worldwide supercomputing infrastructure, with the option to run a huge variety of potential services in the cloud.
Azure itself has no-upfront charges, and is instead billed by the minute based on usage and the computing demands of the service purchased.
Why is that good?
This is instant access computing. Need 50 extra virtual servers by this afternoon? Tap a few buttons and they’re available.
The staggering economies of scale means Microsoft always has practically unlimited scalable computing power available, on demand, at subscription pricing.
The ability to spin up temporary services (impossibly impractical if you tried to resort to urgently buying physical hardware) and remove them again, allows businesses to react instantly and cost-effectively to even the most wildly fluctuating IT demands.
Even more mundane computing processes – such as large numbers of hosted desktop sessions can be delivered from Azure, without being such a logistical challenge.
OK, but what if it goes wrong?
Azure is reliable. Crazily reliable. Microsoft’s uptime statistics are as dependable as you would expect from their leading enterprise cloud service – in 2015 achieving a remarkable 99.9936% of annual uptime.
Much as with other Microsoft Cloud services (like Office 365’s OneDrive) an array of backup procedures ensures copies of data stored are protected and duplicates available for recovery. Virtualisation, where everything runs in an isolated software environment kept independent of the physical hardware, means individual drives and servers are expendable – your IT lives on, supported by the rest of the hundreds of remaining server racks.
Microsoft are discrete about their security, but in a data centre empire where every email is tested through a minimum of 3 independent antivirus services, it’s safe to say both physical and digital security is extremely tight. Centralised infrastructure also gives Azure (and every Azure customer) the kind of specialist professional and cybersecurity defences unavailable to all but the very largest enterprise corporations.
Users can check the live status of every process on 29 data centres globally via an online dashboard, which refreshes its table of successfully ‘available’ uptime ticks every minute.
Need access to the remaining 0.0064% of the year? Remember that for at least half of the World’s inhabitants, it’s likely these 29 minutes of annual downtime will fall whilst you’re asleep.
Do I need a computing PHD to use it?
Yes and no. Anyone can, in theory, get started with a free account (and $150 of free credits) today from Azure’s website, and test out the service.
The interface is relatively intuitive and, like all Microsoft’s cloud services, works consistently across tablet and mobile devices if you wish to play about with Microsoft’s cloud until your free credits have expired.
However, in reality what you demand of the infrastructure is likely to require a more complex setup. Unless you’re a true enthusiast with some special requirements, Azure’s cloud infrastructure is like a private helicopter: not really optimal for personal use (and there are far more sensible options available)
Cost by the minute also means that, when choosing from the bewildering array of virtual machine specs and other services available, it would be easy to overspend if you’re not careful. Indeed part of Azure’s business model is based on ambitious, technology-hungry companies biting off slightly more than they can chew.
To make sure your Azure deployment is both effective and proportional to your budget, call the experts.
Lineal are a Gold Microsoft Partner – contact us today: 01271 375999