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Learning About Microsoft Azure: What is Azure?

Microsoft Azure is one of the big three cloud computing services (along with Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform ) and has been growing rapidly for many years.  The following highlights key concepts for those who may be new to Azure.  These topics are geared toward a CIO or CTO rather than a network expert or developer who may be researching more advanced topics.

Many of the cloud computing concepts explored here apply to Amazon Web Services and the Google Cloud Platform as well.

What is Azure?

Azure is the Microsoft brand for cloud computing services.  Some, but not all Microsoft Cloud products are purchased and managed through Azure.  The largest exception is Microsoft Office 365, the cloud version of Microsoft Office which is sold under its own brand and managed from its own console.  Similarly, Dynamics 365 runs in the Microsoft cloud but is not managed from Azure but rather from Office 365. Azure and Office 365 do overlap and interact to the extent that Azure offers authentication services that may be used to allow single sign-on across these resources. Also Flow is based on Azure Logic apps.

Azure provides a large number of offerings for building and hosting applications and we will not cover all of them in this post.  For instance, Azure offers:
  • Networking such as virtual networks, gateways, and load balancers
  • Compute consists of a large number of offerings including VMs, Web Apps, Functions (serverless), and Service Fabric.
  • Security can be handled in Azure using services such as Active Directory, Key Vault, App Service Certificates, and data store encryption features
  • Storage in Azure can be relational using Azure SQL Database, non-relational using Cosmos DB or Azure storage, or analytical using SQL data warehouse or Data Lake
  • Messaging is required between components of modern distributed applications and can be achieved using Azure constructs like Service Bus, Event Hub, IoT Hub, and Notification Hubs
  • Intelligence using cutting edge technologies can be achieved using Machine Learning, Cognitive Services, and Bot Services
  • Performance is important for production applications and can be improved using Azure CDN, Redis Cache, and Traffic Manager

Here is the Microsoft Azure portal used to manage your Azure resources:

Microsoft Azure Portal
The is where you provision and manage Azure resources.  They may also be accessed through command line interfaces.

Is there More than One Azure Cloud?

While most of Microsoft's customers use the Azure commercial cloud, Microsoft operates data centers for government which adhere to the appropriate security safeguards for government agencies and are separate from the commercial cloud, such as the Azure U.S. Government Cloud.

Who is using Azure?

Microsoft has published numerous case studies such as those here. Here are video compilations of Azure case studies based on common scenarios:

How is Azure Consumed?

Azure consumption is a complex topic and costs depend upon the services being utilized and the topology of the application and/or infrastructure that is deployed.  Some resources incur a fixed cost based on size such as virtual machines (VMs), Cloud Services, and Web Jobs.  Other services are consumption based such as Azure Storage, Service Bus, and Functions.  The Azure platform is intentionally built with independent and distinct offerings.  This landscape of building blocks not only enables more capabilities and freedom in cloud application design, but also forces the consumption model to be a consideration when an application is in the design phase. 

What are Typical Azure Scenarios? 

Because of the breath of Azure resources, you can do many things with Azure services either alone or in conjunction with on premises computing or other cloud services.  Here are some common scenarios:

  1. Website hosting. Azure allows you to host your websites in the cloud and provide high performance and scalability. 
  2. Internet of Things (IoT). Cloud services monitor data from devices and consolidate it for analysis. 
  3. Big data. Microsoft offers Apache Hadoop on Azure to tackle big data analysis. 
  4. Database solutions. Run SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL and more. 
  5. E-commerce. Azure services provide load-balancing, search, catalog storage, order transactions and other functions. 
  6. Running packaged software in the cloud. Microsoft offers its own products as well as those from vendors such as SAP on Azure. 
  7. Chatbots. Azure services simplify creation of chatbots to provide automated answers to customer questions. 

We will explore more Azure topics in detail in future blog posts. 

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