What is Microsoft Azure?

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If you’re wondering if you should move your data to Microsoft Azure, you may be looking for a simple answer to the question “What is Microsoft Azure?” Azure, as defined by Microsoft, is “an ever-expanding set of cloud services to help your organization meet your business challenges.” If I thought that actually answered your question, this blog would end here, but it doesn’t, so keep reading.

Cloud computing in general is a broad concept and cloud companies have historically done a terrible job explaining what their services do, relying instead on vague business buzz-speak to sell the cloud. How many times have you been told that the latest cloud service would help you “accelerate growth”, make your organization “best in class”, or “future-proof your business”? When was the last time anyone explained how all that would actually happen? Before you make an investment in the cloud, it’s important to understand what you’re signing up for. Here’s what you need to know to get started:

There are several different kinds of cloud services

To understand Azure, it’s important to know about the different types of cloud offerings, because Azure has services for all of them. You may be familiar with the terms Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). The main difference in these models is what you manage vs. what another company manages for you.

  • Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS is used to compute and store applications, allowing you to use servers, storage and networking systems that other companies maintain. You can scale your computing resources up or down on-demand, eliminating the need to keep expensive and underutilized hardware on-premise as well as the hardware upgrade cycle. Think of this as “moving your servers in the cloud,” but including more. Examples of IaaS include: Azure Virtual Machines, Azure Container Instances and Azure Storage.
  • Platform as a Service, or PaaS is used to develop custom applications, using hardware and infrastructure that a cloud provider maintains. Examples of PaaS include: Azure Web App + SQL, Azure Function App and Azure Mobile App are examples of Azure PaaS offerings.
  • Software as a Service, or SaaS is used to consume applications and content you pay to access that are delivered by a cloud provider. Examples of SaaS include: Azure Active Directory, Azure Search and SQL Database.
Cloud Models - Infrastructure, Platform and Software as a Service
This graphic shows what you manage vs. what others manage in each of the 3 cloud computing service models, IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.

Azure is a comprehensive set of constantly evolving services

If you look at this list of Azure services, you’ll see why it’s so difficult to provide a simple definition of Azure. There are currently over 600 distinct Azure services. The most basic definition is that Azure is a set of cloud services that allows users to build, manage and deploy applications and services on one unified platform.

You should know that however Azure can be defined today, it will be a larger, different product tomorrow, and that’s a good thing. One of the benefits of cloud services is that you don’t need to wait months or even years for the next version or upgrade of the system. Updates are made available regularly and often pushed to subscribers automatically. Microsoft updates Azure multiple times each day. I saw this firsthand at Microsoft Inspire, Microsoft’s largest partner event.

Azure is an enterprise-level solution that small businesses can afford

There used to be a clear distinction between systems designed for small businesses and those designed for the enterprise. Enterprise systems were complex, capable of handling large amounts of data, supporting multiple integrations and enabling the largest of organizations to manage their business on a global scale. Fortune 500 companies could afford to take advantage of the benefits of these systems. If you were managing the IT budget for a small or midsized business, however, most of these systems were out of reach. In the battle between features and budget, budget usually prevailed.

What makes Azure different, and so compelling, is that Microsoft has made it accessible and affordable for companies of all sizes and levels of technical complexity. Today, we have the ability to pilot Azure for our clients, usually at no charge for Microsoft, for a limited time. This is a great way to see if this model might be right for you.

Moving to Azure requires a plan

Moving to the cloud is easier, safer and more affordable than ever, but to be successful, you need a plan. To learn more about what you need to consider before moving to the cloud, read this blog.

If you’re wondering how to get started, reach out to us! We’re here to help you understand your options and make the right choices for your business.

Christopher J. Luise

Christopher J. Luise

Christopher Luise is Co-CEO at ADNET Technologies, LLC. Early in his career, Christopher co-founded ADNET with Co-CEO Edward Laprade, and worked for several years as vice president responsible for new business development. In 1995, he left ADNET and spent the next 13 years driving innovative, technology-based solutions in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and Asia as group CIO and later CEO for a Global Financial Services organization. Christopher returned to ADNET in 2008 to lead the Infrastructure and Advisory Services consulting practices with a full-time focus on strategy, operations, and branding.

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