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Could Microsoft Azure save you time and money?

Neil Palmer

Neil Palmer

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

It’s no secret that there has been a great deal of excitement about cloud computing recently. To the uninitiated it may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

Microsoft have always been experts in making complex technologies easily available and Azure is no exception to that. Since its inception in 2010, Azure has grown into a mature and diverse platform that supports some of the world’s biggest corporations.

No more worries about software updates, hardware maintenance

One of the biggest benefits of using the cloud is the availability of Platform as Service (PaaS). These are services hosted in Azure (such as a database or web application hosting) and the underlying software and hardware is managed for you. This means new applications can be built without requiring a server and licences to be bought and maintained, saving time and capital expenditure. Your IT Team does not need to install the hardware or software patches. You can change your plan at any time, should you need more or less capacity, without the expense and disruption of buying and installing additional hardware.

Microsoft haven’t stopped there, new services are continuously being added to Azure, including services that are not available outside of the cloud. Notably the table storage service offers database-like storage at a much cheaper cost than the Azure databases. Microsoft have recently announced their new “logic apps” Service that allows users to build automated business process. This enables businesses to combine many different technologies to implement valuable processes (e.g. send a text message alert to the sales manager when a new client subscribes online).

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is also available, Azure offers file storage up to 5,000TB (yes, Terabytes) which is perfect for archiving files or storing off site backups. Virtual machines are another part of Azure’s infrastructure offering, with specifications ranging from the modest to enterprise scale, you can even have SQL Server licences included in the per minute cost.

Systems that are always available

Of course there is a lot more to Azure than just being somewhere to put databases and web applications. One of the big benefits is the effort that Microsoft have put in to designing a hosting environment that is highly available. Azure services are designed to stay running even if the machine they are hosted on fails. This allows Microsoft to give a 99.99% guarantee of uptime for their SQL Databases. If you need even more redundancy you can run the same service in two datacentres, keeping your system available should a datacentre have an issue.

Latest and greatest

Software patches and new functionality are made available on a rolling basis, with no need to plan migrations or purchase licence upgrades. Microsoft upgrade the underlying software, ensuring you have access to the latest features and fixes without any disruption to your service. This also allows you to take advantage of the new functionality and performance improvements without having to worry about having the wrong version of the software.

How can it be used?

The wide variety of services and infrastructure available on Azure makes it a rich environment for hosting a system or using individual features in isolation. Designing a system with this in mind enables the business to get the maximum benefit from the services available, allowing you to meet your requirements for cost, performance and availability.

Current examples range from large scale web applications, using the website and database services to the back end of mobile applications. You may choose use just the file storage to hold archived files or use machine learning algorithms to analyse your data.

Services are generally charged on a per minute basis, plus a charge for the download bandwidth used (upload is free). Different pricing tiers are available to allow you to pick the right level of service for your needs – if you have high performance requirements you can select a high capacity tier, alternatively, you could design your system to make use of many smaller instances in parallel, depending on what is best suited to your task.

In the right circumstances, using Azure can be cheaper and more reliable than hosting on premises, and that sounds like a great opportunity to me.

 

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