This comprehensive guide about Microsoft Azure includes common use cases, technical limitations, and what to know before adopting the cloud computing platform.

The rise of cloud computing provides businesses the ability to quickly provision computing resources without the costly and laborious task of building data centers, and without the costs of running servers with unutilized capacity due to variable workloads.

Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, launched in February 2010. In addition to traditional cloud offerings such as virtual machines, object storage, and content delivery networks (CDNs), Azure offers services that leverage proprietary Microsoft technologies. For example, RemoteApp allows for the deployment of Windows programs using a virtual machine, with clients on Windows, Mac OS, Android, or iOS using the program through a remote desktop connection. Azure also offers cloud-hosted versions of common enterprise Microsoft solutions, such as Active Directory and SQL Server.

This introduction to Microsoft’s cloud platform will be updated periodically to keep IT leaders in the loop on new Azure services and ways in which they can be leveraged.

Executive summary

  • What is Microsoft Azure? Microsoft Azure is a collection of various cloud computing services, including remotely hosted and managed versions of proprietary Microsoft technologies, and open technologies, such as various Linux distributions deployable inside a virtual machine.
  • Why does Microsoft Azure matter? Azure lacks upfront costs or an appreciable time delay in resource provisioning–capacity is available on demand. With a usage-based billing formula, Azure is a compelling option for enterprises transitioning from on-premise Windows servers to the cloud.
  • Who does Microsoft Azure affect? Azure can be utilized at any scale, from a garage startup to a Fortune 500 company. Because of the ease of transition, organizations with an existing Windows Server deployment may find Azure to be best suited to their needs.
  • When was Microsoft Azure released? Azure reached general availability in February 2010, with additional services and regional data centers being added continually since launch.
  • How do I get Microsoft Azure? New users receive a $200 service credit good for 30 days when signing up for Microsoft Azure; the credit can be applied toward any Microsoft-provided service. Additional discounts and credits are available for startups, nonprofits, and universities.
Image: Microsoft

What is Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure is a platform of interoperable cloud computing services, including open-source, standards-based technologies and proprietary solutions from Microsoft and other companies. Instead of building an on-premise server installation, or leasing physical servers from traditional data centers, Azure’s billing structure is based on resource consumption, not reserved capacity. Pricing varies between different types of services, storage types, and the physical location from which your Azure instances are hosted.

For example, storage pricing varies based on redundancy and distribution options. In the Central US region, hot locally redundant block blob storage (LRS-HOT), with 3 copies in one data center, starts at $0.0184 per GB. Geographically redundant storage (GRS-HOT), with 3 copies in one data center and 3 copies in a second geographically distant data center, starts at $0.0368 per GB. Read-Access GRS (RAGRS-HOT), which allows for read access at the second data center, starts at $0.046 per GB.

In addition to the aforementioned storage, Azure virtual machine, CDN, and Windows-related services, Azure also offers a variety of other services.

  • Azure Kubernetes Services allows business enterprises to create and manage Kubernetes clusters, including creating, scaling, and upgrading, freeing up developers to focus on their application.
  • Azure Blockchain Services allows businesses to build, govern, and expand blockchain networks at scale. The Preview feature simplifies the formation, management, and governance of consortium blockchain networks so you can focus on business logic and app development.
  • Azure Digital Twins is a service, currently in preview, that provides the tools necessary to model the relationships between people, places, and devices using virtual representation of a physical environment, known as the spatial intelligence graph.
  • Azure IoT Suite offers various options for connecting and monitoring devices, as well as providing telemetry and analytics services.
  • HDInsight is a customized Hadoop deployment.
  • Azure Redis Cache is a managed version of the popular open-source Redis data structure server; Azure Cosmos DB is a hosted NoSQL database for specific use cases; and Azure Search is an OData-based managed search service.
  • Azure Media Services offers cloud-based video playing, indexing, transcoding, and content protection services.
  • Azure Arc allows organizations to extend Azure infrastructure across multiple environments, as well as in hybrid or on-premise formats.
  • Azure Stack Hub is a completely on-premise way to run Azure services and applications in an on-premise data center to ensure sensitive data and bandwidth-intense applications continue to work well and securely.

Azure is also working on a new service called CloudPC, which ZDNet contributor Mary Jo Foley describes as “an option for customers who want to use their own Windows PCs made by Microsoft and/or other PC makers basically like thin clients, with Windows, Office and potentially other software delivered virtually by Microsoft.” The release date for the new service is unknown, but it could be as early as Spring 2021.

Microsoft, in coordination with hardware vendors such as Lenovo, Dell EMC, HP Enterprise, Cisco, and Huawei, offers the Azure Stack appliance for use in hybrid cloud deployments. The Azure Stack certified hardware allows organizations to run Azure applications from the public Azure cloud while leveraging data hosted on-premise, as well as running the same services from the public Azure cloud on the Azure Stack platform.


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