There’s been a steady increase in the popularity and capabilities of cloud based services in the past few years. Microsoft Azure, along with a few other platforms, is at the forefront of cloud technologies.
To understand what Azure is capable of, and how it will be able to help your company, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what the cloud is.
When people talk about “the Cloud” they are simply referring to using hardware or software that is not based in their office. In other words, if you store a file like a Word document on your computer, you are storing it natively. If you store the same Word document on the internet, via Azure, you are storing it in the cloud. The data is stored on a computer somewhere else, not on your personal computer. Instead of accessing the file from your hard drive, you access it from a computer that Microsoft runs for you.
Companies like Microsoft have massive rooms, full of computers, called datacentres. They store information for many users on each computer. Each user “rents” space in these datacentres, and can only access their own information.
As the technology used to create these datacentres has advanced, so have their capabilities.
Platforms like Azure provide much more than simple storage. In fact, you could move almost all of your businesses computing onto the Azure platform.
What are the benefits of Azure?
The main benefit of Azure is that it’s modular. You only pay for what you need to use. In other words, the benefits depend on what your company uses the platform for.
There are dozens of individual products, that fall into three broad categories.
Software as a Service
Azure allows you use programs like Microsoft Word or Excel online, rather than on your computer. By removing the need to buy and install the software, there’s a cost benefit. You would pay a small amount per user per month.
You also get the added benefit of keeping your work separate and secure from your computer. If your hardware malfunctions or is stolen, your work is still accessible.
Infrastructure as a Service
Companies that use databases or need shared network storage have to buy, install and maintain servers. Server equipment is fairly expensive and needs dedicated employee resources to manage correctly.
By using Azure, companies can avoid investing in server hardware and maintenance altogether. The same functions are available, the only difference is that they are accessed through the internet rather than a local network. All of the security, maintenance and hardware is managed by Microsoft.
Platform as a Service
When a company develops applications for their customers, they need a programming platform like Java and a hosting service that stores the application itself. The customers will then be able to download the application from the hosting service.
There are a few problems with this method. The first is that the hosting platform is usually a server, so the same issues will apply as with traditional infrastructure. Aside from storing the application, an operating system needs to be installed on the server and kept up to date in order for the application to function.
By using Azure, the development tools needed to create applications and host them, are stored and accessed through the internet. This allows multiple programmers to collaborate on a project remotely.
Different companies will have different requirements. Azure products are paid for as they are used. This means that if your company is just starting out, you would not pay very much. You would probably only use a few services.
As your company grows, you would buy additional capacity on the network and pay a little more. You may wish to expand your business to include App development. By using Azure, you would simply add additional services to your subscription.