Everyone in the technology field has heard of Microsoft Azure, and many technology leaders are using Azure cloud services for their IT needs. But what does it offer that makes it so useful for business, and in particular for your business? Why create a new application or move existing applications to Azure? We will try to answer those two questions, and give a bit of understanding of the benefits and drawbacks to Azure.
First, we need to start with a definition of Azure. Azure can be thought of as an IT infrastructure in the cloud. It is an example of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) run by Microsoft and made available through the web. Effectively Azure contains the servers, data storage, firewalls, and other appliances that make up a modern IT infrastructure. They offer this to you on a fee schedule dependent upon many factors. Of course you are not renting actual equipment. The main technology behind Azure, and the cloud in general, is virtualization. Virtualization takes a physical computer and splits it into a number of virtual devices having its own operating system, storage, and associated systems. Each one of these virtual machines can be managed independently, with different operating systems, applications, and services.
Once you understand a bit of how Azure works, the benefits become apparent. For small and medium businesses, probably the greatest benefit is taking the IT infrastructure off your hands. If you have an intranet, the entire system can be based in the cloud and accessed via a web browser. No server failures in the middle of the night, no data center heating and cooling concerns, and fewer IT support staff. You can effectively outsource your IT infrastructure.
Scalability is also a major benefit. As your business grows, Azure can also grow with you. Simply adding additional “horsepower” to your existing system is as simple as notifying Microsoft you need more processing power, data storage, or bandwidth and it can easily be added to the existing system. It is effectively an on-demand system. For example, a seasonal business like a music festival can scale up their services during peak ticket sales and website views, but lower the service requirements during the off season, resulting in significant savings.
Data security and disaster recovery is a big concern of any business, and there Azure also performs well. These services are built right into the Azure cloud.
Security and privacy through the Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) addresses security at every development phase, from initial planning to launch, and ensures that Azure is continually updated to make it even more secure. Operational Security Assurance (OSA) builds on SDL knowledge and processes to provide a framework that helps ensure secure operations throughout the lifecycle of cloud-based services.
Disaster recovery through Azure becomes easier for businesses because your data is stored in the cloud, so if anything happens to your physical premises, your data is safe and secure. Of course, other issues can occur and for that Azure has Site Recovery. This service replicates your virtual VMs and any physical servers so that they remain available in a secondary location if the primary site isn’t available then automatically recovers work to the primary site when it becomes available.
Lastly, Azure seamlessly integrates with other Microsoft products. It functions as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) for Office365, Visual Studio, Active Directory, NAV on Azure, etc. This allows you to do more with your ERP, CRM and other business data in a scalable environment that is faster and more reliable.
All of these services come at a price, but many companies are finding the cloud to be lower cost than traditional IT infrastructure, particularly for businesses just starting to feel the need for greater IT support. Taking all of the benefits of flexibility, scalability, security, and the peace of mind disaster recovery brings, Azure is certainly worth a look for many small to medium sized businesses.