Microsoft Azure is a cloud service platform that covers all aspects of the environment. Some of the features it offers are:
- Virtual machines
- Web application support
- Cloud services
- Data and storage management
- File services
- Virtual networks
- Traffic management
- Developer services
These components all work with one another, but you only use the ones you need. This gives Azure great flexibility. Microsoft is adding new features all the time, such as container service. Other Microsoft products, such as Dynamics CRM, are built on top of Azure. It makes heavy use of open source software.
Flexibility is one of Azure’s major benefits. It can use either Windows or Linux machines and supports a variety of databases. Azure boasts of over 3,000 services. You can start with a simple configuration and expand it as necessary. Microsoft provides a .NET software development kit for development of Web and mobile applications, but you can use third-party languages and tools if you prefer. Its identity and access management allows fine-grained control of user access.
Azure relieves you of the effort of setting up Web services from the bare operating system up. The cloud service takes care of backup, hardware upgrades, and software patches. At the same time, it presents so many options that a novice can find it bewildering. Azure’s layer of support simplifies your task, but making the best use of it still requires complex decisions based on experienced judgment. It can take away the need for outside service management in the simpler cases, but not in all cases.
A simple environment might consist of just one virtual machine running the Web Apps module, with your web application running on that. In time you might need to expand to additional machines. You might find that Web Apps doesn’t give you enough control, and you need to use the more flexible Cloud Services. If you’re delivering very large amounts of data all over the world, you might want to add a content delivery network. Proper management of caching can speed up a slow system. If you want, you can add streaming video with CDN integration.
The Azure Portal assists you in these management tasks, supporting dozens of services. You can customize your resource pages to organize the features the way you need them. With the Portal, you can see what you have deployed, find out what it costs you, and get a preview of how a change in configuration will affect your costs. It provides a front end to other tools, such as Azure Resource Manager. It’s also possible to manage Azure through a command line interface or a REST API. Even though Microsoft does its best to simplify the job, managing Azure is a serious task.
When does it make sense to go to managed services? If you’re a tech-savvy person in a small startup company, and you’re still in the phase where you’ve got your hands on everything, you can likely take care of your own management. If you’re running a huge company, you can have a full-time staff for the purpose. But in the broad area between, when running the company is a full-time job but you can’t hire a specialist for everything, and when the services you offer have started to grow significantly, using outside management may be the best solution.
If you need to integrate private, non-cloud services into a hybrid system, good management is especially desirable. Such systems require coordination of software and reliable network connectivity.
Without well-managed cloud services, the user experience can become slow and erratic, or you might be putting money into the wrong places. An experienced team that understands your business needs can choose the best configuration, monitor performance, and let you know when you need upgrades.
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