A Guide to Microsoft Azure: What are the benefits to my business?

June 13th 2019 / By David Smetana

Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform that launched in February 2010. A comprehensive collection of interoperable cloud computing services, Microsoft Azure includes open-source versions of Microsoft technologies that are managed and remotely hosted. The cloud computing platform is often referred to as a ‘hyperscale cloud’.

Naturally, being a Microsoft product, Azure does not stagnate and become outdated - new services, solutions and regional datacentres are being added continually. Azure encompasses traditional cloud offerings, along with significant transformational benefits

A brief insight into what Microsoft Azure has to offer

Azure Virtual Machines (VM):

An on-demand, scalable and extended datacentre. Azure VM offers users flexible virtualisation without having to invest in the costly physical hardware that runs it. Although tasks such as configuring, patching and installing software is still required, this is performed by experts, like us! Businesses use Azure Virtual Machines to develop and test applications, as an extended datacentre or to provide them with extra capacity when needed.

Microsoft Blob Storage:

Azure Blob storage is object storage for the cloud; it is optimised for storing large amounts of unstructured data, whilst also supporting big data analytics solutions. Blob storage is commonly used for streaming video and audio files, serving images and documents directly to a browser, writing log files, storing data for back-up and disaster recovery, or for archiving and analysing purposes.

Azure Content Delivery Networks:

Microsoft Azure Content Delivery Network, or Azure CDN, is a global solution for delivering content that requires a high-bandwidth. User experience is improved with reduced load times and increased responsiveness, making Azure CDN ideal for websites, mobile applications, streaming media or gaming software.

Microsoft Azure also offers bespoke services that leverage Microsoft technologies along with offering access to Microsoft enterprise solutions such as SQL Server and Active Directory. This enables businesses to implement and use business intelligence tools effectively, driving growth and improving security through role-based access.

IaaS and PaaS

95% of Fortune 500 companies use Microsoft Azure, relying on its cloud services to build and deploy multiple applications in a responsive and agile way. For clarification, we have added some further information on both IaaS and PaaS below:

IaaS

IaaS, or Infrastructure-as-a-Service, is a form of cloud computing, that is provisioned and managed online. IaaS provides a business with components such as servers and storage, often located in dedicated datacentres, and cyber security protection in the form of networking firewalls and more. With IaaS a business can easily scale the services they require, only paying for what they use and allowing them to respond to shifting business conditions.

PaaS

PaaS, also known as Platform-as-a-Service, encompasses the infrastructure components of IaaS along with operating systems, business analytics, development tools and database management. Using these services and platforms, businesses can build, test, deploy, manage and update web applications in the cloud.

As more small to medium sized businesses move to the cloud, the uptake of IaaS and PaaS is also increasing and is set to eventually overtake SaaS – Software-as-a-Service. Azure is a platform that supports this, offering several IaaS and PaaS solutions.

The IaaS offering allows businesses to use the Azure infrastructure with a ‘usage-based’ billing model, rather than reserved capacity. This lack of upfront costs makes it an affordable option for businesses of any size. It also makes it a popular choice for those who are migrating to the cloud from on-premise servers that may have previously required a significant investment.

PaaS means that firms can build and deploy their own bespoke applications and solutions using a fully-managed platform. This offers developers a pathway to implement OS patching, load balancing and capacity provisioning. Research shows that, currently, 42% of small businesses have a mobile app and a further 30% say that having a mobile app is part of their plans.

Experts consider cost to be a barrier to many businesses embarking on creating their own app but with the aforementioned usage-based billing, Microsoft Azure provides a solution. Microsoft’s acquisition of Github last year also means that source code integration, live debugging and one-click publication from Microsoft Visual Studio is available. All in all, the process of building web apps has been made far simpler and more efficient.

Security

As expected, security is a top concern for businesses when considering a move to the cloud.

Handing over all your sensitive business data, along with your client data, can be anxiety-inducing – especially as the spotlight remains on topics such as GDPR and data hacks.

As one of, if not THE world’s leading technology firm, Microsoft comes with some compelling evidence that they will keep your data secure. Almost 100% of Fortune 500 companies - that’s some of the largest and most successful companies based in America - trust Microsoft as their cloud provider because of their comprehensive security, privacy, compliance and IP protections.

It’s not just corporations that place their trust in Microsoft Azure: governments and tech-native start-ups have also chosen Microsoft over other vendors because of its platform security.

Not to mention the fact that Microsoft has the most inclusive compliance portfolio of any cloud service provider. Microsoft Azure offers state-of-the-art, multi-layered security across datacentres, infrastructure and operations. Security controls are integrated into the hardware, firmware and services offered.

Concurrently, real-time cybersecurity intelligence uses machine-learning behavioural analytics and application-based intelligence and of course, Microsoft data scientists. This approach to proactive security means that threats can be detected much faster. In-built security provides you with peace of mind that the data your business holds will be incredibly secure.

Access management

Who has access to your sensitive business and client data? Security is not only achieved by rectifying external vulnerabilities – it’s crucial that businesses look internally too.

In Microsoft Azure the focus has shifted from network security. Now, identity is treated as a primary security perimeter; because of the shift in working trends, such as remote working and BYOD (bring your own device), perimeter defence is becoming less effective.

As previously mentioned, Azure Active Directory is Microsoft’s solution for identity and access management – merging application access management, directory services and identify protection into one solution. Using Azure AD reduces the security risk from human error and, as well as using it for employees, it can also be configured for guest users and external partners with permissions and access granted accordingly.

While security access is a concern it should not hinder productivity and efficiency. Features such as single sign-on (SSO) are critical in this mobile-first world. When there is a large volume of identity solutions to manage, it can be an issue for those looking after IT.

It can also be a challenge for employees who are tasked with remembering multiple sign-in details. By automatically provisioning access based on roles and organisation groups, you can control access but also prevent weak passwords being used multiple times.

Further to this, multi-factor authentication, or two-step authentication, provides an additional layer of security. There are several ways that this can be implemented: from the traditional two-step verification with every sign-in, to enabling it to work with conditional access policies, whereby specific conditions are defined rather than asking users every time they sign in.

Hybrid cloud

There are some firms out there that opt for a hybrid cloud solution. This is often down to the nature of the data they handle or complicated software they use, which doesn’t sit natively in the cloud.

A hybrid cloud solution provides them with more control and peace of mind. Using Microsoft Azure within a hybrid infrastructure you can seamlessly manage data, leverage high-level security solutions and deliver application consistency.

When it comes to elements like access management, using a hybrid infrastructure doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. Hybrid cloud users can centralise their identity management by integrating on-premise and cloud directories using Azure Active Directory Connect.

Azure Stack is an extension of Azure that lets businesses run cloud services and applications in an on-premise infrastructure. In some instances, cloud-based applications delivered in this way can be inhibited by connectivity and latency; Azure Stack resolves these issues by processing the data locally before aggregating it in the cloud.

Data analysis

Data is the lifeblood of businesses of all sizes and statures. By analysing your business data you can understand and improve your processes and service offerings, deliver personalised experiences to customers and even develop new products based on your findings.

Successful businesses are constantly reviewing and acting on data. Those who are most successful are relying on modern, intelligent solutions and tools to help them do so.

The comprehensive set of Microsoft Azure technologies enables businesses to collect, manage and store data across complex environments, multiple applications and across departments: making your business more cohesive and unified.

Whether you want a service to integrate and automate data movement, real-time data processes from multiple sources, an efficient and scalable data exploration service or scalable data storage - there is a solution within Azure to facilitate this.

Despite this being a lengthy blog, we really have only scratched the surface when it comes to the capabilities of Microsoft Azure. It’s a multifaceted, complex product that can revolutionise a business and transform the way it works.

To learn more about how Microsoft Azure could take your business to the next level, discuss your requirements with one of our experts today.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we are well equipped to facilitate a cloud migration to an innovative and bespoke cloud computing infrastructure that harnesses all Azure has to offer.

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