Microsoft Azure Cloud Services 101 for the Novice

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This article will zoom in on the newest major public cloud provider, Microsoft Azure, and what you need to know about their cloud services.
In the enterprise technology realm, all you hear about these days is cloud, cloud, cloud.  And the forecast continues to be cloudy with 100% chance of more cloud.  Cloud technology has taken its time in terms of becoming a refined, trusted, and widely adopted culture-redefining presence in the world of business, but with Microsoft entering this arena, you know it’s just getting good.  Microsoft Azure joins the ranks of Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services in offering what modern businesses are seeking: public cloud services.  Cloud service providers, like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon are providing virtual machines, data management, web apps, and more, so that your business can be conducted from anywhere with an internet connection, all while being managed by the cloud vendor.  This article will explore Microsoft Azure, specifically looking at their cloud services – and what that functionality means for those that are looking at Cloud business intelligence (BI) and corporate performance management (CPM) solutions.

So, first things first: let’s define it. Microsoft Azure is the application platform for their public Cloud.  We have written about Cloud computing on this blog, but just as a refresher, Cloud computing refers to relying on the internet as a platform for storing and accessing your data and applications as opposed to an on-premises server or hard drive. Azure offers a full catalog of services and is described by Microsoft as “a flexible, open, and secure public cloud built for business.”  But we’re zooming in on their Cloud Services because, as an end user, you might be wondering how it works, whether because you’d like to utilize the offering for your own initiatives – or you are aware of applications, maybe even BI or CPM specifically, that are running on Azure.
Azure Cloud Services deliver a Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution with the space to run scalable custom code.  So, say you work for a company that has multiple users simultaneously getting into a BI or CPM tool that is hosted on Azure. Cloud Services supports unlimited users, is managed mostly by Microsoft, so little administration is required and the application never goes down.  As a software vendor, this is the move forward into the future for on-premises tools that can now be offered in a Software as a Service (SaaS) format, with any updates and upgrades rolled out instantaneously via Azure.  And the consumer is able to only pay for the exact usage of the product through Cloud pricing.
Microsoft’s other main offerings within Azure focus on different areas that don’t quite deliver what you would be trying to achieve with Cloud Services.  Azure Web Apps would allow for you to create a BI or CPM web application, but there are some strings attached that would make it less desirable as a platform.  One example would be that you don’t have administrative access, so you can’t install what you would like.  Azure Virtual Machines deliver more flexibility, administrative access included, and you can definitely utilize this offering to produce a very scalable tool, but administration and reliability of the application lands mostly on the software vendor. Instead, software vendors are looking for the offering that gives them control over the application, but moves the work of administration and reliability to the Cloud provider.
Enter Microsoft Azure Cloud Services. If you’re using a Cloud BI or CPM tool, this is likely the kind of technology that it is delivered. Azure Cloud Services supports low-admin, reliable, and scalable applications as a PaaS solution. Vendors develop the application however they choose, in terms of coding and technology, then that code goes live via virtual machines, or instances, running a version of Windows Server.
Wait – virtual machines, like the Azure Virtual Machines module?  These virtual machines are different in that Azure as a program manages the virtual machines employed in Cloud Services, implementing operating system patches and automating the rollout of new patched images.  You can configure the cloud services to automatically produce more or fewer instances as a response to the demand.  As a consumer, this is scalability in action: a cloud application is flexible in that expands to accommodate increased usage and then scales back, so you are not paying for usage that isn’t occurring.  Obviously, what’s good for the consumer is good for business – both the consumer’s and the software vendor.
Azure is a game-changer in that the Microsoft brand has a rapidly increasing, global following of loyal customers. The mere rollout of Azure is an acknowledgment by Microsoft that the forecast for business technology is cloudy with 100% chance of more clouds. No matter where you fall in regard to how you feel about Microsoft offerings, the historical success of their brand means that they are expected to deliver with every product release.  Of course, they have the resources to do so, but the release of Azure has seemed like an announcement that the future is now, and the Microsoft team always comes to compete, especially as the giant.
Azure Cloud Services are perfect for supporting a web application where you need more control over the platform than Azure Web Apps provides, but want Azure to control the underlying operating system.  There is a lot to learn about cloud computing, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of explaining what Microsoft Azure offers, but with Microsoft Dynamics 365, Power BI hosted by Azure, and other BI and CPM solutions eventually moving in, the development is a win for both consumers and software vendors alike.  Solver, Inc. is happy to answer any questions and review BI360’s easy-to-use, Excel- and web-based budgeting and reporting solution that enables collaboration, streamlined decision-making capabilities for your BI experience.

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