What is Microsoft Azure

As one of the top three cloud service providers in the world, Microsoft Azure is one of the leading names in cloud computing. Countless organizations are using Microsoft Azure to build, deploy, and store applications. In this article, we’re going to look at what Microsoft Azure is, what it does, how you can monitor its performance and more.

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What is Microsoft Azure and What Does it Do?

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Azure is a cloud platform that is used to build, manage, and deploy applications in the cloud. The service is managed by Microsoft and there is a large directory of Azure services that companies can use to build cloud infrastructure. Azure is available as a Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

The service is available in 54 regions worldwide in over 140 different countries. In fact, Azure has more global locations available than any other provider on the market, from the Americas to the Middle East and Asia Pacific.

Azure offers a range of services that you can use on its platform including AI and Machine Learning, Analytics, Containers, Databases, Developer Tools, DevOps, Identity, Integration, Internet of Things, Management and Governance, Media, Microsoft Azure Stack, Migration, Mixed Reality, Mobile, Networking, Security, Storage, and Web (you can view a full list on the Microsoft Azure website).

Microsoft Azure Key Features

Azure Screenshot

Microsoft Azure offers a number of key features to support enterprises provisioning virtual and cloud-based infrastructure. Some of the features offered by Azure include:

  • Create virtual machines – Users can create virtual machines for Microsoft and Linux with VM templates.
  • Create and deploy applications – You can create applications with the support of Azure WebApps to help test and deploy applications.
  • Store data online – Users can store data online in an accessible and secure format.
  • Provision SQL database – You can make use of managed SQL databases to reduce hardware costs.
  • Available as IaaS, SaaS, or PaaS – Variety of installation types for companies to use.

Why Should I Use Microsoft Azure?

Though there are many reasons to use Azure, one of the most compelling is that you can outsource your services to a remote data center. Rather than managing your own data center, you pay Microsoft to do it for you. When services are cloud-based in this way you don’t have to supply the resources for them from your own data center.

In other words, you don’t have to pay for the hardware and resources to support it. You also don’t need to pay for employees to manage a data center’s worth of hardware. When combined, this makes quite a difference in terms of costs.

Microsoft Azure provides you with an alternative where you only need to pay for the system resources that you use. The pay-as-you-go model means that you can reap the rewards of using cloud services without having to pay the full cost of provisioning a data center yourself.

Scalability is another key advantage offered by Azure. The resources offered by Azure are scalable. If you need to store more data, then you can just buy more. Likewise, the pricing structure is also scalable so you only need to pay for the resources you use. Whether you’re upscaling or downscaling you can adjust in line with the needs of your business.

In contrast, managing a data center in house would require you to purchase or sell hardware whenever you wanted to upgrade or downgrade. In addition, you would have all the concerns of protecting your infrastructure from cyber attacks and performance degradation.

The Advantages of Microsoft Azure

Of all the cloud service vendors, Microsoft Azure offers a particularly strong cloud-service offering. Some of the distinct advantages that Microsoft Azure offers users are:

  • High availability
  • Scalability
  • Security
  • Disaster recovery
  • Reduces cost

High Availability

Compared to other competitors, Azure has high availability and redundancy with an SLA of 99.99% for virtual machines. The high availability of Azure services means that the likelihood of a service going down is miniscule. Having services available can make a big difference to your bottom line.

By using Microsoft Azure you can eliminate the risk of downtime and the costs that come with being put out of action. Having a cloud service platform that stays up not only promotes peace of mind but also saves you money.

Scalability

Both the infrastructure of Azure and the pricing model are completely scalable. Additional storage resources can be added or reduced on-demand. The Azure platform offers a level of scalability that most enterprises are unable to replicate by managing their own data center.

Security

Security has been placed at the heart of Azure’s cloud strategy. To start with, traffic travelling through Microsoft-managed networks is encrypted for enterprises and customers. Encrypted traffic helps to maintain confidentiality and protects the content of data from being seen by unauthorized users.

Azure also has protection against cyber attacks in place. In particular, Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks are protected against by the Azure infrastructure itself which denies attackers a central point of attack. This provides security against unwanted downtime and gives enterprises peace of mind against these kinds of attacks.

Disaster Recovery

In addition to the security protections of Azure there are also built-in disaster recovery features you can draw on in a crisis. The structure of Azure is geographically decentralized meaning that there is no single point of failure. The decentralized nature of the infrastructure protects against human error, cyber attacks and even natural disasters. If one area goes down you can simply run your applications from a redundant site until the original one is up and running again.

Cost

Finally, Azure is a cost-effective solution. By using Azure you eliminate the need to manage physical infrastructure to maintain a cloud service. You can simply pay Microsoft a fee to use their resources instead. You don’t have to maintain or spend any money managing physical hardware. If you take into account the speed with which you can upgrade your infrastructure, Azure has a dramatic impact on your costs.

Limitations of Microsoft Azure

It is no secret that Azure has a handful of limitations that users need to be aware of. The limitations of using Azure include:

  • High cost
  • Needs to be managed
  • Complexity

High Cost

It is true that Azure does cut costs in some ways but it still comes at a hefty price. Part of that is the cost of running data centers and the other part is carrying the Microsoft brand. Enterprises are willing to pay to be able to use a Windows-driven cloud service platform.

The combination of these factors makes Azure expensive when upscaling compared to competitors like Amazon’s AWS. For smaller enterprises the cost of Azure is often too much. It is tailored towards those organizations that want to pay extra for extending Microsoft infrastructure into the cloud.

Needs to be Managed

Virtualizing your infrastructure means that you have to go the extra mile to manage your service. Rather than managing a data center you’ll have to manage a cloud service platform. Microsoft takes some of the responsibility off your hands but you still need to manage your own services.

In practice, you will need server monitoring to monitor your cloud’s performance and storage resources to make sure there aren’t any issues. In addition you will need to regularly update patches to verify that your infrastructure is up-to-date. Using tools like SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor can help with this, but managing a cloud service requires a different set of skills to managing a traditional network.

Complexity

Azure systems are highly specialized. As such, you need to have a team who are familiar with how Azure services work in order to reap the rewards. If you don’t understand how Azure is priced or the services you need, then it is easy to lose thousands.

For example, many run the mistake of overestimating the amount of cloud-space they need and end up paying extra for cloud storage they don’t use. Therefore, it is on the customer to accurately identify how many resources they need to use.

Microsoft Azure Competitors

The cloud services space is particularly competitive, and there are a number of other dominant providers providing alternatives to Microsoft Azure. Services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud also lead the market helping enterprises to manage and deploy applications in the cloud.

While AWS still has the dominant market share of the cloud services industry, Azure has shown lots of progress in development. This is particularly true in the IaaS market where Azure’s share is at 10 percent compared to AWS’s at 17%.

Google Cloud has lots of investment in its services but it doesn’t have the enterprise market appeal that AWS and Azure do. The only area where Google Cloud outperforms Azure is that of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

In terms of uptime, Azure out-performs both AWS and Google Cloud with a 99.9% uptime percentage. In comparison, both Amazon and Google Cloud have a 99.95% uptime. The high availability of Azure makes it the obvious choice for organizations prioritizing a reliable cloud service solution.

How to Monitor Microsoft Azure

If you are considering using Microsoft Azure it is necessary to learn how to monitor cloud infrastructure. Monitoring a network or a data center that you own is completely different than monitoring a stack of Azure applications. You need a performance monitoring tool to be able to do this effectively.

Tools like SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor and Dynatrace allow you to monitor the performance of virtual infrastructure for storage space and faults. These tools are essential for optimizing Azure and making sure that performance issues are addressed promptly.

SolarWinds Microsoft Azure Monitoring with Server & Application Monitor

EDITOR'S CHOICE

A robust Azure server monitoring tool with over 1,200 application monitoring templates. Can also monitor AWS IaaS, PaaS and SaaS for comprehensive cloud monitoring. Setup and start monitoring within minutes. Incredibly customizable and is equipped with good visual aides.

Official Site: Solarwinds.com

OS: Windows and Linux apps

SolarWinds Microsoft Azure Monitoring with Server & Application Monitor is an application monitoring solution that can monitor IaaS and PaaS services on Azure. With this tool, you can monitor elements like VM, Kubernetes, App Service, Event Hubs, and SQL Database. All performance data is shown through a dashboard view which displays the availability of infrastructure. There is an autodiscovery feature that can be used to find virtual machines and containers automatically.

SolarWinds Server and Application monitor screenshot

Metrics you can view with SolarWinds Server & Application Monitor include performance over time, region, availability, state, and security details. Performance data is monitored with dynamic baselines which can detect abnormal behaviour and send you an alert.

SolarWinds Microsoft Azure Monitoring with Server & Application MonitorDownload 30-day FREE trial

Dynatrace

Dynatrace is a performance monitoring solution that enables users to monitor the Azure cloud. From the dashboard you can view your entire Azure environment whether it is hybridor multi-cloud. Microservices and containers are automatically discovered and plotted onto an interactive map. On the interactive map you can see how Azure Applications, Services, Processes, Hosts, and data centers connect to each other.

Dynatrace screenshot

To combat performance issues, Dynatrace has performance baselines and root-cause diagnostics. Once a problem is detected, Dynatrace can generate analytics to determine the root-cause of the problem. Being able to do this makes the troubleshooting process much easier.

Best Microsoft Azure Resources

If you’re new to Microsoft Azure then there is undoubtedly a lot of information you need to get your head around. There are many different online resources and tutorials that teach you everything you need to know about how Azure works. In this section we’re going to look at some of the best online Azure resources that you can use:

  1. Tutorials Point – Microsoft Azure
  2. Microsoft Azure Getting Started Tutorials
  3. Microsoft Azure – Beginner’s Guide Course Udemy
  4. A-Z Machine Learning Using Azure Machine Learning
  5. AZ-203 Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure Exam Prep
  6. AZ-300 Azure Architecture Technologies Certification Exam
  7. Edureka! Microsoft Azure Tutorial Articles
  8. Mind Majix Blog – Azure Articles

1. Tutorials Point – Microsoft Azure

The Tutorials Point Microsoft Azure Tutorials on Microsoft Azure have been designed specifically for Azure newbies to learn all the fundamentals. These tutorials cover everything from cloud computing to Azure components, storage, tables, CDN, security, and applications. It includes screenshots to teach you how to complete tasks like deploying an Azure website from Visual Studio. If you’re looking to start learning this is one of the best places to begin.

2. Microsoft Azure Getting Started Tutorials

The Microsoft Azure Getting Started Tutorials are a great way to get your official start with Azure. These materials are designed to help IT professionals build their confidence with Azure. Articles include how to “Detect malicious activity using Azure Security Center and Azure Log Analytics” and “Security Azure Customers from CPU Vulnerability”.

3. Microsoft Azure – Beginner’s Guide Course Udemy

Udemy’s Microsoft Azure – Beginner’s Guide Course is a complete course for those looking to learn how to start working with Azure in an enterprise environment. The course costs $99.99 (£75.48) and comes with seven hours of on-demand video, five unique articles and nine downloadable resources. Topics included in the course are Azure Virtual Machines, Networking, Azure Storage, and Azure Cognitive Services.

4. A-Z Machine Learning Using Azure Machine Learning

A-Z Machine Learning Using Azure Machine Learning is a Udemy course dedicated to learning about the machine learning potential of Azure services. The course tackles data science and the machine learning models critical to using Azure ML.

The course comes with eleven hours of on-demand video, two articles and 39 different download resources for $99.99 (£75.48). Topics covered include Data Processing, Classification, Deploy Web Service, Regression Analysis, and Clustering.

5. AZ-203 Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure Exam Prep

AZ-203 Developing Solutions for Microsoft Azure Exam Prep is a course designed for those administrators looking to achieve certification for the AZ-203 Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions test. The course costs $149.99 (£113.23) and includes eight and a half hours of on-demand video, four articles and one downloadable resource. Topics covered include Virtual Machines, Azure Batch Services, Containerized Solutions, Azure App Service,and Mobile Apps.

6. AZ-300 Azure Architecture Technologies Certification Exam

AZ-300 Azure Architecture Technologies Certification Exam is another essential course for those looking to pass the Microsoft AZ-300 Azure Architect Technologies test. The course has 26 hours of on-demand video, 42 articles and two downloadable resources for $149.99 (£113.23). Topics covered include Create and Configure Virtual Machines, Analyze Resource Utilization and Consumption, Manage Virtual Networking, and Connectivity Between Networks.

7. Edureka! Microsoft Azure Tutorial Articles

The Edureka! series of articles on Microsoft Azure are excellent for those who want to learn more about the cloud service provider from a free resource. These articles take you through the basics of what Microsoft Azure is and explains key concepts you need to be familiar with. There is a guide to the Azure Portal and an Azure Storage Tutorial that goes into detail on Tables, Blobs, Queues, and File Storage.

8. Mind Majix Blog – Azure Articles

The Mind Majix Blog has a range of useful materials on Microsoft Azure from Azure Interview Questions to a guide to Azure Active directory. These articles are free and provide an accessible look at the use cases for Azure. While these articles are lighter on technical advice they thoroughly explain the key concepts you’ll encounter in any other course.

What is Microsoft Azure: A Leading Cloud Service Provider

The widespread use cases and advantages of Microsoft Azure make it one of the top cloud service providers in the world. The availability and scalability of Azure infrastructure are just two of the reasons why modern enterprises are embracing Azure services. While providers like AWS may have the edge in terms of market share and pricing, Azure still sits firmly as one of the key players in the cloud services game.

If being able to build Microsoft applications that are readily available then Microsoft Azure is a good choice. While it has its issues in terms of costs and its single vendor approach to cloud computing, it still has more than enough advantages to support modern enterprises.