How many companies use Microsoft Azure Cloud

What is Azure - a guide

If you would like to learn more about Azure or if you would like to know how you can best use Azure and the additional services in your company, you have come to the right place. Our comprehensive guide describes the basics and many other aspects - from “What is Microsoft Azure?” To an explanatory video for Microsoft Azure that guides you through the most important steps.

The table of contents allows you to jump straight to the chapters of this comprehensive guide that interest you most. If you have any questions after reading this, do not hesitate to contact us - we look forward to clarifying and answering your questions.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Microsoft Azure - an introduction
Chapter 2: Characteristics of Microsoft Azure
Chapter 3: How Enterprises Use Microsoft Azure
Chapter 4: A Tutorial for Microsoft Azure
Chapter 5: Microsoft Azure Best Practices

Beyond the basics of Microsoft Azure

Chapter 1: Microsoft Azure - an introduction

What is Microsoft Azure?

Whenever I am asked what Microsoft Azure is, the simplest answer is, “Azure is a cloud computing platform that has everything a business needs to do part or all of the workload virtually, including the servers , the storage systems, the databases, the networks, the analyzes and everything else. "

Until now, the only option for companies in information processing was to build and operate the necessary hardware (including servers, disk storage and Ethernet switches) in a data center. Today companies can use a public cloud computing platform like Azure. The provider of this platform takes on the procurement and operation of the entire computer hardware and manages the technology. User companies can "rent" these hardware resources as required.

Users can choose those services from Azure that they need for ongoing operations. These services can be broken down into the creation, provision and administration of applications. (These services are discussed in more detail in Chapter 3.) When you rent your IT resources, you reduce IT capital expenditures and you don't have to factor in the inefficiencies of a dedicated IT department. Problems within an IT environment are always the responsibility of the operator. In addition to reducing costs and increasing efficiency, there are also numerous other advantages that we will discuss in Chapter 2.

Many companies today are opting for a combination of cloud computing and on-site data centers. Some even use several cloud computing providers depending on the specific needs of the application. (Read this article for an overview of the future of multi-cloud computing). So if you are concerned about the consequences of a drastic change in the IT environment or if you fear that you will be dependent on a single service provider forever: relax. Concentrate on checking the suitability of cloud computing with regard to the specific needs of your company. Often a combination of the cloud and an existing IT environment on site is the best way to get the ball rolling.

Who Uses Microsoft Azure?

Public cloud is valuable to businesses of all sizes, and many are choosing Azure. In fact, 85 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Azure.

But Azure is also attractive to most small and medium-sized businesses. One reason for this is to avoid large capital-tying investments for a data center. The effort involved in maintaining upgrades and maintaining the systems is also transferred to the cloud provider. This is especially important for companies that do not have internal IT experts available to provide support. Because Azure makes it easy to add or remove computing resources in minutes (compared to the hours or even days that can be spent in your own data center), Azure offers greater flexibility. Switching resources on or off would not be so easy to implement in a traditional on-premises data center.

Where is my data when I use Azure?

When you use cloud computing, your data is no longer on your own storage systems. So where exactly are they stored?

Microsoft manages the physical storage systems for the data of the Azure users. The data is stored in one or more Microsoft data centers. Over 100 data centers are distributed around the globe for this purpose. Microsoft's managed data centers are currently located in 36 regions (see map below). This number is likely to increase in the years to come.

You can usually choose the region for storing your data. It is advisable to save the data in the vicinity of the user locations. The further away the data is from the users, the greater the latency in transmitting the data over the network infrastructures. Multiple copies of the data are stored and managed in Azure so that your data is easily available. To do this, the data is replicated within Azure. To do this, you determine how the replication is to be handled. For example, you can choose to have two copies in the same location or multiple copies in different geographic locations to keep access times short.

Many companies have to meet legal requirements, so-called compliance standards. Azure therefore offers a range of solutions for compliance standards such as HIPAA, ITAR and, since May 25, 2018, the GDPR. The full list of compliance standards that Azure meets can be found on the Microsoft website.

Will my data be safe with Azure?

Security is a top priority for all public cloud providers. This also applies to Microsoft Azure. Microsoft has primarily dedicated itself to this topic with the recent expansion of its Azure security center.

The Azure Security Center is a management tool with which you can control your Azure resources for security gaps and threats. Advanced analytics help identify potentially malicious activity in your hybrid cloud workloads. The Security Center recommends possible remedial measures. You can evaluate these steps and take the necessary action. Security Center is included with your Microsoft Azure subscription and can be accessed from your main portal. (See Microsoft Azure Tutorial, Chapter 4, Instructions for Accessing the Security Center.)

Note that only part of the Security Center is available for free. While the free tier provides insights into the security status of your cloud resources, it is quite limited in other respects. You get more advanced functions for the detection of threats with an upgrade to the chargeable "Standard" level.

Ensure security and compliance for the Microsoft cloud without adding additional complexity to the processes. Read about how Acronis Cloud Security works here.

Azure also offers Data Encryption at Rest, i.e. the cryptographic encryption of data if it is persistent. Symmetrical encryption is used to quickly encrypt and decrypt large amounts of data.

As the IT professional responsible for keeping your organization's data secure, you will likely want to consider a number of alternative security options. CSO Online notes that "contrary to what many might think, the primary responsibility for protecting corporate data in the cloud rests not with the service provider, but with the cloud customer." So make sure you have a thorough understanding of cloud security and how to actively manage it. Acronis offers cloud security functions to protect your Microsoft Azure cloud. For more information, see the Microsoft Azure tutorial video in Chapter 4.

Now that we've introduced Microsoft Azure, let's move on to the next step - we want to understand what Azure can do for you and your company.

Chapter 2: Characteristics of Microsoft Azure

If you know what Microsoft Azure is and how it works, it is not difficult to understand why so many companies use this public cloud. I believe there are several reasons why companies choose to make the move. Azure has so many features that it is impossible to list them all in a single blog post. Below are six characteristics that are most important to the majority of businesses.

Disaster recovery

A recent survey by the US consultancy ITIC (Information Technology Intelligence Consulting) found that 79 percent of companies require at least 99.99 percent availability for “business-critical hardware, operating systems and the most important business applications”. The survey also showed that 81 percent of companies across 47 vertical market segments estimate the average cost of downtime to be more than $ 300,000 an hour. A third of responding companies said that just a single hour of downtime can cost anywhere from $ 1 million to over $ 5 million. Is it surprising that most organizations give disaster recovery a high priority while looking for easier ways to implement it?

With Azure, your company receives a powerful disaster recovery solution - at a price that can be cheaper than conventional IT infrastructures. With Azure you get:

  • Multiple data centers for data storage, allowing you to provide a cloud service in different locations around the world.
  • Azure Site Recovery, a service to protect your critical business applications in the event of a failure or interruption. To keep them online, the workload is replicated from one primary site to a second site.
  • Azure Traffic Manager for automated network routing to different locations (specified by you) in the event of a region-specific disruption.
  • a triple data replication: All data that you store in Azure is copied three times - either within one data center or to a second data center.

elasticity

Do you run an ecommerce website that gets busier during the holidays? Run an accounting firm that experiences peak occupancy in the first few months of the year. Whatever the case, the additional capacity to support high-volume workloads must be built into the system. In an on-premises data center, a lot of additional hardware has to be procured and maintained throughout the year. In the cloud, you can virtually expand your resources and quickly reduce them again if the load drops. Plus, in the cloud, you typically only pay for the resources you need. In this way, you do not tie up capital unnecessarily and you do not waste money by providing unused resources.

Azure has built-in tools for monitoring and analyzing your use of cloud resources so that you can determine the benefits of reducing or adjusting your computing environment. If a change is warranted, you can make it in seconds.

Development tools

Traditionally, on-premises environments do not have much space for development and testing. Companies often have to procure additional hardware and software for these tasks. Sometimes new and further developments are postponed until sufficient capacities have been created in the IT infrastructure. The result is lower productivity, fewer innovations and higher costs.

Azure, on the other hand, is the perfect place for development. Because you only pay for the resources you need - called utility computing - developers can easily work out all sorts of scenarios and run tests without having to buy new systems. In addition, developers have instant access to a wide variety of templates, services, and solutions. This shortens the time until innovations are introduced to the market.

Azure DevOps capabilities include:

• the Microsoft Visual Studio Team Services (free for 1 to 5 users). These are services that support collaboration between development teams. They help to organize work and manage source code.

• easy integration of other traditional DevOps tools, including Jenkins, Chef, Terraform, and Ansible.

• the Azure DevTest Labs. These are services that developers and QA teams use to quickly and cost-effectively create test environments in Azure.

Cost efficiency

One of the biggest advantages of Azure and any other public cloud platform is cost efficiency. In terms of costs, Azure is particularly cheap for three reasons:

• You don't have to make a large upfront investment like building an on-site and / or remote data center. The cloud also reduces the cost of additional technology such as development or temporarily increased workloads. You do not have to keep replacement hardware in stock (because computer hardware is often replaced after an average of two to three years or exchanged prophylactically).

• You shift the costs associated with service calls and warranty extensions to a defined rent.

• You don't have to pay for any other resources than necessary. Azure is billed per second of usage time, rounded down to the last minute. For details, see the Azure price list.

Looking for a more cost effective way to secure Azure resources? Download the trial version of Acronis Cloud Security. Convince yourself of the superiority of Acronis Cloud Security over other security solutions!

The following three functions in Microsoft Azure will help you achieve the best possible cost reduction:

• Azure Cost Management: a SaaS solution for companies with a multi-cloud strategy. It offers the possibility to monitor the usage of the cloud, to allocate resources and to optimize the usage of the cloud. The cost of the cloud is often the biggest problem when considering switching, sometimes because of the complexity of cloud pricing and billing. Back in 2017, a report found that user companies were estimated to have spent an estimated $ 10 billion too much on the cloud - so the Microsoft tool is really valuable.

• Azure Reserved VM Instances (RIs): a tool used to reserve virtual machines (simulating a physical machine) for a period of one or three years. You get a discount on running the VMs, which saves you money. In addition, you get a certain degree of predictability with regard to the budget.

• Azure Pricing Calculator: the tool for calculating the cost of setting up Azure for your company. Adjust the variables and see immediately how the modifications would affect costs - from computers and networks to databases, analysis and developer tools. Compare these numbers with your IT budget and calculate the ROI. (Here you can find information on how to calculate the ROI for cloud use)

Easy access to the resources

Azure's cloud services enable IT departments to access resources on a scale that is normally not found in a local data center. For example, many forward-thinking companies want to use machine learning and automated data analysis. They want to use it to build better decision support solutions for both technical and commercial applications. Azure simply integrates these functionalities into the systems - without data science expertise or costly resources. Do you need a Linux server? In a classic data center, the implementation of Linux servers can require a number of tasks. This can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. With Azure, you can set up a Linux server in less than five minutes.

If you want to improve the flexibility of your company, these functions of Azure are right for you:

• The Azure Quickstart Templates help deliver hundreds of Azure resources quickly and consistently - every time.

• Azure Marketplace is the app store for the Azure data center applications. Here it is child's play to find, try out and implement any desired cloud software - on the fly. The marketplace is one of my favorite components in the Azure offering: You can easily navigate through the marketplace, and it offers many software options.

• Azure Machine Learning Services and Azure AI Platform are the environments for building AI applications.

Now that you know some of the basics of Microsoft Azure a little better, you understand how Azure can help a business. So let's take a look at three service offerings that exist for Azure. From these services, you can choose the ones that best suit your company's needs.

Chapter 3: How Enterprises Use Microsoft Azure

No two companies use Azure in the same way. Deciding how best to use Azure in your company depends on your company's specific needs. You already know the basics of Microsoft Azure and now the following question may arise about the optimal use of Azure:

• How do I decide which business functions should be migrated to Azure?

• What are the options for Azure services?

• This chapter takes a look at various offers to help you make a decision.

Microsoft Azure: Fundamentals of Cloud Service Models

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

The most basic and very popular service is the provision of an IT infrastructure as a service (IaaS) in a cloud data center.

Let's compare IaaS with an on-premises data center. In the case of its own data center, the company is responsible and has to manage every component of the data center - from the business-critical applications to the virtual machines and the network.

By using Azure IaaS, you basically only transfer your data to a server in the cloud - and you have full control over the server. You “only” do not need to maintain the server - Microsoft takes care of that for you. You also no longer have to grapple with the costs of failed hard drives and other hardware malfunctions. The monitoring of the operation of the data center, the administration and patching of systems (including the virtual systems) and the control of all functions remain in your hands. IaaS is therefore a very compact and direct form of cloud use. That means: IaaS is the model of cloud computing that feels almost like your own data center on site and that allows you to run and control your applications as you wish.

Platform as-a-Service (PaaS)

PaaS is the another operating model for cloud services. The service provider provides you with a platform on which you can roll out your applications. When using PaaS, it is your job to manage certain applications and the databases. Microsoft takes care of all other tasks and makes this available to you as a service. Microsoft's tasks include all tasks that must be completed as a prerequisite for your applications: middleware, operating system, VMs, server, storage and network. The responsibility for the successful operation of the applications is shared between your company and Microsoft. Both parties provide key elements.

With PaaS, you can gain time for the development of the applications because you are no longer occupied with maintaining purely operational functions. Most organizations use PaaS to turn traditional, monolithic, and console-based applications (such as those that run in a separate console window instead of a browser such as Word or Outlook) into web-based applications.

However, whether or not you decide to make the move to PaaS, you need to consider the investments that will be required. Depending on the size and complexity of your application, it may be necessary to commission a development team with the conversion.

Software as a service (SaaS)

If you opt for SaaS as the operating model, Azure takes over the entire infrastructure and all IT tasks so that all of your SaaS applications in the cloud run on Azure. It is not a platform, it is actually an application. This runs in an application environment such as Office 365, Salesforce, Basecamp, etc. Everything below the application is automated, e.g. patching the VMs.

Your company should consider switching from PaaS to SaaS if you no longer want to deal with the operation of the applications. Switching to the SaaS operating model is particularly useful if the applications are highly automated and can be used over the Internet. However, this means that there are no dependencies on a specific operating system (OS) or a specific type of middleware. For example, if your application requires a specific, older version of the operating system, more complex development efforts are required. This could be the case if the older operating system version (including all Windows versions prior to 2008 R2) is not supported by Azure. Then the change from PaaS to SaaS can only be made successfully with increased effort.

Transition between the individual cloud operating models

Switching from one cloud operating model to another takes time and resources. There is no clearly defined scenario or event that dictates a change from one operating model of the cloud to another. This decision depends primarily on how the applications see themselves. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on the optimal cloud operating model:

  1. Are you in control of your data?
  2. Do you have to follow certain guidelines regarding the data?
  3. What is the relationship between the effort for software development and the effort for setting up and administering the server?
  4. Do you need to adapt the underlying hardware or software for your applications?
  5. How big is your IT team?
  6. Are you a start-up or a small company with tight timeframes for development?

First of all, you should know that cloud services can be mixed and matched with one another. That is one of the beautiful sides of the Azure cloud. You can gradually and slowly transition your workloads so that some applications stay at the IaaS level while other applications run in the PaaS model. A different path can be the right one for every company.

The further you go up the cloud stack (from IaaS to SaaS), the more automation can be achieved. This automation will make your applications less prone to human error. If you run IaaS applications, for example, but neglect the operating system patches, an application could fail sooner or later or show security problems. On the other hand, if Microsoft is responsible for the patching, this happens automatically - there is less room for errors.

Now that you've learned the basics of Azure, are you ready to watch a Microsoft Azure tutorial? We'll walk you through some of the highlights of Azure and give you an insight into how Acronis can help you make your transition to Azure successful.

Chapter 4: Microsoft Azure Tutorial

For a quick look at the Microsoft Azure portal, resource groups, and marketplace, please watch this short video.

Chapter 5: Microsoft Azure Best Practices

If you are ready to start using Azure, it may be useful to consider the following best practices. So you can take full advantage of the cloud platform.

For the best possible results of the cloud migration, use the basics listed below to create plans with which you will design the migration to Microsoft Azure:

• Data migrations. The success of a cloud migration depends directly on understanding the characteristics of your business applications. Only then can you seriously demonstrate whether and how Azure can be useful. Some applications are easier to recreate for operation in a cloud, while other applications can be relocated directly to the cloud. These are, for example, applications that indirectly support front-end services and do not contain any actual data. On the other hand, you are likely to waste time and resources if you convert an existing firewall to Azure IaaS. Then it is more helpful to use a firewall PaaS from the Azure Marketplace. So, familiarize yourself with the options available. This will make your work easier and save time in the long term.

• Access management for the cloud. Administrators need access to their Azure resources, but some form of gatekeeping is required for data protection. With many experts now calling traditional one-factor authentication unreliable, a higher level of protection is required. Azure Multi-Factor Authentication is Microsoft's two-step verification solution. It requires two or more of the following verification methods from users requesting access: something you know (like a password), something you have (like a phone), and something you are (like a fingerprint). We recommend enabling this feature in Azure to manage access to your application.

• Resource management. Microsoft describes a resource as "a manageable item available to Azure". This can be virtual machines, databases and storage systems as well as virtual networks. The best way to keep track of all resources is to give them defining parameters. To do this, use the functionalities in Azure Resource Manager. This tool provides all of the functionality you need to track and manage resources. For example, you can use the resource manager to create “resource groups”: You can view resource groups as containers that contain resources that are related to one another. You can use these resources with various Azure solutions - regardless of the operating model (IaaS, PaaS or SaaS). The resource groups are organized in such a way that you can monitor and control access with little effort. You can also manage the billing of the provisioned resources here. For many applications, several different resources must be visible and accessible.

• Cloud security. Safety must be the top priority. Before you begin the transition to cloud operating models, you first and foremost need a security strategy. With tools such as the Azure Security Center, cloud platform providers first secure their physical data centers and server hardware and support you in protecting your workloads. But it is your responsibility to secure the virtual machines and the applications. Acronis' Smart Firewall for Azure covers almost all security tasks. The firewall is also easy to administer. Thanks to the intuitive user interface, you can consolidate firewall rule configurations, logging processes and billing in one user environment without having to use the Azure portal. The process of creating and using the firewall setting can in fact be completed up to five times faster with Acronis than with other security solutions. By combining the firewall with Acronis Cyber ​​Protect Cloud y, you can save and analyze the log files. This is important for audits with regard to compliance with safety regulations and legal requirements. For more information on Acronis security solutions, please visit our website.

Beyond the basics of Microsoft Azure

As the leading provider of Microsoft cloud solutions, Acronis can help you succeed with Azure. Our administration and security software is powerful and easy to use. It was specially developed to offer the IT and virtualization teams in the user companies an easier way to manage, secure and monitor the resources of the cloud. We also help with the quick and easy migration of existing virtual machines to Azure.

Do not hesitate to contact us with your questions about our software solutions. Contact us if you would like to know more about how we can make your company more successful.

publisher's Note: This post was originally published in March 2018 and has been completely revised and updated for accuracy and completeness.