The one constant about business technology is that it is forever changing. This state of flux is what draws the creators, the innovators and the inventors to a career path that is endlessly eventful. The emergence of cloud, though, has caused a level of acceleration akin to Usain Bolt in an Olympic final. At the centre of this new technology world is Microsoft Azure, the cloud platform of choice for businesses of all types and sizes.
So, what is Azure, what should you know about it, and how do you know if it is the right platform for you? Here’s a quick FAQ to get you started.
What is Microsoft Azure?
Microsoft describes its flagship cloud platform as ‘an ever-expanding set of cloud services to help your organisation meet your business challenges. It’s the freedom to build, manage and deploy applications on a massive, global network using your favourite tools and frameworks.’
In other words, Microsoft has created a cloud platform, using a huge worldwide network of data centres, that allow its customers to build, test, deploy and manage all kinds of applications and services. That can mean different things to different users – some may host servers, or use Azure for applications where fast deployment and mobility are important. Others may choose Azure as a cloud backup option to complement on-premise operations. Most, though, will choose a combination of services that can be changed in an instant.
Why would I choose Azure?
It is true that there are several cloud options, but Microsoft has emerged as a front-runner because they have made their cloud services such an attractive proposition. Most businesses operate with a Microsoft eco-system, and Azure has been designed to integrate extremely well. The platform takes the jigsaw of IT and draws it together into a cohesive picture, where connections between applications and services happen in a way technology professionals could only have dreamed of a few years ago.
Another notable advantage over other platforms is that Azure is a true cloud experience, where you can pay for computing power for a few hours, or only at busy times. You can change specs, add or remove workloads, and even create an entire IT eco-system with a few clicks and some credit card details. Anyone who went through the design, requisition, and implementation of a new environment before the advent of cloud will know that it used to typically take months to roll out a new project. Now you can go from idea to market in little more than an afternoon.
What is the difference between Azure and other services?
While many major cloud options tend to favour building the equivalent of traditional on-premise infrastructure in their cloud environment, managing servers, storage and compute, Azure favours a pay as you go model where you pick and mix services without that traditional management burden. This makes it much simpler to use.
Of course, you can also choose to shift workloads to Azure in a replica of your traditional on-premise environment, and this can be useful for legacy applications that are not designed for cloud. Many of our customers have employed this approach as they transition their business. One customer that had recently acquired another business found that it depended on a nine-year-old server without recent backups. If they lost their data, they would have risked the stability of the business. They could have ordered new hardware, which would have arrived in a nerve-wracking six weeks, or added backup infrastructure, but instead they moved to the cloud by the weekend, effectively moving the environment as-is, which bought them time and security to move workloads carefully to modern cloud services. Their active directory has moved to Azure AD, Exchange on a server is safely transitioned to Office 365, and they are happy to be saving a tidy sum every month by taking subscription options instead of old-style licences. Everyone’s cloud journey is different, but even – especially – if you reach crisis point, it doesn’t have to become a catastrophe.
Will Azure save my business money?
It depends. Azure is designed so that you only pay for the services you need, when you need them, so you are not paying for expensive technology to sit dormant during quiet times. There are some avoidable pitfalls; research by AI business Opsani revealed that 69% of respondents said their organisation was overspending by 25% or more, but well-designed processes can rein this in. Most overspend is caused when projects are finished or services no longer needed, and the IT team moves on to the next thing without anyone assigned to terminate unneeded cloud facilities. A good initial design and well-informed processes will maximise savings and avoid paying for a moment longer than services are useful. We work with our customers to manage subscriptions and keep costs low.
When is the right time to move to Azure?
Much depends on your situation, but if you do not already have a cloud strategy, now is the time. Most organisations have some cloud services already in place – perhaps a backup solution, or a Microsoft 365 subscription, so the transition has already begun. If software licences are due to expire or hardware is coming up for renewal, it is important to assess whether cloud would give you a better outcome.
One customer recently came to us because they had six months left on their current ERP licence, but it was running on a server that had seen better days. Rather than replace the hardware, we proposed they move to a virtual server, then turn that off once they transition to a new ERP subscription. It saved them hardware costs, and removed the risk of aging hardware.
How do I predict costs in Azure?
We work through a comprehensive business technology review with customers as part of their cloud plan. This involves looking at workflow, analysing individual user needs, and aligning cloud services to suit these needs. Only then can we create an accurate estimate. As part of cloud engagements, we then review usage after a set time, and make recommendations for any adjustments. This is where qualified advice goes a long way.
What about training requirements?
For anyone familiar with managing a Microsoft eco-system, the transition is relatively painless, but there are plenty of training options available. Microsoft offers a number of training modules, from the basic to specialities such as security. We offer tailored Azure training for individuals and groups, so that customers can get the best from their unique Azure set-up. If it is a quick bit of advice you need, though, you’ll find that every TechPath person you encounter has Azure certification, and our relationship with Microsoft means we can always find you the latest and most accurate information. You could also consider the many service and licence management options available to take care of the day to day, while you concentrate on your most important projects.
The Azure platform has enterprise level security and privacy built in, and Microsoft boasts the most comprehensive compliance standards of any cloud service provider. Their clients include government departments and some of the world’s biggest businesses – and you get to enjoy the same level of security they demand, no matter the size of your organisation. Many small businesses still work with highly sensitive data, so it is good to know you can offer customers this level of protection.