Cloud computing is the future of business, so how do you choose which cloud service to trust? There are a few big players in the industry, but Microsoft Azure is the brand that 95% of Fortune 500 companies
, including Walmart, FedEx, and HP®, use for their cloud and hybrid solutions.
Whether it’s to coordinate connections for IoT (internet of things)
devices or to process massive amounts of data through AI, Microsoft Azure’s benefits are useful for businesses of all sizes.
In this article, we’ll explore why this service is useful, explain the key benefits, and more.
What is Microsoft Azure used for?
Microsoft Azure has more than 200 applications, offering more than 1,000 technical capabilities
in the last year alone. All are designed to serve businesses from the cloud
, or over the internet. Rather than storing and managing data and processes on their own computers and servers, companies can offload these resources to Microsoft Azure. But there’s more to it than just storage capabilities.
The three common ways Microsoft Azure helps businesses include:
- Platform as a service (PaaS), which includes development and testing of applications
- Software as a service (SaaS), or accessing software applications, such as Salesforce CRM or Microsoft Office 365, through the web
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), where data is processed on a virtual machine
Also, because Microsoft Azure relies on open source computing, programmers and developers can use their existing code in a variety of languages.
Businesses of any size can use just the cloud-based services
and applications that fit their business model, and they pay for only what they use. This makes it a suitable option for companies that want to offload all of their computing to the cloud, and those who want to retain some of their computing and storage onsite, also called a “hybrid cloud
From healthcare to financial services to retail, companies in numerous industries use Microsoft Azure’s capabilities to grow their market share and save on infrastructure costs.
The 5 major benefits of Microsoft Azure
Microsoft Azure boasts more than a dozen perks when it goes head-to-head with competitors, with the biggest rival being AWS (Amazon’s Web Services)
. Picking the right service will depend on a number of factors, including what type of services you want to use, how much you expect to scale, and the way you handle your billing.
While there are many perks to enjoy, these are the 5 primary benefits of Azure storage:
- Speed of service
- Enhanced flexibility
- Integrated delivery pipeline
- Disaster recovery
Each customer of Microsoft Azure’s cloud services will probably name a different reason for why they’re loyal to the brand. But we’re exploring these 5 because they’re the most popular reasons for using Azure, and for migrating to the cloud in the first place.
When most people think of speed and the cloud, they consider things like ping rates, jitter, lag
, and so on. Microsoft Azure’s definition of speed is something else entirely, but they do put an emphasis on placing data centers worldwide to give users the best chance of getting their data when they need it.
Speed, in this case, refers to a few things that Microsoft Azure handles very well, including:
- How quickly teams can create, test, and deploy new applications
- How quickly you can scale your existing capacity by upgrading service plans or adding new features
- How quickly you can recover data from your backups, offsite storage centers, or virtual machines
- How quickly you can utilize AI and machine learning (ML) to process large amounts of data, analyze it for the most useful results, and get summarized recommendations from that data
In theory, businesses that use a powerhouse like Microsoft Azure to handle their day-to-day data, storage, and processing needs can see a significant improvement in start-to-finish times for most processes. Microsoft has developed some of the most fully-automated solutions in an environment that can change when you need it to even at a moment’s notice.
Since they also provide many pre-built tools, such as templates and best practice guides, you don’t have to create anything from scratch unless you want to. That results in a quicker time to market for whatever you are working on.
2. Enhanced flexibility
One of the key benefits of using Azure is the way it shines in the flexibility department with its simplified scalability. Accessing more resources requires only a simple click to upgrade service levels, and companies are free to reduce these higher service levels when they no longer need the extra storage, computing, or support.
Flexible service levels
Because companies pay for only what they use, there’s a true sense of freedom to move between tiers so you can maximize budgets and ramp up resources as needed.
Flexible storage locations
It’s also a global solution. With more than 40 data centers around the world, Azure allows you to back up data in more than one place. This diversifies risk and also gives you options for speed, customer service, and compliance in the cases where geography matters.
Flexible coding languages
Of the major benefits of Azure Cloud, the most exciting may be their commitment to open source. All languages and frameworks fit into Azure applications. This gives developers the latitude to come up with the best ways to showcase their product, service, or app.
3. Integrated delivery pipeline
There’s so much that goes into creating an amazing digital product or service. Microsoft Azure has thought of pretty much everything, even ensuring a complete end-to-end suite of services so you can get the work done without continually asking, “Is this going to work with what we have already developed?”
One of the fatal flaws that comes from thinking of Azure as just a “cloud” provider is that you miss out on the concept of a full and unified delivery pipeline. Everything from source control to testing to integration to delivery can happen from inside a single environment. That’s something that’s impractical to expect from a homegrown infrastructure of diverse tools.
Azure is also careful to roll out new updates without disruption to existing applications and services. The developers think ahead as to whether upgrading one cloud service will disrupt the functionality of another, which means they consider their entire suite of services when creating security patches, bulking up features, and creating more service levels.
In other words, you don’t have to wonder if one Azure service will “break” another Azure service. This is something you can’t guarantee when you mix and match application programming interfaces (APIs) from different vendors without a unified umbrella like Azure.
4. Disaster recovery
Whether you need a more sophisticated approach to data backups or you want to keep downtime to a minimum, Microsoft Azure’s disaster recovery tools are worth checking out. But how do they work? In short, Azure has some of the leading encryption features in the industry, helping you to stay compliant and improving your continuity plan in case something does go wrong.
When time is of the essence, backing up complete systems and their data to the cloud ensures that you can stay within recovery targets, so your customers don’t experience any lag in services or functionality. You can make these backups in addition to your on-site data storage plans, such as in a hybrid method, or as one of many backups stored completely to the cloud.
You don’t need to own your own servers to keep data safe, either. And accessing cloud backups takes significantly less time than the “tapes” of traditional onsite servers.
Virtual systems testing
Perhaps the most promising benefits of Azure Cloud are the testing capabilities. You don’t have to wait until something bad happens to know how your applications will behave, what your customers will do, or how much loss will occur. Your continuity plans can be tested virtually to see the “worst-case scenario,” which gives you the information you need to tweak and revise your plans.
You can also run dev-test copies of your workloads without affecting users, and you can even test new versions with your existing live data for a seamless transition during launch. Basically, you can make surprises a thing of the past with all of these testing options. Azure also contracts with several third-party solutions, such as Rackspace and Rubric, so you can stick with the tools you know and love.
Of all the benefits Microsoft Azure offers, the company is most vocal about its security offerings. Microsoft invests more than $1 billion each year on cybersecurity research and development. It advertises its multi-layered security as a way for businesses to utilize the power of remote physical datacenters without compromising confidential data.
Microsoft has created a system with security controls integrated into both the hardware and the firmware, and customers get access to the expertise of more than 3,500 global cybersecurity experts with intimate knowledge of cloud-specific attacks, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
The company backs up these promises with multiple compliance certificates, and has more than any other provider
, including FERPA, IRS, HIPAA, and GDPR. Users are also empowered to protect data on their end with multi-factor authentication, stringent application password requirements, and training on the latest threats.
Plus, Azure sends out timely notifications when user action is needed to upgrade or enable new protections. The Key Vault
feature secures passwords, keys, and industry secrets in a safe, virtual environment.
Azure’s Security Center can even assess your security standing and give you a Secure Score
, which rates you on your actions and offers tips for making your data safer. The Security Center’s analytics engines continually monitor your activities and they use machine learning to determine if a threat is likely. This proactive approach is crucial in the fight against malicious data loss or corruption.
Why use Microsoft Azure?
While all of this may sound good, business owners do have a choice. Compared to AWS, most features are more affordable, and Azure has dominated the market for enterprise-level services and servicing for mega-corporations and the biggest global brands. Those already using Microsoft tools may find migration easier as well, but it’s not an entirely plug-and-play solution.
With so many services to try and the responsibility of development left to you, the transition to a new service is a significant commitment. New or potential Azure users are encouraged to utilize Microsoft’s educational resources so you can become familiar with all the perks before you start.
For those with no resources to do all this alone, Microsoft Azure sells support features and comes with a full DevOps menu for helping create, test, launch, and analyze every new thing you build.
Even when purchasing these extras, it’s reasonable that you could save money compared to internally creating your own processes, especially if you’ll only need them for the development and deployment phases of your product.
Microsoft Azure for small business
Even though the platform is embraced by many major corporations, Azure is also an ideal solution for startups. It’s free to try and many of the best services cost nothing for the first 12 months.
Microsoft will also give new companies $200 to test out premium services and see what kind of applications work best for their brand. This point-and-click scalability is approachable for any budget, making it easy to scale select services on demand and then switch them off when necessary.
Common services used by startups and small businesses include mobile apps, media services, notification hubs, stream analytics, and virtual machines. They have several common startup scenarios that companies can use to quickly launch their offerings based on what’s worked for other companies in their industry.
Microsoft is so certain that it is the best service for startups that it launched an initiative to unlock $1 billion in sales opportunities
throughout 2020 for participating companies. Microsoft Azure is also on track to give full access to GitHub Enterprise
and Microsoft Power Platform
to these smaller companies. Both solutions are powerful partnerships that can help startups stay lean while managing big projects.
In the race between top cloud providers, it will be exciting to see what new initiatives Microsoft embraces for the future. They already have proven that they can meet compliance requirements and seem deeply invested in the security and success of both major corporations and startups.
For anyone who has wondered what the buzz is about, their risk-free, 12-month trial period and $200 services credit is enough of a perk to try before you buy.