5 Things You May Not Know About Azure

You may have noticed improvements to Microsoft Azure in just the past year, with significant new functionality appearing continuously. Because of this fast pace and the innovative nature of the advances in this cloud platform, you can easily miss some changes and why they’re important. With that in mind, here are five things that you may not know.

  1. Azure was originally designed as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offering, and Microsoft has added Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) within the past 2 years. Because of this evolution, Azure lets you choose to deploy your cloud solution using either IaaS or PaaS, but the big differentiator is that you can also
    This new way of thinking about the cloud is more important than you might think at first glance: It unites cloud development and management to let developers and IT pros build and then manage apps in one seamless environment and changes how you architect your cloud deployment.
    The blended IaaS and PaaS approach starts with the new Microsoft Azure Preview Portal. It has been designed to provide a fully integrated experience that lets you ideate, develop, manage, and monetize a cloud app all in one place. Because Azure is an open platform, you can use the tools of your choice, and never need to leave the portal environment.
    The portal’s new provisioning model lets you use one UI to make all the components of your cloud app work together.
    The company believes that Azure will set the tone for other cloud providers by continuing to blur the lines between IaaS and PaaS. The belief is that this approach will evolve until the cloud becomes one truly scalable, open, and easy experience.
  2. Azure uses the open VHD standard, which lets you easily move your on-premise workloads to Azure or a hosting service provider and—here’s the kicker—back to your data center. That ability to seamlessly return you cloud deployment to your on-premise infrastructure is key. It contrasts with competitors such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), which locks AWS customers into a proprietary AMI format that does not allow them to move an AWS implementation back on premises.
    Azure’s new ExpressRoute technology, adds flexibility to hybrid scenarios by building a bridge between on-premises and the cloud for scenarios such as data migration, replication for business continuity, and disaster recovery.
  3. Continuing Microsoft’s commitment to enforcing its Trustworthy Computing standards, the company is the first, and so far the only, cloud provider to receive joint approval from EU authorities for strong contractual commitments to comply with EU privacy laws, no matter where data is physically located. This approval addresses potential blocking issues for cloud adoption such as data sovereignty. It also provides availability assurances for cloud services deployed worldwide.
  4. Azure now holds 20 trillion storage objects. So what? Storage has become the gateway for many companies stepping into the cloud, and capacity is decidedly not an issue. Most important, Microsoft is planning announcements related to storage. These announcements will revolve around new technologies for moving data from on-premise data centers to the cloud and back.
  5. Azure has more data centers worldwide than any other cloud provider and was the first cloud provider to enter the market in China through 21Vianet. Why do you care about that? Think about data and where it resides. Azure assures customers of in-country data residency (which again relates to concerns such as data sovereignty). Georedundancy for disaster recovery protection is another important factor that a worldwide cloud infrastructure provides and a differentiator for Microsoft.

Boiling down the updates to Microsoft Azure is no easy task, and more announcements are coming continuously. Watch for updates to these 5 things you don’t know about Azure!

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Key IaaS Fundamentals for Enterprises

In this article we look at the present key aspects that enterprises should be aware of when choosing an IaaS provider and service offering, to help clarify the fundamentals in this area and simplify the road to adoption.

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offers the essential services required for computing, only undertaken in the cloud. The scalable, flexible and on-demand compute architecture, networking and storage services that conveys great enterprise value. Amazon (AWS) and Microsoft (Azure) are both significant providers of IaaS services in this area.

The solutions offered in the area of IaaS can often be communicated ineffectively and without the necessary clarity and may cause confusion for enterprises looking to adopt the model and services.

Introduction

The initial move to IaaS is often for purposes not directly related to internal business IT requirements, perhaps caution has a hand in this, however with time and gained confidence more mainstream business applications are migrated to the IaaS followed by complete reliability on virtual IT in the IaaS cloud, often to acquire the cost benefits and flexibility afforded by this.

IaaS offerings seem quite similar from afar, but to the discerning eye on closer analysis it becomes clear that the underlying technologies implemented, function very differently commanding very different outcomes in the achievable performance, availability, security and functionalities. IaaS has the capability to run the majority of workloads but providers do this with varying degrees of adeptness and service quality.

Enterprises are looking to make strategic decisions with regards to adoption of IaaS services and provider choice. The services and provider should have the ability to fulfil present and long-term future enterprise requirements to meet enterprise strategic objectives effectively.

For enterprises to make the correct decisions they need to be accurately informed of the services and providers capabilities within the market. With transparency the service options and provider suitability becomes clearer. It may be that multiple IaaS providers are required to suit the enterprise requirements successfully. It has also now become apparent that vendor lock-in needs to be considered to avoid future migration complications.

Use Cases Drawing Enterprises to the IaaS Cloud

IaaS services are usually offered to enterprises/users via a web-based user interface and/or API. Like with traditional services for IT resources, servers, storage etc. the enterprise has direct access and control, with the differentiating factor being that this is all provisioned in a highly scalable manner within a virtual environment in the cloud.

IaaS in the cloud encompasses the entire IT operations and management, it includes the everyday tasks of managing IT infrastructure and components as well as the management of applications, services, storage and networking (integrated compute, networking and storage resources). Other capabilities include DevOps- related capabilities, automation and analytics.

The following categories represent the typical applications for IaaS within enterprise, however use cases are continually broadening and evolving.

  • Application hosting (single or multiple)
  • Development and testing
  • Virtual Data Centres
  • Batch computing (Substitute for High Performance Computing and Grid Computing)

Aspects to Consider when choosing an IaaS Provider and Offering

It is recommended that enterprises should consider certain key aspects regarding IaaS and their providers to help refine the offerings available and simplify the decision-making and implementation process. For long-term satisfaction these key fundamentals should be considered, a decision should not be purely price based; the deciding factors are not always clear-cut.

The IaaS Deployment Model

IaaS varies significantly from one provider to the next. Availability, performance, functionality as well as costs and terms/conditions of use all differ.

The enterprise should be aware that the value rewarded is likely to be directly proportional to the usage of the services/feature set. By heading in for complete utilization of the offering you are likely to achieve the most value from the IaaS offering compared to only utilizing a couple of the capabilities.

The ‘but’ however is that the more you utilize of the offering the ties to the offering/provider increase (If the offering and provider are well suited to your enterprise goals, existing and future, and chosen carefully then this may not necessarily be a negative).

Knowledge of The IaaS market

The IaaS market is continually evolving. The start of the evolution was based entirely on the ability to successfully provision IT infrastructure as a self-service model, followed by the inclusion of features and capabilities to enhance the user experience by integrating infrastructure, application capabilities and management of the infrastructure and it’s components.

An emerging software oriented market, with innovation on capabilities and feature sets is becoming a large determining factor and is quickly dominating the traditional IT services market.

The major IaaS market players have evolved from the early beginnings in 2006 and have the resources and funds to develop their services and features quickly and as required. The leaders are difficult to compete with in the area of IaaS and enterprises are likely to find that these large leading entities are most likely best suited to meet their expanse of requirements successfully.

The leaders are most likely best equipped to offer the expertise (compliance, governance, security) required for your data and applications.

Enterprises must be knowledgeable of the market and aware of the speed at which it is evolving to procure the services and capabilities best suited to their strategic business goals.

Enterprises should use the great deal of competition in this area to leverage business advantage, being well informed of the market and the offerings will assist with achieving this.

The IaaS provider

Large renowned providers (the leaders), usually have a proven track record for provisioning their services and products efficiently. Their size, funding, resources and global reach ensure that they maintain and grow their market share, which seems to leave little room for the smaller providers to grab a share of the market, leaving it largely controlled by the few providers in this area of the market.

Leaders of the solution have the ability to scale, which is essential for delivering the solutions broadening range of functionalities to the masses.

The leaders seldom work alone but acquire the best solutions, products and services (hardware and software) from the finest network of partners/vendors. So the chances are if you choose a leading IaaS provider you will procure the best of the services available.

The readily available funding and bounty of resources is a huge advantage to swift research, engineering and development.

Choosing a provider that is known, of good size and scalable is likely to ensure an efficient and successful solution.

Providers are likely to direct their focus on either serving a developer audience or an IT operations audience but the leaders are likely to cover both areas effectively. Be knowledgeable of your requirements and the provider focus.

The Data center

The Data center is the heart of the IaaS environment.

Be sure that API access is available. This is crucial to attaining the greatest benefit from the IaaS infrastructure. API capability allows the enterprise or a third party to develop management tools and allows applications to have most leverage of the infrastructure. API enables further advance of the IaaS capabilities and integration.

The location of the data center may also be a deciding factor. Many enterprises are more cautious (as they should be) of where their data resides for a number of reasons; these reasons may include reasons for improving performance (network latency) as well as for regulatory concerns or concerns to ‘lawful’ access to data (a government agency).

By choosing the jurisdiction in which your data resides, can help determine the law that governs the data and ultimately the law that governs the access to the data.

On a negative note, a global provider often offers the advantage of greater scalability and capabilities compared to that of a local provider. But the global provider may not be able to guarantee that your data maintains a restricted presence.

Security

The larger providers and leaders of IaaS are likely to offer superior security. Ultimately it is the enterprises responsibility to ensure that the security they require and receive from the provider is suitable and adequate.

Encryption is becoming more routine to aid in ensuring that data is safe from intrusion. Encryption of the network (LAN and WAN) as well as storage is essential.

Enterprises should always ensure that the security levels offered by the provider exceed the existing levels that they adopt within their enterprise. This is especially important to meet prevailing compliance requirements.

Another way in which providers are aiding compliance and security is through the creation of private infrastructure within a public infrastructure/multi tenant environment. The public and private cloud IaaS seem to be uniting to achieve the benefits from both, scalability and flexibility achievable while still allowing for isolation of data if required.

The cost benefits

Cost should not be the foremost decider albeit that it is often the initial reason most consider the model, the flexibility and breadth of infrastructure capabilities achievable through IaaS should alone rank high on the reasons for IaaS adoption.

Cost saving is dependent on the enterprise. Enterprises should also realize that IaaS might not always be the most cost effective way forward. For start-ups or small businesses with little funding, cost benefits are greater. However for established and larger businesses with existing efficient infrastructure already utilizing virtualization and automation, the benefits from reduced cost may not be that large. The less proficient the enterprise the greater the cost benefit is likely to be through IaaS adoption.

Conclusion

Compute services are likely to be the primary services looked into when considering cloud-computing adoption. These services, the fundamental building blocks of cloud services, form part of the IaaS deployment model, the flexible and all-encompassing data center environment is self provisioned and metered with on-demand availability. Beneficial for both IT operations and developers, both large key focus areas.

We are quickly moving away form the traditional IT services market and towards an increasingly software-based one.

IaaS can deliver exceptional value for many enterprise use cases; consequently these services are sought after by many enterprises. The ambiguity often portrayed via the offerings in this area makes sourcing these services more challenging than it should be. Clarity is needed especially when enterprises are looking to adopt IaaS or an IaaS provider with long-term strategic goals in mind.

Within the existing IaaS market, a few large entities are leading the way. The leading few compete daily to deliver the most innovative capabilities and features to stay on top; this can only be favorable for the customer.

Depending on your enterprise requirements and existing environment/ infrastructure will determine the attainable benefit from IaaS adoption however the utilization of a leading provider solution is perhaps the most advantageous way forward for present and long-term value.

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