Microsoft Azure Cloud

This article provides an overview of the services and features of the Microsoft Azure cloud solution.

What is Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure is a public cloud platform based on Windows Server 2012 that offers on-demand, scalable hosted services for the deployment and execution of applications on off-premises infrastructure. Microsoft currently operates a dozen data centers to support Microsoft Azure. Four data centers are located in the United States, two data centers are in Europe, two data centers are in Japan, two data centers are in Southeast Asia, and one data center is in Brazil. Four more data centers are under development, including two in China, and two in Australia. In order to provide redundancy, data centers operate in geographical pairs. Microsoft Azure is presently offered in 89 countries with data hosted and replicated between the data centers in a client’s region. Microsoft Azure is supported by a high-speed fiber optic network that interconnects the infrastructure.

Microsoft Azure provides a range of features that are categorized into compute, data, app, and network services. Table 1 provides a breakdown of the features available in each category.

Compute

Data Services

App Services

Network   Services

Cloud Services

Backup

Active Directory

ExpressRoute

Mobile Services

Cache

Automation

Traffic Manager

Virtual Machines

HDInsight

BizTalk Services

Virtual Network

Web Sites

Recovery Manager

CDN

SQL Database

Media Services

Storage

Multi-Factor Authentication

Notification Hubs

 

Scheduler

 

Service Bus

 

Visual Studio Online

Table 1: Microsoft Azure Services and Features

Microsoft Azure Compute

Azure Compute includes Cloud Services, Mobile Services, Virtual Machines, and Web Sites. With this selection of compute models, you have the ability to deploy anything from simple websites to complex multi-tiered applications without the cost associated with an on-premises infrastructure. You also gain the ability to scale Azure resources based on changing application performance demands.

Cloud Services

Azure Cloud Services allow you to build and deploy an application in the cloud using XML configuration files to define how your application should execute. By defining roles and resources for your application, you can run one or more instances of the roles, and have Azure replicate the role to run on multiple computers. Microsoft Azure supports Web (e.g., front end) and Worker (e.g., application logic) roles for applications.

Mobile Services

Azure Mobile Services provides a bundle of features that allow you to build mobile applications that deliver a common experience across Windows, Android, iOS, and HTML devices. These features include data storage, user authentication, and push notifications.

Data storage choices range from Azure SQL database to third party data services, and even on-premises databases for restricted or confidential data. Mobile applications that require cross-platform integration for game media and status data can use Microsoft Azure data storage from a multitude of devices, in addition to Windows-based devices.

User authentication features allow you to integrate with well-known systems like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, and Google accounts for authentication, and avoid writing custom code. However, application specific authentication systems are also possible, as well as authenticating to the Azure Active Directory.

Virtual Machines

Azure Virtual Machines provide you with the ability to deploy a variety of Windows and Linux guest operating systems in a virtualized server, eliminating the need to purchase, deploy, and maintain physical servers. You can run applications in multiple virtual machines and balance load traffic between them to tune performance. Because Azure virtual machines are Hyper-V based and use VHD and VHDX encapsulation of virtual machines, you can move virtual machines from on-premises to Azure and back, if required. When running in Azure, virtual machine performance can scale up or down based on real-time requirements.

Web Sites

Microsoft Azure Web Sites supports the development, deployment, management, and scaling of simple or complex websites. Provisioning a website can be done using the Azure Management Portal, integrated development environment such as Visual studio, scripting, and other common tools. Azure web sites support custom domain names, support for SSL, and provide automatic scaling and load balancing.

Microsoft Azure Data Services

Microsoft Azure Data Services provide you with the ability to store, manage, and report on data in the Azure cloud.

Backup

Backup services offer the ability to perform full or incremental backup off-premises, instead of protecting important information using on-site backup media and off-site data transport and retrieval for recovery purposes. Azure backups use encrypted data transmission and encrypted data storage. Windows Server and System Center Data Protection Manager tools can be used to perform backups in Azure and provide a common experience for on- and off-premises backup procedures.

Cache

Azure Cache enables fast data access for high-performance applications by providing distributed, in-memory storage of critical data. Azure Cache reduces data roundtrips to back end data storage by updating the cache at set intervals, reducing application data access time.

HDInsight

HDInsight, which is based on Apache Hadoop, provides a solution for the distributed and scalable processing of large data sets. HDInsight integrates with Microsoft Business Intelligence tools to provide data analysis. With HDInsight, Hadoop clusters are deployed, provisioned, and decommissioned easily through PowerShell scripts. It is also possible to delete and recreate larger Hadoop clusters without data loss to ensure data set scalability.

SQL Database

Microsoft Azure offers SQL database as a service in multiple tiers that scale to application performance requirements. Application continuity options range from basic protection to geo-replication with failover control. Application data recovery is client controlled from existing data backups.

Storage

Microsoft Azure Storage options include block blobs for storage of text or binary data files, page blobs optimized for random access and frequent updates (such as VHDs), tables for storage of unstructured, non-relational data, and queues for reliable, asynchronous messaging. Azure Storage supports different options to transfer on-premises data to the cloud. StorSimple devices automate data uploads from an on-premises iSCSI storage array with a cloud-connected back end to Azure Storage. Another option is Azure Import/Export to move large data sets into and out of blobs using physical devices such as hard disk drives. Azure Storage also supports a command line utility, AzCopy, to transfer smaller or incremental data sets.

Microsoft Azure App Services

Microsoft Azure App Services provide a broad range of application support services including authentication, process automation, messaging, push notification, job scheduling, media delivery, BizTalk integration, and application development.

Active Directory

Azure Active Directory provides a tiered, cloud-based solution for user authentication and access management. You can integrate on-premises Active Directory with Azure to enable corporate credentials for authentication to cloud resources. Premium tier services include self-service password reset, self-service group management, group-based application access management, company branding, and security reports and alerts.

Automation

Azure Automation enables the orchestration of frequent tasks using runbooks to manage cloud resources such as Azure Web Sites, Cloud Services, Virtual Machines, Storage, and SQL Database. Windows PowerShell workflow engine provides the execution environment for Azure Automation runbooks.

BizTalk Services

Azure BizTalk Services provides Business-to-Business (B2B) and Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) for discrete applications, both on-premises and cloud-based solutions. Azure BizTalk Services supports Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), and line-of-business (LOB) application integration for SAP, Oracle EBS, SQL Server, and PeopleSoft.

Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Azure CDN offers caching of Azure blobs and static data that is frequently retrieved by cloud-based services at pre-defined, strategic physical nodes for fast access. When data is first requested from a CDN node, it is retrieved directly from the Azure Storage blob. The CDN closest to the location from which a subsequent request is made, caches the data and sets a time-to-live (TTL) for the cached data.

Media Services

Azure Media Services supports the development of scalable and cost-efficient distribution solutions for media content. Azure Media Services include uploading, encoding, format conversion, content protection, as well as live streaming and on-demand media delivery. Windows devices and others like Xbox, as well as devices running iOS, Android, MacOS are all supported.

Multi-Factor Authentication

Azure Multi-Factor Authentication provides a method of authentication using more than one verification method for user sign-in and transactions. Verification methods include mobile applications, phone calls, and text messages. Multi-Factor Authentication applications are available for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android.

Notification Hubs

Azure Notification Hubs offer push notifications to mobile devices that scale from individual users to thousands or millions of users at one time. In addition to the support for broadcast notifications to Windows and other devices, individual users can subscribe to multiple tags that define and target specific user segments. Templates are available to specify the push notification format based on user preferences.

Scheduler

Azure Scheduler is a multi-tenant service available to schedule actions recurrently or on a one time basis. For example, Azure Scheduler can be used to execute backups of application data on a regular basis. Another example is using Azure Scheduler to gather data from an application on a period basis, and aggregate it for distribution.

Service Bus

Azure Service Bus is a service that offers relayed and brokered messaging between applications. Relayed messaging supports one-way messages, request and response pair messages, and peer-to-peer messages. Brokered messaging supports asynchronous communications using devices such as queues and subscriptions.

Visual Studio Online

Azure Visual Studio Online is a tiered service based on Team Foundation Server that provides the ability to develop and store code in the Azure cloud. You can plan and track projects, validate code, build and rebuild projects as needed, test code, and perform load testing of applications, services, and web sites.

Microsoft Azure Network Services

Microsoft Azure Network Services provide specialized connectivity and routing services to support secure communications between Azure cloud resources and on-premises components, as well as traffic load balancing.

ExpressRoute

Azure ExpressRoute allows the creation of private network connections between on-premises components and Azure data centers. ExpressRoute network connections are highly secure, reliable, and faster because they are not created across public networks such as the Internet. ExpressRoute requires establishing network connections to Azure at an Exchange Provider facility or directly from a client WAN.

Traffic Manager

Azure Traffic Manager offers the ability to shape user traffic distribution (load balancing) across Azure data centers and services, and by doing so improve the responsiveness of applications and content delivery time. Traffic Manager optimizes the availability of applications hosted on Azure services by providing automatic failover when an Azure service becomes unavailable, and by directing users to the closest service to them based on network latency.

Virtual Network

Azure Virtual Network provides the ability to create a virtual private network in Azure and connect to on-premises data center resources or a specific server using an IPSec connection. You can also configure virtual machines and services to point to DNS services on-premises or running in a virtual network.

Conclusion

In this article, you learned about the many features and services available with a Microsoft Azure cloud solution. Microsoft Azure provides the ability to migrate away from on-premises infrastructure deployment solutions. Microsoft Azure delivers a 99.95% monthly SLA and supports automatic operating system and service patches, network load balancing, and resiliency to hardware failure.

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