Introduction to the Cloud and Microsoft Azure

By now, many of us are familiar with the benefits of cloud computing, for both personal and business use. If you've considered, used or migrated to the cloud for business, the chances are that you would have heard about Microsoft Azure - but you're not alone if you aren't quite sure exactly what it is. In this two-part blog, we take a deep dive into all things Cloud computing and Microsoft Azure to help you understand what it is, and how it can help power your business.

What is cloud computing?

Before we jump into Microsoft Azure, it's important to cover off a few key concepts of cloud computing.

In a nutshell, Cloud computing is the use of large scale datacentres around the world that facilitate the delivery of virtual computing power. Cloud providers house servers and other computing componentry in datacentres around the world that enable end-users to rapidly complete actions as if they were using their very own computer. Thanks to the availability and scalability of processing power, as well as the pay as you go model that is saving businesses thousands in Capex costs - cloud computing continues to see astronomical growth around the globe. 

The scope of services that the cloud can provide continues to expand, meaning that the cloud is no longer a web-based document storage system, but instead, a powerful infrastructure that can power entire platforms, enable remote connectivity, eliminate traditional restrictions and integrate with hybrid networks. The rate of technological advancement in recent years has meant that many traditionally offline or locally based functions can now be securely emulated online, in turn allowing businesses to reduce capital expenditure and build efficient workflows for their employees. 

What is cloud computing - Benefits

A factor that led to the success of cloud computing is the pay as you go pricing model, allowing businesses to pay only for the services they use when they need them - which brings added flexibility to IT infrastructure when meeting the ebb and flow of resource demands.

Historically, businesses have needed to invest in infrastructure that was fit for purpose and met peak resource demands of the business - regardless of how regularly the business reached its peak. Often this would lead to eye-watering investments in high-performance processors, ram and storage for servers. Only to typically use a fraction of the processing power on a daily basis, Where traditional infrastructure often led to unnecessary over-investment in depreciating assets, the cloud allows businesses to minimise CAPEX and instead shift to an OPEX model -  while also allowing the business to flex up processing power at times when it truly mattered.

The cloud continues to impress business leaders around the world, oftentimes allowing teams to work at record speeds and provide an immersive and rich experience for employees. Cloud-based computing provides a number of key value add benefits to the businesses who take true advantage, such as:

High Availability: As cloud infrastructure continues to mature, it provides users with seamless user experiences - one such benefit comes in the availability of resources. With cloud computing, users can experience a continuous level of service with no apparent downtime, even in times when disaster strikes.

Scalability: The cloud continues to prove versatile and able to meet ever-evolving business needs, cloud services can scale up and down when needed - providing seamless service but also financial savings. Many cloud environments allow scaling in two ways, by increasing the performance of a particular service (vertical scalability) or by increasing the number of services (horizontal scalability).

Elasticity: Business landscapes are ever-changing, and so too are the resources needed to meet challenges - cloud computing excels in its elasticity by ensuring that your business and applications always have the resources required to deliver seamless experiences.

Agility: Cloud computing is easily accessible and can be configured with a minimal lagtime - meaning that cloud-based solutions can be deployed and configured with rapid turnaround.

Disaster Recovery: Where businesses typically needed to invest in backup infrastructure for protection against downtime, the cloud allows users to backup, replicate and distribute services as a fail-safe against unplanned outages.

What is cloud computing - SaaS, PaaS and IaaS

If you've looked into cloud computing and infrastructure, you may have come across the terms Software as a Service, Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service, often shown as SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. So what exactly do these represent? Well - in a nutshell, these are three different models which often represent the level of flexibility of a cloud environment. Ranging from imposed restrictions, to complete flexibility, each represents a tier of flexibility that makes up part of that offering.

Starting with Software as a Service, this cloud-based model is when the provider manages all aspects of the environment and the user provides only the data needed to fulfil the outcome. For example, an email client is considered a Software as a Service - meaning that the entire platform is managed by the provider, and all you need to do is send and receive emails.

Up next, in terms of flexibility, is Platform as a Service (PaaS) - this is an environment where the cloud provider hosts the platform (or hosting environment) for the user to deploy applications or processes. This model, allows businesses to move a number of applications, resources or workflows to the cloud - without needing to invest heavily in the infrastructure that powers the services.

Lastly, is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and as the name states - this brings complete flexibility and is the closest model to a physical server in your office. In this model, the cloud provider maintains the physical hardware in datacentres but leaves all aspects of the operating system and network configuration to the client. Meaning that the client can use the infrastructure in whichever way they need. Thus bringing complete flexibility.

SaaS, PaaS and IaaS can get sometimes get confusing to the untrained eye, as applications, databases, operating systems and storage can at times be available under each model. To better understand the offerings - consider SaaS, PaaS and IaaS as the level of flexibility and customizability that you can receive as part of that services. For example, you can have an application as a SaaS - which means you log in to the provider website and use services as necessary, or you can use it under PaaS or IaaS, which allows you to control processes, settings and configurations to suit your business need.

What is cloud computing - Public, private and hybrid clouds

Last, but certainly not least - it's worth noting the various models of cloud computing. Being public cloud infrastructure, private cloud infrastructure and hybrid cloud infrastructure. These are key considerations in the journey of migrating to the cloud and ultimately are best suited for differing business needs.

Public Cloud: The public cloud often entails many customer-facing services that are available for anyone who wishes to use them - this can often include resources such as servers and storage.

Private cloud: Is often reserved exclusively for use by a business or organization - as the name suggests, access and use are limited to those with authorised access. Private cloud infrastructure can be hosted physically on-site or can also live in an environment hosted by a third-party service provider - such as Microsoft Azure.

Hybrid Cloud: A hybrid cloud can often be the option chosen by many businesses - and as the name suggests, hybrid cloud infrastructure brings together public and private cloud infrastructures and allows the two models to communicate without issue. Meaning that certain PaaS applications can live on a public cloud while seamlessly communicating with a private infrastructure such as those found in Azure services.

In conclusion...

With all the benefits of the cloud, perhaps the best of all is the truly customisable nature of the service - while no one size fits all, cloud computing can help rid your business of technical headaches and business continuity stresses. With a focus on cloud computing having heightened since COVID-19 - businesses are looking for flexible environments that can be accessed entirely remotely - and in many cases, cloud infrastructure can help achieve what was once impossible. 

 

Check back next time for part two of this series, where we look at how Microsoft Azure can help realise your cloud opportunities.

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