Microsoft Azure: A Guide for Beginners

The innovation problem

Information Technology is key to the success of nearly every business. This is particularly true of large enterprises who, as they try to meet (and anticipate) customer needs, and meet or exceed Wall Street’s expectations, depend on IT to provide strategic solutions and add value.  To, in a word, innovate.

There is, however, a problem.

For many organizations, the demands of operations or, ‘keeping the lights on,’ take precedence over innovation. CIOs and their staff find themselves running on several high-speed treadmills at once:

  • Maintaining existing software and integrating new software into a complex technology stack
  • Patching, fixing, and upgrading servers
  • Data retention strategy
  • Disaster recovery strategy
  • Monitoring system health and security
  • Meeting industry-specific regulatory and compliance requirements
  • Helping the business achieve new objectives and attract customers using technology
  • Crafting budgets that make all of the above possible while showing value to justify that budget.

It’s unavoidable that operational demands create a perceptual barrier between the concerns of technologists, the lines of business they’re supposed to be helping, and the customers it should be attracting, retaining, and serving. CIOs find themselves in what looks to be a no-win situation: operational reliability requires a go-slow approach (and often, becoming the team that says no for a variety of reasons).  Business demands, on the other hand,  require speed and flexibility.

How can these two conflicting worlds be brought together?

Your best hope is by becoming a cloud-enabled organization that minimizes operational overhead and emphasizes solutions.
This applies to a range of cloud platforms, but I’m going to focus on Microsoft Azure as an example.

Applications and Development

Your customer-facing web application (often, one of the most business-critical applications in an organization) can be cloud-enabled by migrating it to Azure Web App Service. Imagine no longer being concerned with the server infrastructure hosting the web application (which is where the business value actually resides).

Servers

Azure virtual machines are, like the VMWare virtual machines you’ve no doubt used for years on-premises, very useful. They can be configured in highly available configurations such as availability sets and scale sets. The public cloud, however, offers new and powerful options that were previously unavailable such as Platform as Service products like Azure SQL. This provides the software you consume—in this case, database services—without the operational overhead created by server maintenance (physical or virtual).

Disaster Recovery

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of business continuity. It’s critical that your key systems—both internal and customer-facing—remain available and robust if something goes wrong with one or more of your facilities. To address this need with cloud-native methods, Microsoft created Azure Site Recovery (ASR). Instead of spending money on full duplicates of your data center or traditional colocation arrangements, you can utilize Azure as your DR site.  This provides the DR function without the infrastructural overhead.

These services only scratch the surface of what’s possible with Azure, which should form the heart of your cloud transformation effort.