Introducing Cloud Computing…
Microsoft Azure is a cloud-based computing platform created by Microsoft Corporation, one of the leading cloud platforms in the world. It provides software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS), while supporting many different programming languages, both third-party and Microsoft-specific software.
But, before we get into further detail, let’s see what cloud computing actually is and what difference will it make in your life.
Simply put, cloud computing means accessing and maintaining data from a shared pool of resources by a provider over the internet. The reason why cloud computing is so popular is because, unlike in traditional computing, it is fairly easy to set up the environment for app and websites development, networking and data management – and these are only few of the services cloud providers offer. Cloud computing does away with the sizeable expenditure required to set up the physical infrastructure essential for traditional computing, starting with data servers and networks to any necessary development software.
To rephrase this in layman terms, instead of wasting time and valuable resources setting up hardware, software and networking essential for applications and services development, with cloud computing you can simply rent it over the internet from a company which already has these resources set up and start building.
…And Microsoft Azure
Well, now that we know what Microsoft Azure fundamentally does, it’s only customary to spend some time exploring in detail the features it provides as a cloud computing service. In a sentence, Microsoft Azure gives users the ability to create, manage, and run apps and websites directly within – well, itself.
There are three ways to do this:
- Virtual Machines: Azure gives users the opportunity to create apps in a virtual environment, that is on a virtual hard disk (VHD). You just need to specify the size of the VHD and choose the Virtual Image (VM) on which it should run. You can use the newly created VHD to develop apps almost immediately; all of the changes will be saved on this VHD. Eliminating excessive expenses is one of the many benefits of cloud computing: Microsoft Azure requires you to pay only as much as you use it. More precisely, in addition to a minimal storage fee for keeping the VHD available, you pay for the VM usage per minute (i.e. you pay for as many minutes as the virtual image is running). As a bonus – and to help you get started – Microsoft offers many stock bootable images from some of the industry leaders such as Windows Server and Linux, SQL Server and Oracle.
- Web Apps: Microsoft gives developers the opportunity to start building web apps in almost any programming language without the burden of worrying about infrastructure. In other words, developers can focus on building the apps and leave Microsoft to handle the scaling and the running. Some of the key features and strengths of Azure include app deployment based on geolocation, support for major languages and frameworks such as ASP.NET, Node.js, Java, PHP, and Python, installation of popular web apps such as WordPress and Joomla and real-time code integration and deployment via Visual Studio Team Services, GitHub, or BitBucket.
- Cloud Services: If you want to use Microsoft Azure to build apps and software – this is the recommended service. Once again, it has support for all the popular development environments (Python, Node.js, PHP etc.). Moreover, apps are scalable, meaning they are capable of handling growing workload, so the user experience will remain unscathed even in the case of unexpected traffic spikes. This reduces costs and increases effectiveness: practically, it doesn’t matter any more if you want to run one or a thousand instances at any given time.
Azure – As It Stands Today
Microsoft’s Azure platform is gaining traction, becoming only second to Amazon Web Services in the cloud computing industry. However, there is one obstacle that stands in the way: nobody really sees Microsoft as a cloud computing company. It is associated, even today, mostly with its early enterprise solutions such as Windows Servers and Office 365. As a consequence, people still don’t understand how much potential Azure has to offer. Those that do seem to be pleasantly surprised on a daily basis. While monetizing successfully.
“We’re finding a lot of folks are adopting Azure because it makes sense, and it’s already part of their skill set. f they want to migrate their Microsoft Windows server into the cloud, it’s much more seamless, there are more tools available, they can already use the Hyper V platform and they don’t have to do too much work. Whereas some of the other providers might have a different framework that they’re not as familiar with.” – Peter Tsai, IT analyst at Spiceworks
Understandably, Microsoft offers the best integration with its popular development tools such as .NET, C# and Visual Studio. However, Microsoft also supports Java development on Eclipse, PHP and Python coding. And this is where the problems arise: people just don’t see themselves running Java-based apps on a Microsoft’s cloud platform.
It’s a marketing issue. Much more than it is an issue of quality.
Microsoft’s Efforts to Make Azure the Best
In other words, Azure is more than worthy of a developer’s attention. Microsoft is doing its best to compete with Amazon. It has already reduced its prices to match those offered by Amazon Web Services and is rapidly introducing new features to overthrow Amazon.
“Azure lets us focus on our product rather than focusing on how we need to scale the application, as is generally required with infrastructure as a service. With a platform cloud, you can spend more time working on future tools, rather than keeping your head down on running things today.” – Tony McGinn, CEO, Movideo
And – at least, to some extent – the strategy is working, too. Two years ago, just after the AzureCon, Microsoft added over 90,000 brand new customers. According to its website, more than half (57%) of Fortune 500 companies are already using Azure’s cloud platform. In addition, since its launch in 2010, the Azure platform has seen triple-digit growth, with more than 300,000 websites taking advantage of its environment at the present. In addition, more than 1 billion SQL databases are run through it daily.
The Biggest Hurdle
In a dynamic age of trends and precedents, Azure will have to do better. It is already more than obvious that it isn’t enough to be just as good as Amazon Web Services. However, it may be not enough to be even better than AWS – which, in some aspects, Azure actually is. Azure’s most important and most difficult mission is finding a way to give people a good reason to switch to the platform. In fact, Microsoft is already making an attempt at this by being more open and accepting of other platforms. But the news must reach the clients – whether companies or developers – and, based on the statistical data, this is not happening.
Amazon Web Services owns nearly 75% of the cloud computing market. Introduced by Amazon in 2006, it is so much popular that it is estimated that almost 1% of the whole internet runs through it. Since it’s longer at the market, AWS is also the more matured platform, but its success owes much less to its comparable strengths than to the fact that most developers tend to follow trends. A new company or a start-up may be convinced to use AWS to create and manage its apps and databases, solely because choosing Azure is the less popular – and, thus, “more naÃ¯ve” – choice.
All in all, Microsoft Azure is nothing short of a great cloud computing platform, providing many features – some of them unique – which allow it to adapt to the requirements of any company (rather than the opposite), while boasting with more global data centres than AWS and offering the same competitive pricing. Many notable companies and organizations – such as Real Madrid, Heineken, Pearson, and NBC News – use Azure. And based on recent developments, Microsoft is determined to improve its cloud computing service and is making billions of dollars in investments with this in mind.
But the fact is that it still has a long way to go if it wants to become the best cloud provider in the industry. And it seems that the next steps must be made in the direction of better marketing.
 This article was first published in June 2016. May this footnote serve both as an update and as a testament to Dee.ie’s foresightedness: according to a recent survey, “Microsoft Azure has overtaken Amazon Web Services as the public cloud provider of choice” (April 2017).