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What is Microsoft Azure? (A Beginner’s Guide)

Microsoft’s Azure Cloud platform has taken the business market by storm, gaining a record 120 thousand customers per month last year, a total of 6 million active users, and an estimated 1.4 million SQL databases.

If you’re not technically savvy, you could be forgiven for not knowing what it is or how it works. We can’t hope to cover all of the over 600 potential applications, but here’s a crash course in Azure.

What is it? (Microsoft Azure)

Microsoft Azure is a business cloud computing service developed by Microsoft Corporation for the cloud-based operation of IT applications and services.

Everything from Azure that is run, tested, built, shared, and stored (and more) exists in one or more of several secure Microsoft data centers around the world (or via a local service if you prefer.)

But what exactly is it?

Consider servers. There are a plethora of servers. Locked-down, climate-controlled warehouses filled with servers humming away, running every computing process imaginable, from email to databases, virtual desktops to machine learning, file storage to phone apps.

Customers who purchase Microsoft Azure services gain access to the internet to a tiny fraction of the world’s supercomputing infrastructure, as well as the ability to run a wide range of potential services in the cloud.

Azure has no upfront fees and instead charges by the minute based on usage and the computing demands of the service purchased.

Why is that good?

This is referred to as instant access computing. Do you require 50 additional virtual servers by this afternoon? They’re available with a few taps of a few buttons.

Because of the incredible economies of scale, Microsoft always has virtually unlimited scalable computing power available on-demand at subscription pricing.

The ability to spin up temporary services (which would be impossible to do if you had to rely on urgently purchasing physical hardware) and then remove them allows businesses to respond instantly and cost-effectively to even the most wildly fluctuating IT demands.

Even mundane computing processes, such as large numbers of hosted desktop sessions, can be delivered from Azure without posing such a logistical challenge.

But what if it goes wrong?

Azure is dependable. Exceptionally dependable. Microsoft’s uptime statistics are as reliable as you would expect from their leading enterprise cloud service, with a remarkable 99.9936 percent annual uptime in 2015.

Similarly to other Microsoft Cloud services (such as Microsoft 365’s OneDrive), a variety of backup procedures ensures that copies of data stored are protected and duplicates are available for recovery. Individual drives and servers are expandable thanks to virtualization, which runs everything in an isolated software environment that is kept independent of the physical hardware – your IT lives on, supported by the rest of the hundreds of remaining server racks.

Microsoft is tight-lipped about their security, but in a data center empire where every email is tested by at least 3 different antivirus services, it’s safe to say both digital and physical security is tight. Centralized infrastructure also provides Azure (and every Azure customer) with technical specialists and cybersecurity defense that are only available to the largest enterprise corporations.

An online dashboard that refreshes its table of successfully ‘available’ uptime ticks every minute allows users to monitor the live status of every process on 29 data centers around the world.

Do you require access to the remaining 0.0064 percent of the year? Remember that for at least half of the world’s population, these 29 minutes of annual downtime will most likely fall while you are sleeping.

Do I need a computing Ph.D. to use it?

Both yes and no. Anyone can, in theory, sign up for a free account (and $150 in free credits) on Azure’s website today and try out the service.

If you want to play around with Microsoft’s cloud until your free credits expire, the interface is relatively simple and, like all of Microsoft’s cloud services, works consistently across tablet and mobile devices.

However, what you require of the infrastructure is likely to necessitate a more complex setup. Unless you’re a true enthusiast with specific needs, Azure’s cloud infrastructure is like a private helicopter: not ideal for personal use (and there are far more sensible options available)

Costing by the minute also means that it is easy to spend too much money if you are not careful when selecting from the bewildering array of virtual machine specs and other services available. Indeed, a portion of Azure’s business model is based on ambitious, technology-hungry companies taking on slightly more than they can chew. Call the experts to ensure that your Azure deployment is both effective and proportional to your budget.

Author: Jace Mrazz is a Microsoft Office expert with 5 years of experience in the technology industry. He has written technical and SEO blogs, white papers, and reviews for a variety of websites including office.com/setup and microsoft365.com/setup.