Azure - where do you start?

You’d be hard pressed to find an individual in our industry who is yet to explore, at least to a basic degree, some of the features and capabilities present in Microsoft Azure. Ubiquitous in nature and at the forefront of Public Cloud offerings, the Azure platform is one that’s increasingly hard to ignore for organisations of all shapes and sizes.

26 June 2017

Despite this, the question I hear the most when speaking to our customers is a fundamental one; “where do I start? It’s so complex!”

At face value it’s hard to disagree; hundreds of services, dozens of regions, and many variations in terms of options that are continually evolving. It's challenge we faced ourselves as we worked through integrating a selection of the services into our own Service Catalogues this year. In practice, the array of options can be quickly narrowed down once there’s an understanding of the infrastructure needed and of the specific needs of your organisation.

So when does Azure “make sense”, and stack up as the right option? The notion of Cloud and its evolution from buzzword to a mature set of services is one which dominates IT. Cloud infrastructure is a viable option for organisations to consider come refresh time, as well as one which can be employed tactically to support specific use cases. In the case of Azure as the delivery platform, our experience tells us that it lends itself well to just a handful – those that require maximum flexibility to scale up or down, those that demand geo-diversity (as is often the case with international organisations who want to localise service availability), and those where integration with broader platform services such as web/database provide opportunities for cost reduction. This isn’t to say it can’t be a “one stop shop” for all needs (on the contrary, it’s more than capable of addressing most requirements), but it’s suitability and effectiveness versus other options needs to be considered against its cost, and compromise in comparison with other deployment options (e.g. privately hosted, on-premise, colocated, etc.).

Prime examples of deployment scenarios well suited to Azure are e-commerce or website platforms. These are often highly scalable due to seasonal peaks in requirements, and benefit from the ability to scale the infrastructure in and out as necessary. These processes can be automated using features like Azure virtual machine scale-sets which dynamically add and remove resource in a way that’s distributed across fault/update domains, and integrated with platform services that enable traditional web or database functionality without the need to manage or administer a full server instance.

An added “tool in the armoury” of Azure is its marketplace – an extensive library of pre-packaged template appliances and servers which make the process of getting up and running in Azure one that’s straightforward in comparison to an on-premise deployment. Continuing the example of an e-commerce platform, a common addition is a security appliance to address application and website publishing and security. Our “go to” device is the F5 BIG-IP LTM - a hugely versatile application delivery controller (ADC) providing a wealth of capability, including load balancing, perimeter authentication, web optimisation and application firewall functionality. Through its iRules scripting language and library of application templates (iApps), complex deployments can be made simple. Using the Azure marketplace, BIG-IP appliances can be deployed in minutes and operate on either a “bring your own license”, or “pay as you go” model.

In my experience, the combination of flexibility and choice afforded by Azure is a huge step forwards for many organisations with regards to choice and access to Enterprise infrastructure and products. The F5 example above is a perfect demonstration of the ease with which Enterprise-grade tools can be delivered simply and effectively to organisations of all sizes, whilst the freedom to adapt infrastructure to support changing use cases is something that was out of reach to many just a short while ago.

At GCI, whilst we have the unenviable task of having to sift through the many thousands of line items that make up the multitude of service offerings available in Azure, this knowledge enables us to accurately recommend and specify solutions within Azure without the complexity that’s usually associated. As advocates of both Public and Private Cloud options, we understand the intricacies and unique benefits that can be attributed to each.

Get in touch with us at enquiries@gcicom.net to find out more and to discuss your specific requirements in detail.

 

Kelvin Papp
Product Manager

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