Introduction to Azure – Microsoft Public Cloud

Azure is Microsoft’s public cloud platform for IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service) Solutions. Microsoft also has a SaaS (Software as a Service) public cloud platform, this is known as Office 365.

What makes a platform a cloud platform? The “National Institute of Standards and Technology” or NIST has defined the characteristics of a cloud platform. The characteristics of a cloud platform are:

  • On-demand self-service.
  • Broad network access.
  • Resource pooling.
  • Rapid elasticity.
  • Measured service.

There are also multiple cloud platforms:

  • Public cloud platform – This is a cloud platform where all resources are shared between multiple customers. The platform is separated into different so called ‘tenants’. Customers in one tenant are totally unaware of customers in other tenants on the same platform. A cloud platform is typically found on the Internet.
  • Private cloud platform – This is a dedicated cloud platform, built for a specific customer. It has the same characteristics as a public cloud form. It can be found on the Internet, on-premises or in a datacenter, but connected using VPN networks.
  • Hybrid cloud platform – This is a combination of a public and a private cloud platform.

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I’ve written an article about private clouds for Red Gate and contains some more information regarding clouds and cloud characteristics. You can find this article on the Red Gate site at https://www.red-gate.com/simple-talk/cloud/cloud-development/private-cloud-what-is-it-and-why-do-you-need-it/

Also interesting to note are the XaaS solutions:

  • SaaS – Software as a Service. Office 365 is the Microsoft SaaS solution. You have a subscription to a complete solution, for example an email service (Exchange Online) or a document management solution (SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business) or a collaboration solution (Skype for Business). You only have to take care about the user accounts, all infrastructure and platform is managed by Microsoft. A SaaS solution is easy to manage, but doesn’t offer too much flexibility.
  • IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service. In a IaaS solution Microsoft is offering for example Virtual Machines (VM) and these VMs can have different operating systems, for example Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016 or a Linux OS. You are responsible for the configuring and managing the servers, including the applications installed on the servers. IaaS offers a lot of flexibility, but automatically includes complexity and responsibility.
  • Paas – Platform as a Service. In a PaaS solution Microsoft is offering solutions like Azure SQL, Web Apps or Cloud Services. For example, when you have an Azure SQL solution, you can define your own SQL Server and Database, but Microsoft is responsible for the SQL Server application, provisioning, management etc. You only have a SQL Database according to predefined requirements. In the Azure Cloud services, you have a front-end back-end infrastructure, where you can create your own application, including business logic (in the back-end) or connections to (Azure) databases. Depending on the solution you’ve configured it can come with more (or less) complexity and flexibility.

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There are more ‘as a Service’ solutions. I’ve seen hosting customers offering their own backup solutions as ‘Backup as a Service’, or ‘Database as a Service’. It’s up to your own offering when you are a (Microsoft) hosting partner.

Azure Services

Microsoft Azure consists of several ‘containers’, each consisting of their own service, as can be seen in the following picture:

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There can be dependencies between various services. For example, when creating an Azure Virtual Machine, you also need a Virtual Network and Storage. Maybe you want to backup your VMs and you need Azure Backup, or integrate your environment with Azure Active Directory.

A quick note on Azure Active Directory. This is the underlying directory for all Office 365 services. If you have an Office 365 tenant, all users and groups are automatically created in Azure Active Directory. This is the same directory as being used in your Azure tenant, so if you logon to your Azure environment using your Office 365 admin credentials you’ll see all Office 365 users when selecting Azure AD in the Azure Portal.

Azure Datacenters

Azure is hosted in multiple datacenters across the world. At the moment of writing there are 42 datacenters worldwide. You can see these datacenter on the following website: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/regions/

Using the ‘Explore products per region’ you can do a deep diver per region, and check which services are available in that region.

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Datacenters are tied together in a ‘datacenter pair’. For example, Datacenter pairing occurs between West Europe (in The Netherlands) and North Europe (Ireland). If data is stored in one location (West Europe) and you need to store it in another location for resiliency, it is automatically stored in North Europe. This way data is not automatically replicated outside the political region (i.e. Europe). If you want, or if there’s a need, you can still configure geo-replication to another datacenter in the world, for example from West Europe to East US, but that’s a manual configuration and never occurs automatically.

Managing Azure

Azure can be managed using different solutions, but the two most often used are the Azure Portal and Azure PowerShell.

The Azure Portal is easy, just navigate to https://portal.azure.com and login using your tenant administrator credentials. You’ll see something like this:

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In the Azure Portal you can configure most solutions and options, and I’ll discuss various of these in upcoming blog post.

The second option is to use Azure PowerShell. This can be installed using the Web Platform Installer (https://www.microsoft.com/web/downloads/platform.aspx) or by executing the following commands in a PowerShell window (with elevated privileges):

Install-Module AzureRM
Install-Module Azure
Set-ExecutionPolicy Unrestricted
Import-Module AzureRm

Once imported you can login using the following command:

Login-AzureRmAccount

and start managing your Azure environment using PowerShell. Again, this will also be covered in upcoming blogpost.

Summary

Azure is Microsoft’s public cloud solution for IaaS and PaaS solutions. Azure is hosted in datacenters worldwide, and by nature offers high availability, resiliency etc. to create scalable and available solutions.

Azure can be managed by the Azure Portal and by Azure PowerShell. The first one is easy to use, the second one offer a lot more flexibility, scripting options and automating solutions. This is extremely important when creating larger environment that need to be consistent.

In my upcoming blog’s I’ll show you more about the Azure Portal, Azure PowerShell, Virtual Machines, Storage and Virtual Networking.

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