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What Is Microsoft Azure? A Simple, Straightforward, and Jargon-Free Answer

Sep 9, 2013 Cloud Dennis Junk

Windows AzureIf you’re creating a software application, one of the first questions you’ll need to address is where the software will be hosted. You can think of hosting requirements much the same way you think of the considerations that go into deciding where to save an important document. Will you have access to the document whenever and wherever you need it? Does anyone else need access to it? Do you have sufficient storage capacity? Will the document be secure?

The main differences between storing a document and hosting an application are that applications demand a lot more processing power and need to be accessible to a lot more users. Windows Azure is a Microsoft service that allows you to host your software in the cloud so you don’t have to buy and manage your own servers. One disadvantage of hosting your application with on-prem servers (that is, servers on the premises where your business operates) is that when the software first goes live there will probably be very few people using it, but you’ll want to have enough processing power to accommodate growing use over time. 

In other words, with on-prem servers, you’ll end up paying for a lot of computing power that you’re not actually using at first. Eventually, usage may catch up, but then at some point you may run into the opposite problem and have to boost your processing capacity. The advantage you get with Azure is that it lets you pay only for the resources that your application uses, and it turns scaling up to accommodate any number of users into a simple matter of having your rate adjusted. With cloud hosting, your application will be optimally scalable and always available. 

Windows Azure is often referred to as both an IaaS and a PaaS offering. 

What does IaaS mean?

IaaS is an acronym for Infrastructure as a Service. The term infrastructure in computing is similar to the term infrastructure in economics; it basically means the physical basis on which everything is built. An economy is built on roads, bridges, electrical grids, and so on. Computing relies on one or more servers, power sources, wires, and broadcasting tools. (Servers can be virtual, as opposed to physical, machines, but that’s a topic for another post.)

There are several advantages to signing up for IaaS instead of purchasing on-prem servers: one is the scalability issue explained above; most of the others stem from the myriad complications and headaches associated with maintaining servers. Cloud data centers have multiple built-in redundancies, so if one machine crashes your applications will simply run on another machine. There’s effectively no down time with IaaS. Hosting in the cloud also means one predictable cost, as opposed to having to add up the costs of electricity, routine maintenance, repairs, up-scaling, and so on.

What does PaaS mean? 

PaaS means Platform as a Service. Though it’s often used interchangeably with IaaS, there are a few differences. The term platform refers to all the tools a developer might use to create an application. ASP.NET, for instance, is a tool box of standard software elements that makes it easy for developers to bridge the gap between code and function. Windows Azure provides access to ASP.NET, along with countless other tools, so businesses won’t just have a place to house their applications—their developers will also have help building them, launching them online, and adapting their functionality over time. 

This description of Windows Azure barely scratches the surface of the topic. It leaves out issues like security (the cloud is to a bank what on-prem servers are to home safes) and hybrid environments, which rely on both cloud and on-prem infrastructure. If you want to know more about how Azure might be applied in some specific business situation, feel free to describe the circumstances in the comment section. You can also contact us through our website.

Like this simple answer? Check out the Simple Answer Series Catalogue. Or if you want more basic answers to questions about Azure check out our new e-book.

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Posted in: Cloud

Topics: Cloud Azure Simple Answer Series