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

  
  
  

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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Comments

is Azure only for software applications ? or can it be used for web hosting ?
Posted @ Monday, October 07, 2013 7:42 AM by steve van drunen
Hi Steve, 
Yes, Azure can be used for web hosting. For details, check out:  
http://www.windowsazure.com/en-us/services/web-sites/
Posted @ Monday, October 07, 2013 10:08 AM by Dennis Junk
I wish the Aptera electric car would come to market, but I doubt Aptera USA will ever come to be..
Posted @ Sunday, November 03, 2013 1:46 PM by danwat1234
Ha ha. Thanks for taking the time to look us up, Dan. I actually found the same defunct electric car company when I first started working here. But I can assure you the Aptera that does web design and software development is alive and thriving.
Posted @ Monday, November 04, 2013 8:33 AM by Dennis Junk
OK good I'm glad
Posted @ Wednesday, November 06, 2013 4:00 PM by danwat1234
hi there looks alwsoume what about live tiles i like windows 8 live tiles
Posted @ Thursday, November 21, 2013 11:28 AM by jjames braselton
Does this new have phone, tower, laptop, and server capabilities?
Posted @ Saturday, January 11, 2014 4:26 AM by Evan Kizer
Hi Evan, 
I'm not sure I understand the question. Azure is a cloud hosting service. Azure apps are accessible through smart phones of course. But I'm not sure what you mean about the other capabilities.
Posted @ Monday, January 13, 2014 8:11 AM by Dennis Junk
Does Azure distribute content in the cloud, so it's available nation wide at good performance levels? IF I want to cloud host an application, I want it available nation wide.
Posted @ Thursday, January 23, 2014 8:39 AM by Anthony Merlin
The real question is how does Azure compare to offerings from Amazon, Google, Yahoo (?), etc.
Posted @ Saturday, February 01, 2014 2:11 AM by Lucas Goodwin
Anthony, yes, you can certainly distribute nation wide at good performance levels. Lucas, you are definitely onto the million dollar question, but it's not an easy one to answer for the simple reason that the offerings are constantly being updated. Here's a link to a good, somewhat recent article: 
http://www.networkworld.com/news/2013/110613-microsoft-azure-275690.html 
And maybe sometime soon we'll get around to doing a comparison here as well. 
Thanks for your comments.
Posted @ Tuesday, February 04, 2014 8:26 AM by Dennis Junk
We have an excel spreadsheet with about 1800 records we are looking at putting into a DB and sharing with iPad, iPhone users as well as those inhouse. Would this be a good solution for us? Where can I get pricing? 
Posted @ Monday, February 10, 2014 9:06 AM by Smihlen
just another way for microsoft to control how you use software that youve paid for. I am sick of Microsoft; they are a bunch of control freaks. If I pay 100 bucks for some software I should be able to use it however I **** well please. Ive been against "cloud" computing from the beginning for exactly that reason.
Posted @ Saturday, March 29, 2014 10:20 AM by andy sprouse
thank you for his article
Posted @ Saturday, April 05, 2014 2:10 AM by obat kanker kelenjar getah bening
Nice article. Since the subject at hand is reducing confusion, I figured it worth mentioning the quiet rebrand to Microsoft Azure.
Posted @ Monday, April 07, 2014 10:10 PM by Derek Gabriel
Thanks Derek, 
I've changed the title.
Posted @ Tuesday, April 08, 2014 11:43 AM by Dennis Junk
big companies (especially the banks)don't like other people handing info besides their own and also preferably save money by actually owning the servers to store information. i can see cloud being used for mom & pop businesses , or personal use if they have to interchange (small or masssive amount) data between computors or as insurance incase that data is lost
Posted @ Sunday, May 11, 2014 3:10 PM by higuide
I am still trying to figure out why anyone would put valuable data and software on to a cloud they can't control. The meetings I have been in to regards of the cloud always comes around to security of said data and software programs. With the scare of the NSA, hackers and security of cloud service companies why take the risk? Risk/Reward is always factored in making decisions and companies may be hesitant to rely on cloud computing but are the risks too great especially in the fields of Nuclear, Healthcare, Government contracting and pick your high end business and append it to this sentence :) All in all I like the idea of saving money but what is the real risk? How can the guarantee that my data will be safe from the good and bad guys? Just something to think about as I watch the slick new cloud commercials. All the best :) JD.
Posted @ Thursday, May 22, 2014 6:49 AM by JD Hannah
Hi JD, 
You've raised a concern quite a few people have about the cloud. But cloud datacenters aren't any more exposed to threats than on-premises datacenters connected to the internet. Target's files weren't in the cloud when they got hacked by a teenage Russian. The corporate files that got hacked by Chinese companies (possibly with the collusion of the Chinese government) weren't in the cloud either.  
 
The one real issue with the cloud is the threat of blind subpoenas, the government looking into your files without you knowing it. Most cloud providers are up in arms about this very thing, and they are now demanding warrants before turning over any data. Of course, law enforcement can get a warrant for on-premises datacenters too. (Microsoft releases annual numbers for how many warrants they've gotten. In 2013, it was just one.)  
 
There's an almost unavoidable intuitive sense of lost control when you turn your data over to someone else. But data stored in the cloud is if anything more secure than privately stored data because cloud providers have far more resources to devote to protecting and backing up your information.  
 
It may have felt unsettling at some point for people to hand their money over to banks. But we all understand today that our money is far safer in the bank than under our mattresses.
Posted @ Thursday, May 22, 2014 7:27 AM by Dennis
Saying "On-prem" is super annoyiong. Just say "on-site" like everyone else on the planet.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 04, 2014 11:30 AM by Michael
Ha. Fair enough. Even more annoying is "on-premise." A premise is not the same thing as premises.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 04, 2014 11:33 AM by Dennis Junk
I sold this application for IBM in 1967. It was called Time Sharing back then. Only difference is I/O gear and line speeds are much faster now. Also, The Cloud, it was called a mainframe. 
 
Whatever comes around, goes around!
Posted @ Thursday, July 17, 2014 10:31 AM by Jborchel
"There’s effectively no down time with IaaS."  
 
Really? What if you lose web connection altogether? With (ahem) "on-prem" hardware, at least work can continue (to a greater or lesser extent) using the internal LAN and servers until the connection is reestablished. 
 
We have on several occasions over the years lost connectivity, sometimes for a good portion of a day. It's inconvenient, and some work can not be done at all, but most work can continue. That's worth quite a lot. 
 
As well, the use of "Cloud Resources" requires connection speeds at least an order of magnitude (if not two) greater. The firm I work for (75 or so people) has two offices, and we get by nicely with relatively modest connection speeds (with correspondingly low costs) at both sites. The cost of internal servers might be lower than the monthly cost of greater bandwidth, depending on the particulars. Admittedly, this does not factor in the cost of I.T. staffing.
Posted @ Saturday, July 26, 2014 7:48 AM by Jason W. Chenard
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