The Power of Microsoft Azure Platform Services

Article by Anthony Mashford – Cloud Solution Architect & Evangelist

Introduction

There are now many categories of cloud computing models or ‘as-a-service’ offerings as they are known. Examples of the most common of these categories are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) such as Microsoft’s Office 365, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) which is the more traditional Compute, Storage and Networking, similar to on-premises datacentres and of course the main topic of this article, Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). This is a category where one vendor of cloud computing, Microsoft, is leading the way with its Azure public cloud Platform-as-a-Service offerings. Outside of the traditional IaaS pillars of Compute, Storage and Network, Azure has an ever-expanding portfolio of integrated services that are delivered as PaaS, some these have been listed below:

  • Web & Mobile – Web Apps, Mobile Apps, Logic Apps, API Apps, CDN, Media Services
  • Databases – SQL Databases, SQL Data Warehouse, Stretch Database, CosmosDB, Redis Cache
  • Intelligence & Analytics – HDInsight, Machine Learning, Cognitive Services, Azure Bot Service
  • IoT – Azure IoT Hub, Event Hubs, Stream Analytics, Service Bus, Data Catalog
  • Security – Security Center, Key Vault, Azure AD, B2C, Azure MFA
  • Developer Services – Visual Studio Team Services, DevTest Labs, App Insights, Dev Tools
  • Monitoring and Management – Azure Portal, ARM, Azure Advisor, Monitor, Log Analytics, Automation

As the list of services available in Azure grows daily, Microsoft continues to innovate and bring new offerings to the platform as well as improving on existing ones. So rapid is the growth, that by the time this article is published even more enhancements and services will most likely have been released. A  more complete and update-to-date list of Azure services can be found here https://goo.gl/jAuH4W

Benefits of Azure PaaS

The Azure platform delivers a comprehensive environment for the development and delivery of solutions and services from within its public cloud infrastructure. The PaaS offering, like the IaaS offering, includes Servers, Storage and Networking along with the additional layers of O/S, Middleware and Runtime as well as tools for development and management of those services. The main benefits that Azure PaaS offers are:

  • No upfront costs – Removes the requirement to purchase additional hardware, software and licensing as well as the need to stand up the infrastructure to deliver those solutions. Microsoft’s Azure services can be purchased from a Cloud Solution Provider such as Insight and consumed on a pay-per-minute basis.
  • Reduced management overheads – Microsoft handles the management, monitoring and maintenance of those services, allowing customers to focus on the more important tasks such as the development and delivery of applications.
  • Scale & flexibility – Using the scalability of the Azure public cloud platform, organisations can deliver applications that are modest and relatively basic through to large-scale, enterprise-grade solutions that span the globe. The on-demand nature of public cloud allows for flexibility that until recently was impossible to achieve in a traditional datacentre. This is made possible by utilising capacity and global presence of Azure’s 42 (& growing) regions located around the world.

The Power of Azure PaaS

All of the various PaaS services that Microsoft delivers via the Azure cloud are innovative in their own right, but when they are brought together and combined into solutions they can become extremely powerful. To understand the power of multiple PaaS technologies coming together to form a complex solution, an analogy using Lego could be useful.

Lego kits are individual sets of bricks of varying size used to build structures, vehicles and possibly all sorts of random creations and are typically acquired as birthday or Christmas presents, one set at a time.. These modular kits allow for limitless creativity with infinite possibilities, making it possible for imaginations to run wild, perhaps build a supercar that has laser guns, flowers pots and a post office attached! Why not?! These things are what you imagine them to be!

Azure PaaS offers the same possibilities to its customers to imagine and create large, complex solutions through the modular integration of various individual PaaS solutions that would not have been possible in a traditionally hosted datacentre. Azure has within its PaaS offerings, the building blocks to allow for the limitless creation of applications and solutions. While inevitably there will be some assembly required of these building blocks, the really important part is the vision and creativity to bring them together and turn these capable Azure services into innovative solutions! For example, a simple, low-cost solution can be delivered by combining an Azure WebApp instance with a backend database hosted on SQL Azure. More complex solutions that require analytics or artificial intelligence (AI) can also be brought together with to drive business intelligence, unlock data insights and create data visualisations.

PaaS offers many advantages over IaaS with its additional features like Business Intelligence (BI), middleware and development tools. By delivering services on-demand, protected by Role Based Access Controls (RBAC), developers can start the process of building solutions faster. This gives development teams the freedom they crave and reduces the reliance on admin staff to stand up dev environments. Having this ability reduces the time it takes to write the code required to deliver new applications or updates and improvements to existing ones.

The diverse options within Azure and its huge support for Open Source operating systems and software allow for development across multiple platforms. The pay-as-you-go model makes it possible for organisations both large and small to develop complex software and business intelligence solutions that previously would have required a huge investment in software and hardware. Gaining access to the platform is straightforward also, as Azure is essentially delivered securely across the public internet. Developers can collaborate with other team members on projects wherever they are in the world. Azure PaaS has the DevOps capabilities that development teams need to manage application lifecycles: build, test, deploy, manage.

Summary

Microsoft has a history of technology democratisation, starting with the personal computer, then onto general x86 servers powering the enterprises. And now with its Azure public cloud, it is bringing hyper-scale computing to the masses as-a-service. The Azure public cloud gives access to enterprise compute power that would have previously been unachievable to individuals, start-ups and small to medium businesses under a pay as you go model. In a world where businesses can predict demand based on historical trends in their industry, such pay as you go cloud computing can also deliver cost savings.

PaaS technologies naturally improves on these inherent cloud computing benefits through continued technology innovation. For example, using built-in automation techniques, PaaS applications can be scaled up or down during known busy periods. Likewise, systems can be designed and deployed to scale on-demand to react to unpredicted requests for resources, for example, during extreme weather events. PaaS hosted solutions and services are making a real difference around the world today, allowing businesses to grow by gaining insights into data giving them the information they need to drive productivity, increase margin and improve customer experiences.

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