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Brief overview of the key Azure services

22/04/2023 Microsoft Azure Cloud

Microsoft Azure is vast! With an ever expanding list of services, it can be daunting to know just what there is available for your company. In this post I give a brief rundown of some of the key Azure services and how they could be a replacement for your existing on-premise infrastructure.

Microsoft Azure is an ever expanding ecosystem of cloud services, that provide an immense, and often confusing, array or products. This has been simplified a little by dividing the available services into broad categories.

Azure Product Categories
Azure Product Categories

With 21 categories (at time of writing), many of which contain a large array of individual products, there are hundreds of available options. The following figure just shows the options in the Compute category.

Products in the Compute category

You can browse the categories and products in Microsoft's Directory of Azure Cloud Services.

Many of these products are fairly niche, and it's worth just looking at some of the key options.

The following list contains just a few of the available services that I think are useful for most businesses who may be considering migrating services to the cloud (I have included the main category they come under, although in practice some of the services appear in more than one).

Virtual Machines Category: Compute

Available with either Linux or Windows operating systems, virtual machines are often a first step for businesses who want to migrate services to the cloud.

You can easily move your existing on-premise server workloads to an Azure virtual machine by transferring your applications and data.

Virtual machines allow you to manage your cloud servers as you would your on-premise ones, while having the comfort of knowing that all the hardware infrastructure is supported and maintained for you. 

Azure Virtual Desktop Category: Compute

Create a Windows 10/11 virtual PC running in Azure.

You can access your virtual desktop from virtually any device running Windows, Mac, iOS, Android or with a modern browser. You can install applications as you would an on-premises PC and attach your virtual desktop to Azure storage for flexible file storage.

This can be a powerful and flexible solution for remote and hybrid workers who can access their virtual PC from wherever they are. 

App Service Category: Compute

The Azure App Service provides a PaaS (Platform as a Service) environment to run web applications. 

Supporting many technologies, including .Net, Node.js, Python and Java, the App Service allows you to deploy production web applications without having to worry about the underlying hardware, operating system or software required to run.

Azure also includes container instances and Kubernetes to give the ability to run containerised instances of applications, and have these managed for you.

Azure SQL Category: Databases

The Azure SQL service allows you to run SQL databases in a completely managed environment where you don't need to manage the operating system of the SQL server instance.

Based on the Microsoft SQL server technologies, you can directly migrate many exiting SQL Server databases to Azure SQL (there are restrictions, which can be found here).

Azure SQL Managed Instance Category: Databases

If you need to host your database in a full implementation of Microsoft SQL Server (avoiding the limitations of Azure SQL) an Azure SQL Managed Instance may be the better solution.

SQL Server on Azure Virtual Machines Category: Databases

For total control of you SQL database, you can run SQL server within an Azure Virtual Machine.

This gives the greatest flexibility, but does mean that you are responsible for managing the operating system and the instance of Microsoft SQL Server.

Azure Database for MySQL Category: Databases

A popular alternative to Microsoft SQL Server is MySQL.

Azure also provides a fully managed PaaS implementation of MySQL.

There are many other SQL and NoSQL database options available in Azure, including Table Storage, MariaDB, PostgreSQL, Apache Cassandra, etc... (I have just attempted to give a flavour of the options available).
Azure Backup Category: Storage

A Backup solution that connects to scalable archive storage and can be used to backup both on-premise and cloud workloads.

Azure Files Category: Storage

Massively scalable shared file storage that can be accessed from any authorised account and device, with comprehensive security and compliance policies built in.

Azure Files can be easily accessed through a URL, or by assigning a drive letter on a Windows PC.

Hopefully this gives you just a very small flavour of the immense size and scope of Azure. I have highlighted some of the more common services available, but this is just a drop in the ocean! 

If you have a requirement that I've not covered, there is likely to be a solution that will fit your needs.

In my next post I will look at the tools that Microsoft makes available to help you calculate the likely costs of cloud services, and how that might compare to the costs you are currently paying for the on-premise equivalents.