Microsoft Azure and the Trends That Will Drive its Future

Apollo Gonzalez, CTO, CATAPULT SYSTEMS, LLC
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Apollo Gonzalez, CTO, CATAPULT SYSTEMS, LLC

In a recent report, IDC predicts that cloud computing will be a 107-billion-dollar industry by 2017.  Gartner places Microsoft Azure in the leader’s quadrant for Infrastructure as a Service.  With cloud computing showing no signs of slowing down and Microsoft firmly established as a leader in the space, it is important to examine what Microsoft Azure is and its impact, as well as where Microsoft is going in the next few years.

Microsoft Azure is a cloud platform that provides both low-level infrastructure and higher level cloud services that make it possible to run virtually any application in an elastic, scalable and redundant hosted environment. Low-level cloud services are those infrastructure building block services that developers or IT administrators use to host, store and run multi-tier applications. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is the primary low-level public cloud service that provides an instant computing infrastructure, provisioned and managed over the internet. The beauty of IaaS for most customers is decreased expense and complexity of managing physical servers and data center infrastructure. In fact, with IaaS it is possible to package up a line of business application, along with any supporting databases, and migrate to Microsoft Azure IaaS with very little friction.

There are many organizations that are not ready to place all of their eggs in the public cloud basket. So, Microsoft has created another low-level infrastructure private cloud service called Azure Stack that provides organizations with a hybrid cloud solution. Microsoft’s primary goal in creating a private cloud service is to give organizations the power of cloud services yet enabling them to maintain control of their datacenter for real hybrid cloud agility. If implemented correctly, organizations can run Azure Stack in their data center and, if they need more scalability, they can access the public cloud on demand. 

  ​The beauty of IaaS for most customers is decreased expense and complexity of managing physical servers and data center infrastructure  

While low-level infrastructure cloud services like IaaS and Azure Stack provide an easy migration path for customers who want to move existing workloads to the cloud, higher level services are Microsoft’s focus. In a recent interview, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained that, “Some of the most innovative work we’re seeing done is how people are going straight to micro-services and PaaS (Platform as a Service).It could be the samecustomer who was participating with us in the client-server era not just moving IT to the cloud but building new digital services. We’re seeing great growth in serverless architecture. It’s not just the Silicon Valley startups. It’s the core enterprises that are becoming digital companies.” When Nadella talks about serverless architecture, PaaS and microservices, he is indirectly referencing the higher level managed cloud services available in the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. 

Higher level services are those cloud services that provide abstraction from the management, architecting, and scaling requirements of core infrastructure.Some examples of higher level services include: SQL Data Warehouse, Machine Learning, Stream Analytics, Cognitive services and Internet of Things Suite (IoT). These services provide a user with all that is needed to create innovative cloud based solutions without having to purchase expensive hardware or software licenses. In a survey conducted by the Synergy Group, higher level services like database services, IoT, and PaaS have grown 100 percent or more per year.

The increased interest and usage of the higher level services is the next phase in the evolution of cloud computing. To more fully understand the impact and value these higher level Azure cloud services are having on organizations, let’s look at a fictitious business case study.

A well-established organization wanted to innovate and differentiate their core business by making some of their hottest selling products smarter. The organization has been in the sporting goods business for a hundred years and made healthy margins on selling basketballs, footballs and tennis rackets. Over the past several years, not only did competition increase, but the company was competing on price and not quality or brand loyalty. The business realized that if they could make a smart basketball that could keep count of shots made and missed, they could charge 3 times more than their most expensive basketball. If successful, they could increase profit margins, differentiate themselves from the competition and apply the same strategy to their other products.

The sporting goods company realized quickly that they could not create smart products based on the technology they had available. They also realized that buying new hardware and software to support their big bet would significantly reduce their profit margins. The only real option was to look at the higher level cloud services from Microsoft Azure and determine if those services could do what they needed. The company settled on the Azure IoT suite to handle all of the sensor traffic from the basketball to Azure table storage. The company also used Azure App Services to create a mobile application that would allow anyone who purchased a smart basketball to login and see their statistics. The entire solution was created using higher level cloud service which significantly reduced their costs and allowed them to be more agile.

Companies will continue to support on-premises infrastructure and move existing workloads to low-level cloud services for several years to come. However, high-level cloud services are the future of cloud computing. They will reduce the barrier of entry for many companies and Microsoft will lead this effort by continuing to commoditize traditional platforms into higher level managed services.

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