Windows Azure Ruling the Roost

Advait Kulkarni, IT Director, Cetera Financial Group
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Advait Kulkarni, IT Director, Cetera Financial Group

Microsoft has been a dominant industry player coming up with solutions to solve enterprise issues around ERP and CRM solutions. MS Azure is Microsoft’s answer to industry demand for Cloud solutions needed for enterprise applications.

Microsoft Azure is an open, flexible, enterprise-grade cloud computing platform for building, deploying, and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers. It provides both IaaS and PaaS services and supports many different programming languages, tools and frameworks, including both Microsoft-specific and third-party software and systems.

Ongoing Trends

There are some definite trends shaping up around Azure Web and Mobile Space, Intelligent Analytics, IoT usage and Security in the B2C space.

As enterprises grapple with the ideas around complex business processes to be moved into the cloud, there is a need for a scalable integration platform as a service model. Microsoft’s Logic Apps provide this capability whether you wanted to connect with systems solely in the cloud or across systems on premise. It helps in implementing patterns and workflows seamlessly, that would otherwise be difficult to implement in code. As the trend for exposing API as a service gathers steam, API Apps help to integrate any API that enterprises have, in any language to be migrated as-is and move it to the cloud.

  The Cloud provider should have the vision and roadmap that will bring you forward 

In the space of intelligent analytics, involving big data, there is a need to implement Predictive real-time business solutions that can process large amounts of data at a quick pace. Quite a few organizations have achieved this using Spark in Azure HDInsight.

The industry is seeing a big surge in cognitive computing involving self-learning systems that use data mining, pattern recognition and natural language processing to mimic the way the human brain works. This has been an ongoing development using integration of vision, speech, language, knowledge and Search APIs into enterprise applications to get more insight into customer behavior and segmentation. Azure Cognitive services is a collection of such services that help enterprise applications to see, hear, interpret, and interact in more human ways.

Azure AD B2C is the latest in the suite of services meant for consumer facing and mobile applications. With the right security model behind it, this highly available global service can scale to large numbers on demand in a short time span.

Challenges Facing Azure

While the adoption rate for Microsoft Azure has increased manifold in the last three years, there are some challenges that Azure continues to address. Most of the clients start with adoption of the Azure features in a limited POC, evaluation or test capacity but most of these engagements fail to make it to the Production environments. There is some amount of learning curve to get familiarized with Azure Management console and the knowledge needed to make it truly secure and scalable. Organizations find it difficult to manage system operations for varied operations and need help from Azure specialists to implement.

If you are using Microsoft Azure for IaaS needs there is a need to understand the Network provisioning needed for getting this implemented especially needed if you are trying to use a Hybrid approach. This is the most realistic use case in most scenarios. Application architecture compatibility is also a very important factor while moving to Azure as far as costs are concerned. Using best practices in Microsoft Azure is absolutely needed for utilizing the best features of the Azure environment. For example, there is little support for Session Affinity in Azure. Interfacing with COM based or non Http based protocol application could be an issue.

A Good Fit for Azure

Companies which have background in Microsoft technologies, where there is a need to move from on-premise to Cloud are a good candidate for Azure implementations.

If your organization is one that heavily favors a capital-based financial model over an operational one, Azure services are always a subscription, and you never own anything except the data itself.

Regulatory compliance issues, such as HIPAA, SOX, PCI DSS, and the myriad of other legal requirements, are something a lot of organizations struggle with. Microsoft Azure can help with these types of issues.

MS Azure is well suited in areas where you require heavy Disaster Recovery or Business continuity needs. It has ability to triplicate your data in different centers and manage copies thereby helping organizations to manage the tasks independently.

If you are a small to medium sized enterprise, there is a frequent need to keep spinning up resources or services as you need them. This is also a very good suitable candidate in case of Startup systems.

Competiton

There are several companies competing with Microsoft in this space:
• Amazon
• Google
• IBM
• Oracle
• Rackspace

For companies that do not have any specific need for IaaS but would like to focus on PaaS or SaaS needs there are a bunch of other industry specific cloud technologies that are coming up and would be competing with these vendors for offerings.

Advice to CIOs

Azure continues to make great strides in usage in competition with Amazon. Despite being a laggard, it has captured a lot of lost ground and has the potential to address a lot of the enterprise issues plaguing the industry today.

Technology

First and foremost, the Cloud service has to match your technology set. The service has to integrate with your existing back end, and the method of integration and APIs have to fit your way of operating - and they especially have to fit your security model. Azure has most of the technologies covered and is a good candidate in this regard.

Lock-in

Make sure the degree to which you'll be locked into the service is acceptable. Azure is flexible and does not tie organizations down. You are open to switch cloud providers as and when you feel the need.

Scale

Make sure the convenience and scale of the cloud offering and the maturity of the provider are inline with organizational requirements. For most scenarios, Azure provides a good fitment in this.

Security

The Cloud service has to provide the level of security your industry needs. CIOs increasingly recognize that big public cloud providers may be as good or even better in some cases than whatever they can do on-premises. Most major cloud providers are getting a lot better at demonstrating compliance with regional, national and international regulations around data security and privacy. Azure continues to incorporate most domain data security standards and does not seem to have any obvious gaps to fill.

Roadmap

The Cloud provider should have the vision and roadmap that will bring your corporation forward. Azure has not only made up for its lost time but coming up with new offerings attractive to non-Microsoft shops. It is also making big strides in IoT space and Big Data scenarios.

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