The Basics

How Does Microsoft Azure Work?

Microsoft Azure has become a popular choice amongst IT professionals seeking a comprehensive cloud application platform. Here’s a quick overview of the fundamentals of Microsoft Azure, keeping in mind that the platform is growing all the time.

The Management Portal

The Management Portal is Microsoft Azure’s web-based user interface (UI). It’s where administrators can access the majority of the features. Due to the ever-evolving nature of Microsoft Azure, the UI is frequently updated, so new releases are uploaded in beta via the Azure Preview Portal. At the same time, Microsoft continues with the existing UI, allowing you to test and familiarise yourself with new releases.

This gives you the best of both worlds, as you can access the features of the latest UI while still using your existing one.

Virtual Machines

More organisations are progressing toward creating virtual machines on demand, and Microsoft Azure’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has drawn favourable reports. To make this work, you’ll have one or many Virtual Hard Drives (VHDs), which are stored in what Azure calls storage blobs. These come complete with bootable operating systems including Microsoft, Linux, and SQL Server, among others.

Once you’ve chosen your VHD from Microsoft Azure’s gallery of stock, you can use this to specify a Virtual Machine (VM) of the right size. You can also copy the content of your VHD into your local machine. VMs are paid for by the minute and only while you’re using them. Similarly, there’s a small charge for use of the VHD.

Websites

Microsoft Azure takes the management of cloud-created websites out of your hands, giving you more time to create content. You can either create the website in the cloud or migrate it into the cloud at a later stage. You can then choose whether you run your own VM for your website or share a VM with others.

Popular software platforms such as .Net, Java, and PHP are available, as are many others, and popular applications such as WordPress and Drupal are supported.

Cloud Services

The idea behind this is that you can build an application in the cloud that can be used by numerous people simultaneously. You can also do this without fear of losing your work or being tied up with administrative duties. Azure’s cloud services work alongside VM’s and Azure Websites to facilitate this, executing via the code language you’ve chosen for the application you’ve created.

The application itself is kept on one of Azure’s data management systems and is scalable as user needs change.

Data Management

Microsoft has created a multi-faceted approach to data management and storage to account for the variation in data requirements across numerous applications. Azure takes care of relational data storage through their SQL database, which is similar but more extensive than the SQL server database you may be used to.

Like the standard SQL server database, all standard relational database management features still exist and are accessible through familiar data access technologies. However, the magic lies in the fact that Azure’s SQL database takes care of the tedious administrative tasks such as hardware management and software updates while still allowing you full control over access.

The standard SQL database operates on shared hardware but a premium option is available which allows you to operate your own dedicated server.

Storage Tables and Storage Blobs

Storage tables work when you have a lot of typed information that doesn’t require relational storage. While complex operations aren’t supported, the goal is to allow fast access to this data while offering scalable storage that can hold up to one terabyte.

Azure Blobs are similar, and designed to hold unstructured binary data such as video files. This is the same storage feature that handles VM and Azure Website backups.

Data Migration, File Sharing, and Networking

Microsoft hasn’t forgotten the real world with Azure. If you’re concerned that migrating your files to Azure will take too much time and bandwidth, you have the ability to physically send your encrypted files to Microsoft for upload. Microsoft will then store your data in Azure blobs, allowing you to then log on and allocate them to their preferred storage destinations.

This data and any applications can also be shared across numerous VMs for user collaboration. You’ll find this vital if you need to diagnose, test, debug, or develop across multiple users. You can also network this data and route traffic internationally, across private, secure networks. Microsoft Azure operates international datacentres to support this.

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