Microsoft Azure: Option Evaluation

Microsoft Azure, Hybrid Cloud, Azure

Previous articles in this series on Microsoft Azure have covered:

In post 5, we consider Microsoft option evaluation.

Knowing Your Destination

Moving to Azure is not an ‘all-or-nothing’ decision. A range of options are available as summarised in Figure 1 below.

At the planning stage, it is important to undertake a detailed cost-benefit analysis of the various options available. This should include an evaluation of the wider business benefits to be derived, not just costs. Key issues affecting option choice will include flexibility, scalability, customisation, control, costs, reliability and ease of migration.

Figure 1: Cloud Options

Cloud Options

Private Cloud

A single-tenant environment where the hardware, storage and network are dedicated to a single client. Hosting can be on or off-premise.

With on-premise private clouds, the hardware and data are located in an on-premise datacentre.

As the client ‘owns’ and controls the hardware, private clouds do not provide the cost savings and efficiency offered by the public cloud due to the initial capital expense and on-going operational costs involved. However, on-premise private clouds can still be an attractive option when certain applications or data cannot be moved off premise because of security or governance reasons.

Organisations choosing this option can still enjoy the full benefits offered by Azure and the cloud paradigm. Azure Stack, an extension of Azure, brings the agility of cloud computing to on-premise environments, allowing organisations to deliver Azure services from their own datacentres.

Public Cloud

A multi-tenant environment where the client buys a ‘server slice’ in a cloud computing environment shared with other tenants; generally delivered through a utility model or pay-as-you-go basis.

In the public cloud model, the cloud vendor, not the client, manages and maintains the hardware. This has the advantage of freeing client IT resources from the mundane tasks of system backup, network maintenance, patches and software upgrades. The provider is responsible for keeping everything running and adhering to Service-Level Agreements (SLAs). The client only pays for what they use.

There are three distinct types of public cloud service available for organisations considering this option:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Where applications are simply moved from on-premise to the cloud. Being the easiest migration strategy, leading to immediate cost savings, IaaS has been one of the most common cloud deployment patterns to date as it significantly reduces the time between purchasing and deployment. Because it is the most similar to how IT operates today, it can also help to overcome initial resistance to the cloud internally, acting as a staging post for further development. The downside is that your operations staff still need to perform tasks such as patch management, updates, and upgrades.

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)

The above burden can be removed from your internal IT department by using a PaaS deployment model. With the cloud provider maintaining all system software, the client is free to focus on deploying its code on the PaaS machines. The cloud provider ensures that operating systems, database software, integration software and other features are maintained, kept up-to-date and delivered at a high service level agreement (SLA).

  • Software as a Service (SaaS)

Where the organisation simply rents an application from a vendor, such as Microsoft Office 365, for email and productivity. This is by far the most cost-effective of all the options. The only work involved for the IT department is provisioning users and data, integrating the application with single sign-on (SSO). Typically, SaaS applications are used for functions not requiring customised applications.

The Hybrid Cloud

On premise private v. public cloud is not an ‘either/or’ choice. Indeed, hybrid configurations are emerging as the most common cloud deployment option for many organisations.

In hybrid configurations, some applications run in the cloud with others remaining on-premise. A secure, high-speed communications path is established between the two environments allowing the cloud to become an extension of the existing datacentre, and vice versa.

In the hybrid option, the public and private clouds are not separate entities but part of a continuous programmable service that can be mixed and matched to fit your organisation’s unique needs.

Microsoft Azure has been designed to work with other cloud and on-premise solutions. A well-documented set of APIs ensures there are no dead-ends because of incompatibilities.

By combining public and private clouds, the hybrid option opens a wide range of possibilities for combining the best of both worlds.

Azure provides solutions for all cloud computing deployment types. This gives businesses more freedom to use Azure where and how they want to. Each individual organisation can determine the amount of control that they want to have over applications and data.

Your Journey to the Cloud

Given the range of options available, and within the context of knowing your ultimate destination, an incremental, staged approach to cloud migration can be adopted. An approach where new cloud software and solutions are implemented over time within the context of a well-defined cloud strategy and action plan.

Part 6 in this series examines ‘Your Journey to the Cloud’.