World Wide Azure (Part 1)

Azure Cloud is the fastest growing cloud provider in the world and gaining to the champion Amazon Web Services. Just like AWS, the offering spans the horizon and can be intimidating at first glance. Posted by erwinkarim on 8:54 AM, February 5, 2021 Last updated on 2:15 PM, February 10, 2021 Filed in: azure, cloud computing, platform-as-a-service, cloud,

Cloud computing has gone a long way from hosting website in Geocities to help run fully online Fortune 500 internet companies like Netlix, Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Cloud computing has existed in some form by providing some patchwork services since the first days of internet and took a sudden turn when Amazon decided to sell server time and storage space online in 2006. And the rest is basically history.


Azure growth up to 2019

Azure is Microsoft entry into the cloud computing business. Although late into the party in 2010 and has to fight large incumbents like Amazon and Google, Azure business has grown leaps and bound and furthermore than their competitors. It has been the leading competitor against the king of the hill Amazon with their AWS offering.

Just like their competitors, Azure has grown into a alphabet soup of features and offerings that may confuse the newcomers who just wanted to know what is Azure is selling. This guide will be a navigation map of Azure so identifying things would be a breeze. Cloud computing today, has gone further than just hosting data to replicating your entire server room to programmatically use data center as a service.


Azure Service Offerings can be daunting at first, but once you master the basics, everything else add up

This will be a multipart series discussion about cloud computing in general and Azure platform in particular.

Overview

Imagine that you are using your computer. Imagine that entire computer instead residing on your desk, it’s miles away in a data center some where around the world. All the is connect you to the computer is the internet. That is cloud computing.


Azure Data Centers around the globe. Your entire IT infrastructure can be put in any of these locations.

From small companies to large enterprises, they need computers to run the business from servers to store information as a shared folder or a database to network equipment to connect the computers to the end users. They put all the servers inside a server room that is sometimes call the Data Center. All the end user need to do is connect to a server or an app to connect to the computers in the Data Center. Now imagine that instead of the servers are in the data center at your own building, imagine an entire server room is inside a huge data center somewhere around the world. All you need to do is connect to those servers. If the internet is fast enough, it does not matter where the servers at. That is cloud computing.


Moving from on-premise system to cloud systems. The idea is to translate what's in the on-premise system to cloud systems.

The Basics

The easiest way to think about cloud providers is to think about your server closet, or data center and translate that into Azure Cloud Computing Platform. At the very basic level, Azure and other cloud provider can replace all of your servers and network equipment on one-to-one basis.


Typical Network diagram of a coprate network. Azure can replace everything in here.

Equivalent Service

Here are the typical IT and Network equipment that you might find in your home or office and what Azure service can do the replace them.

On-Premise Azure Service
Servers
  • Virtual Machines
  • Images
  • Hosts
Network equipment (routers, switches and firewall)
  • Virtual Networks
  • Virtual WANs
  • Route Tables
  • IP Groups
  • Firewall / Firewall Manager
Application Servers
  • Pre-existing images in the Marketplace
  • Customized Image
Database Servers
  • SQL Servers and Databases
  • Azure DB for MySQL / PostgreSQL
  • SQL Managed instance
Storage / File Servers
  • Storage Accounts
  • Data Share
End User's PC Virtual Desktop

Of course Azure offering goes much more than that, but it is outside of the scope of this article.

Servers


We start with the servers because that is the typical replacement target for cloud computing. Azure servers at the most basic level is call Virtual Machines (VMs). Virtual Machines are images of a server that you rent that is run from another physical server. You can customized the image so when you boot up the server with this image, every configuration and software installation is intact. You can also purchase or use an image that is created by someone else in the marketplace. Some of the good features of the marketplace is that you can purchase images of VMs that has all the complicated software pre-installed so you save a lot of time.

If you need an entire server for yourself for any reason, they call that bare metal server. It is basically renting an entire server solely to yourself. Usually this kind of configuration is very expensive and for most of the time, it is not recommended.


VMs in a nutshell. You run images of your server on top of a physical machine. If you want the physical machines, they are called bare metal or hosts.

Another configuration that you can use is the Virtual Desktop. Instead of having an instance of a server that you can use, you can have a desktop in a preexisting server that you can use. This kind of solution is useful if you want to run as a user instead of a server. An example scenario is that for Oil and Gas which traditionally use expensive workstations, you can deploy Virtual Desktop to normal laptops for the end user. The end user gets the power of a workstation, but connected through a user’s laptop. This save costs for large organizations that uses a lot of workstations.

Storage


A typical use of a server is to store files for a department or a group of users. The storage use case is so common that there are companies that specialized in providing massive storage solution for thousands and perhaps millions of users. Azure, just like any other cloud computing provider has storage solution that can scale to millions of users.


Types of storage in Azure

The way Azure store data is different than the typical file server that is common in most on-premise data center. For the typical storage, it is called file storage which the name implies, store files in the traditonal manner.

The other storage is a specialized version to cater for the data it hold. A simple description would be:-

  • Queue Storage - holds messages from other devices
  • Table Storage - hold database tables
  • Blob Storage - Binary Large Objects like pictures and such
  • File Storage - Traditional file share
  • Disk Storage - You have a partition to a disk which you can connect to server(s).

Some benefits of storage on the cloud is the scale that it can handle. Since they have data centers around the globe, you can replicate your data to multiple sites and have everybody load said data from there. There are other storage concepts like glacial data, storage lake and data box that is beyond the scope of this article.

Network


When you buy a home internet plan from an Internet Service Provider, some technician will come and install a modem which will bring the internet to your home and a Wi-Fi router so all of your devices can connect to the internet. In a corporate environment, the network equipment is much more complicated depending on the size of the company. The goal is to have all of you computers and other devices like printers and servers connected and able to communicate with each other.

When moving to the cloud like Azure, you can have the same configuration like what you have in a corporate environment. All the networking is configurable just like what you have in a corporate environment. Say that you have multiple servers and users, you can split up the network so a group of server can only be seen by a group of users and so on and so forth. You can also control which computers can available on the internet while the other server will only be inside the cloud. Such arrangement is common in corporate environment.


The Azure networking services provides every aspect of network topology such as above.

Database


3 layer application model which is common in almost all business / web application. Clients on the left, data is in the right.

In a typical business application solution, you would have three things: clients, application server(s) and database server(s). The client will typical launch an application which connects to the application servers and the application will pull loads of data from the database server.

Microsoft already has its enterprise database solution called SQL Server and that is available on the Azure. Other than that, Azure has implemented open source solutions such as PostgreSQL and MySQL. If you running on Oracle or DB2, you need to create a virtual machine to run those instances, which will cost significantly higher.

Conclusion

Azure offerings spans an entire wall and at first glance, it can be intimidating. However, if you peel from the basics, it is not much different than what a normal IT department can handle. You can basically translate every IT equipment in your home or office such as PCs, servers, databases, storage and network equipment to the cloud equivalent. All you need to do is figure out which Azure services are the cloud equivalent of your IT equipment. Unlike Amazon or Google, Microsoft choose legacy names for ease of translation. Once the basics is covered, you can later go cover the more advanced offering which can turn multiple servers in a data center into a single large entity.


Cloud provider goals is to put every servers to the cloud.

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