Taking Your First Steps into the Cloud with Microsoft Azure
Working for different cloud providers for the past six or so years, I’ve seen some major changes in how the conversation has gone. Early on, most of the conversations I was involved in revolved around, “What is this ‘cloud’ thing I keep hearing about?” This evolved into “How do I get started in the cloud?” and then moved toward conversations around deeper strategy of how to effectively leverage the cloud in the enterprise. While the conversation has progressed, there are still many who have trepidation about moving from the comfort of their data centers or secured colocation services to something that can come across as nebulous and abstract as “the cloud.” If you’re part of this group, this article is for you.
Your hesitation is understandable. I mean, you could be giving up a lot of control over critical systems that are your responsibility. There are more regulations around data today than ever before and knowing if making major changes to your environment risks noncompliance can be a challenge. But, the evidence is there – the cloud is not going anywhere. It is the next evolution of computing. Actually, it is the current evolution of computing. We are past the early adopter phase and cloud services are clearly moving toward mainstream. Microsoft’s most recent quarterly earnings show that cloud services are still in high growth. Most enterprises aren’t asking “if” cloud but “when.” A Gartner article from 2016 makes the point that by 2020 a “No Cloud” corporate policy will be as common as a “No Internet” policy is today.
So, how do you get started? How do you dip a toe in the waters? In the past, most enterprises would look to start with systems like email. Cloud-based email services like Office 365 Exchange Online are mature, proven platforms at this point, and are prepared to handle customers of any size with any regulatory needs. This is an easy place to start, and is effective, but there are other areas to bank on the cloud while minimizing risks. Some of the more popular cloud entrance points include storage, backup and disaster recovery and hybrid computing.
Expanding your cloud footprint
On-premises storage, while it has gotten cheaper, still is not cheap. There are a lot of costs involved in expanding storage systems, and many times it is for data that is not actively in use. However, there is a new generation of storage that takes advantage of the cloud. The idea is to ease management while allowing your data to live wherever it belongs.
Meanwhile, backup vendors are looking at the cloud as an opportunity for their customers to end the dependence on tapes. The general rule of thumb for backups is the “3-2-1 Rule,” which says: three copies of your backups, on two different types of media, one copy in a different location. While tape has satisfied this rule in a relatively affordable way for years, actually decades, the cloud provides an opportunity to end the reliance on the volatile media. Any administrator who attempts to restore old tapes always sweats a little hoping those tapes are still functional. Those restores can take hours, days, possibly longer depending on the condition of the media. Almost every major backup vendor today offers an alternative that removes that dependence. Add-on software to existing backup solutions makes it easy to target cloud storage for off-site copies of backup data.
So, the first two ways I’ve reviewed to utilize the cloud focus on what are low-profile or non-production solutions. Getting beyond storage and backup, hybrid computing offers a way to start using the cloud without making drastic changes. New releases of products, such as Microsoft SQL Server 2016 and its ability to share databases across on-prem and Azure SQL using its StrechDB technology, begin to blur the lines between on-prem and cloud. While most products focus on extending the data center to the cloud, only one is focusing on extending the cloud into the data center – Microsoft Azure Stack.
Microsoft Azure Stack is an upcoming solution in conjunction with major hardware providers that will bring a flavor of Azure into the data center that will also connect to Azure. This solution enables enterprises that aren’t yet ready to make the move to the cloud to take that first step. It offers the flexibility to move between on-prem and the cloud as needed when the time comes. Administrators will love this because they only need to learn one interface for management of both environments. The power of local computing for time-sensitive information is combined with the growth and elasticity of the cloud, all in one interface. This is the ultimate in hybrid environments, and has the potential to change how the data center is defined.
If you have not yet considered the cloud for any of these types of solutions because you don’t think the cloud is right for your company, or you don’t know where to start, think about this. No one virtualized their environment 100% immediately. In fact, many companies that consider themselves fully virtualized probably have a couple of physical systems floating around. Companies that moved to colocation services still have some local servers. Few companies will be 100% cloud. But almost every company will have some percentage of cloud services.
If you want to talk about where to begin, reaching out to Arraya’s Microsoft Sales team is a great place to start. In addition, I will be covering hybrid cloud solutions including the ones discussed above at our 2017 Tech Summit on June 8th. I encourage you to attend to learn more about this and many other great topics.