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TechnologyFeb 03, 2011

Windows Azure: When do I use it?

Trent Sutton

When we first began having conversations with our clients about implementing their solution on Windows Azure, we realized there were some very common misconceptions out there.  It may take a lot of research and repeated tire kicking until your toes are black and blue before you can come to a very simple conclusion on Windows Azure.  The choice to use this Platform-as-a-Service is more about you and your enterprise than it is about the Azure offering.  Windows Azure leverages three basic components to provide a platform for deploying custom solutions for virtually endless business scenarios.  Simply put, if you are developing a custom solution, consider Windows Azure.  If your initiative involves a packaged solution (like Dynamics or SharePoint), stick to an on-premise deployment or a SaaS solution such as Office 365 or Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online, depending upon your need.  Contrary to natural misconceptions, you cannot install packaged applications on this form of Windows.

The three core components of Azure include:

  • Windows Azure – For computing, storage, content delivery network, connectivity, and scaling

  • SQL Azure – For relational databases, reporting, and data synchronization

  • AppFabric – For integration, cloud based service busses, and access control

Solutions can be comprised of one or all of the components and may be used interchangeably with on premise components in a hybrid environment.  For instance, an on premise application may leverage SQL Azure for storage and data sharing with its partners through the cloud.  An Azure based web application may utilize on premise data or AppFabric may be used to connect multiple Azure apps, on premise solutions, and third party web services.

Any custom solution may be a candidate for Windows Azure. 

  • Scalable web applications

  • Web applications with background processes (collaborative or asynchronous)

  • Application hosting

  • Applications requiring occasional peak loads

  • Parallel processing applications

  • High performance computing

  • Media processing

  • Cloud storage accessible from on premise or hosted solutions

  • Information sharing

  • Application integration

  • Integration with clients or partners

  • SaaS solutions

The decision should be made based upon your previous financial commitments and any regulatory compliance issues pertaining to your industry.  If you just purchased 18 servers to act as your QA and Production application environments, it probably only makes sense to move to Azure as this hardware requires replacement.  If you are in a highly regulated industry such as Healthcare or Financial Services you are likely highly concerned with data security.  The Azure data centers use a layered security model and regular 3rd party audits to ensure the highest levels of confidence are achieved.  Certifications include SaaS 70, ISO 27002, and Verizon’s Security Management Program.  There are already numerous governmental, financial Services, and healthcare case studies that support an increasing trust in Azure’s security model.

Think of the Azure model as a means for deploying custom solutions that achieve greater efficiencies, service levels, and economies.  As long as you have the appropriate architectural and technical expertise on Windows Azure, any application becomes a candidate.

For further analysis, the following links are helpful:

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