5 Things to Consider Before Signing Up to Microsoft Azure

23rd May 2016

The cloud offers huge potential for businesses to reduce their costs with a number of useful applications that range from simple document storage and back-up through to virtual machines and application hosting, giving organisations greater flexibility over traditional physical infrastructures.

According to the 2016 State of the Cloud Study by Right Scale, 95% of the businesses they surveyed now use cloud resources in a variety of ways. Whether using it to create an additional computing reserve or as the core of their overall IT strategy, the growth of cloud adoption over the past few years has been huge.

Key drivers of this, such as the reduced cost of entry and the rise of SaaS as the dominant model for business software, have led to a mature and well informed marketplace with options available for businesses of most sizes.

A focus on appealing to established businesses over the past two years has led to Microsoft’s Azure platform achieving a 17% market share in the public cloud, just behind Amazon.

A big part of that success has been the way in which Azure integrates with other Microsoft products such as SharePoint, which is helping to draw customers to the platform from other providers such as Amazon or Google.

Whether your business is taking the first steps into a cloud infrastructure or you’re considering a change to the Azure cloud, there are a number of things that you need to consider in order to get a successful outcome:

Where is your data stored?

For most purposes, Azure, or other public cloud solutions are a solid choice. You get access to effectively unlimited computer resources, along with the reliability and resilience that comes with multiple global data centres.

However, the public cloud isn’t always suitable. Certain types of data need to be stored in UK data centres, which rules out many of the larger public cloud providers. At present the Azure data centres for Western Europe are located in Ireland and the Netherlands, although there are plans to construct a UK data centre during 2016.

A means of overcoming these data storage requirements is the use of hybrid cloud solutions, whereby sensitive data is stored in the UK while other information is cloud based in a remote data centre, and they are increasingly common. In fact, according to the Right Scale survey mentioned above, around 77% of businesses use a hybrid solution.

Alternatively, it is possible to create your own Azure cloud in any data centre with Azure Stack, and manage the infrastructure exactly as you would through Microsoft’s own platform.

What is your budget?

While it’s well documented that the cloud offers cost savings over traditional infrastructure, costs can still mount up.

With Azure, as with all cloud providers, you essentially pay for a virtual infrastructure, buying a specific number of virtual machines in the cloud that are designed and specified to replicate and replace the existing physical infrastructure to host applications and data. Cloud costs are lower, but they are comparable and can build quickly as you add more storage over time.

Igroup developed a software suite called Cloud Control which is designed to manage cloud usage. It works by switching resources on and off as needed. This reduces expenditure and can have a significant impact on monthly costs, but a serious migration to the cloud will still require investment.

What Service and Support Do You Need?

In most cases, an in-house IT infrastructure team will have exceptional knowledge of the systems that your business already uses, however the skillset for cloud is different and a shortfall in key areas can lead to increased costs and lower performance.

Even when the virtual machines set up to run specific applications are built to match physical servers there can still be differences in performance and unexpected quirks. It is important to ensure that your support team are fully trained in the technology, or can work with a managed services provider who can fill the skill gap adequately.

Cloud infrastructure companies like Microsoft do have support available, but often it is via public forums or email rather than by telephone. Choosing a partner who offers full technical support is essential in plugging any skills gap you may discover and ensures an overall, smoother performance.

How Will You Manage Identity?

Virtual networks offer many possibilities for streamlining application access using a single sign-on. A properly configured system will allow users to access all applications they need without logging in multiple times to improve communications and collaboration across departments.

The way identities are managed in the cloud differs depending on your provider and matching user information across complex hybrid cloud architectures can be problematic.

Solutions that don’t use true, federation of identity technologies can result in users being unable to access certain information at the right time and it may also present a security risk. As such, it is important to consider whether your cloud platform provides Active Directory functionality and whether it can be deployed correctly.

For more information about how Identity Management in the cloud can be handled, please request our white paper.

What Security Do You Need?

Data is an increasingly valuable commodity for businesses and any loss of it, whether due to machine failure or unauthorised access can cause major issues.

Two years ago, security was the primary barrier for businesses moving to the cloud but this is no longer the case. According to a variety of surveys, cost is now the biggest concern.

Cloud security comes in two parts:

  • Data storage
  • Data access

The way your data is stored and backed-up creates resilience. Most public cloud providers, including Microsoft, have multiple copies of your files which are synced together. If one part of the data centre fails, you should not experience any actual data loss. Indeed, as data is spread across multiple data centres, even a total failure should have minimal impact and this reliable and secure storage and back-up facility is one of the primary motivations for businesses to choose larger providers.

As noted above, identity is a key part of data access but so is avoiding malware. Virtual machines require the same level of scrutiny and proactive security as traditional servers; you will need anti-virus and malware software installed on your VMs to protect them and also have monitoring in place to prevent unauthorised access.

At igroup, our Cloud Control software handles security patches at an OS level to keep servers extra secure and we can also provide additional back-ups to protect information and application data in real time.

If you’d like to talk to one of our consultants to find out more about how Microsoft Azure and Cloud Control can help your business become more efficient, please call us today on 0207 099 0632.

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