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How to Find the Perfect Fit for Your Microsoft Azure Support Plan

Abstract

Azure technology has become a critical aspect of many modern businesses. If you don’t have the required Azure support in place, you’re leaving a fundamental part of your business at risk of failure.

But, with so many moving parts, how can you determine what adequate support for your cloud infrastructure should look like?

Here we break down the options and examine their pros and cons. This should then give you the information you need to make an informed choice based on your business needs.

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Index

Introduction

As a result of the global shift to remote work over the past two years, cloud adoption has sky-rocketed.

The changes in how we work during the COVID-19 pandemic forced many of us to make rushed decisions when asking this question:

“How do you securely deliver your IT infrastructure into your employees’ homes and on to their mobile devices?”

For many businesses, the answer was to accelerate cloud migrations and implementations. Of course, that was more of a necessity than a choice, made to keep operations running and maintain business continuity.

But such changes to the way we work have caused other things to change as well.

  • The workforce now expects seamless access to their applications and IT systems at home, from personal devices, and on the move.
  • Customers now want instant, on-demand delivery of information, services, products, content, and anything else available to them in a digital context.

If you’re running your critical applications and business processes in the cloud, you simply cannot afford any down-time, sub-par performance, or security issues.

So, what does this all mean?

It means that having proper cloud support in place is crucial for maintaining confidence that your business operations will continue to run as expected.

Despite this, many businesses still aren’t receiving sufficient levels of cloud support. Some aren’t even aware that’s the situation they’re in.

If this is resonating with you, there’s no need to panic, because you’re not alone.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the options available for Azure support, weigh up the pros and cons of each, and help you understand the best approach to take for your business.

 

While this article focuses on the Microsoft Azure cloud specifically, the majority of the information here will be relevant for any cloud platform.

However, if you’re an Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud user, you can read our article exploring that platform by clicking here.

What Microsoft Azure Support do You Have?

Don’t fall into the common pitfall of assuming that because you’ve invested in the cloud it will automatically come with full Azure support plan.

Microsoft is your cloud provider who supplies you with virtual IT infrastructure. That comes in the form of the cloud platform, Azure.

But maintaining and supporting that infrastructure is a separate responsibility. That’s where many businesses, especially those who had to implement a cloud solution at short notice during the 2020 lockdowns, are now facing challenges.

The infrastructure-as-a-service model of the cloud means that Microsoft is just giving you a subscription to its technology. Everything else is done in addition to that, including your procurement of full support to ensure everything performs as expected.

When to Review Your Cloud Support Situation

If you’re unsure your existing Azure support plan is sufficient, or you’re unaware of what support you actually have in place, it would be wise to review and re-assess if you’re in any of the following scenarios:

  • If you’re unsatisfied with your existing cloud support service
  • If your costs have been higher than expected or are getting out of control
  • If your costs are too unpredictable in an unfamiliar OpEx model
  • If your cloud was implemented by a partner with no ongoing support included
  • If the Azure platform updates from Microsoft are causing you problems
  • If your in-house team has taken on the responsibility without having the necessary skills
  • If you have an in-house employee responsible for cloud support who is leaving the business
  • If you’re experiencing business growth and your cloud support can no longer keep up.

So, where should you get your cloud support from?

The best option for cloud support will be unique to your individual business, as no two organisations are the same.

It’s important to take a forensic look at your IT infrastructure, how it’s being used, and what options are viable within your budget. Then you can make an informed decision which will cover you moving forward.

In the next section, we’ll help you evaluate the options and offer some guidance for what you need.

Cloud support should minimise risk and give you full confidence in your cloud systems. By the end of this article, you’ll understand the best way to make that a reality.

What Are the Options for Azure Support?

There are several options for Azure support you can choose from. It’s likely you may even have some level of existing arrangement in place with one of these:

1. Getting Azure Support Directly from Microsoft

Microsoft does offer some free Azure support for its cloud customers.

This is mostly a safety net for you in your early adoption of the cloud. Beneath the surface, however, it doesn’t give you much value other than the basics.

This is mostly delivered through a range of online resources such as forums, wikis, documentation, and impersonal contact with a (typically very busy) help desk.

If you have a live cloud deployment, Microsoft also offers a cloud support service based on a ticketing system for troubleshooting your case.

If you’re an enterprise-level customer, there is a more substantial cloud support service available, but it comes at a very high cost and is usually available to organisations of a certain size only.

The Azure support plans are organised into four tiers:

  • Basic
  • Developer
  • Standard
  • Professional Direct
  • Enterprise - restricted service with entry requirements 
inclarity

Case study: inclarity

Managing & supporting existing Azure infrastructure to reduce costs and increase reliability.

A telecoms provider with a cloud based solution.

Read the full case study

 

 

2. Working with a Partner

This is the most common option. In fact, you may even have a partner in place already to support your Azure cloud environment, as Microsoft does encourage you to leverage its technology partners within the cloud ecosystem.

These organisations come in all shapes and sizes, offering a variety of services and support packages. Partners are essentially there to prevent Microsoft from having to get too hands-on with its customers.

Through its partner programme for Azure support, Microsoft matches you with organisations at the appropriate level for the size of your organisation or your cloud investment.

 

Small Specialist Partners or Consultants

These are usually one-man bands, or small teams made up of just a few people.

When working with a partner like this, you’re basically using them to add a member to your IT team who will be available when you need them. But the reliability of that person will be limited, because they’ll always be committed to other clients as well, with only a finite amount of time available.

These partners won’t have the ability to scale the services, either. So, if your business begins to grow, and your cloud systems need to grow with it, the level of support your partner can give you could create challenges. Read our article about Azure consultants here.

 

Medium-Sized Partners

The mid-tier partners will be made up of several teams, often focusing on certain areas of the cloud or different specialisms.

For instance, some partners maybe have teams that solely focus on certain Microsoft products, like SharePoint or Dynamics CRM.

You should make sure you’re getting the right expertise to meet the specific requirements of your unique cloud infrastructure.

Another key thing to be aware of is that medium-sized partners usually operate on a project or consultancy basis, where support is provided by a dedicated team assigned to you.

This is preferable in comparison to the support offered by Microsoft directly.

 

Large-Scale Partners

The larger Azure support partners tend to have a close working relationship with Microsoft. They may even be the direct re-seller who you procured your cloud from.

Their processes and best practices will probably mirror Microsoft’s own, and they’ll have a deep pool of resources available to give you comprehensive support.

However, some of these partners are so large, with so many clients, that you’ll run into similar problems to those faced when dealing with Microsoft directly.

It’s also possible these large organisations will have a core business, then recruit smaller specialist partners to provide additional services on a white-label basis.

 

3. Supporting Your Own Azure Cloud Yourself (DIY)

Of course, taking on the responsibility of maintaining and supporting your own cloud deployments via an in-house employee or team is another possibility.

Saving on the investment in a support partner may seem like a cost-effective option at first glance. But you’ll soon find this far more costly than expected. By the time that becomes apparent, it’s often too late.

Taking on the challenge of cloud support internally also involves the highest level of risk in some ways. And the drain on internal resources that you’ll face from full-time cloud management is often unsustainable for smaller and medium-sized businesses.

Another option is hiring a lone consultant to support your team and manage your cloud, based on a daily rate, but these are often very expensive.

The Pros and Cons for Azure Support

It’s vital to find an Azure support service which can meet your business’s specific requirements.

And, of course, there are advantages and disadvantages for each option, some of which will resonate more than others. Here we’ve compared them side-by-side to help make the decision an easier one for you.

Working Directly with Microsoft

Microsoft is a huge global corporation, with hundreds of thousands of customers using its infrastructure-as-a-service offerings.

With that in mind, it’s clear that you won’t receive hands-on support directly from your provider.

 

The Pros:

  • 24-hour support is available
  • They have extensive man-power and technical capabilities that most partners don’t have
  • They have a large global support team with in-depth documentation for you to call on
  • They will automatically keep your cloud environment up-to-date with changes to the platform.

The Cons:

  • You’ll be placed in a long queue any time you have an issue
  • You’ll deal with a different rep every time
  • They’ll know little about your business and your cloud infrastructure
  • They won’t have familiarity with any custom applications you’ve deployed
  • They may mark an issue as resolved after running a number of generic checks, without providing any real help beyond the minimum obligation
  • A provider as big as Microsoft can only offer impersonal service, not specific to your unique issue or need
  • Because of the large number of customers relying on them, the support available is limited to what they see as common ground to offer all their customers
  • If you do take on a more substantial support package, the cost will be extremely high.

 

The verdict?

If your business depends on a global tech giant like Microsoft for your cloud support, the service you receive will often depend on how much you’re able to pay for it.

This option could leave you with only a very basic level of support to rely on, which also means you’re putting yourself at significant risk.

Moreover, the time it will take for them to help you solve a problem will be longer, making it harder to maintain business continuity.

We’d strongly recommend a more attentive, personalised, and cost-effective approach for cloud support, especially for small and medium-sized businesses.

 

Azure Support Partners

Microsoft Partners will be more reliable and helpful than Microsoft will be, in most cases. But it’s important to remember each partner will also be limited by its resources, number of clients, and technical capabilities.

The Pros
  • They’ll have proven best practices and process in place to support your cloud
  • You’ll work with your partner in a similar arrangement to traditional IT support contracts
  • Most partners’ teams will have plenty of valuable expertise and experience
  • You’ll be assigned a dedicated rep who will become familiar with your business
  • If you have a problem, just raise a ticket and they’ll respond ASAP
  • You’ll have assurance of their credibility and capability through their existing clients
  • Many partners will also offer consultancy services for additional projects if you need it.

 

The Cons
  • Most partners will only have one or two cloud experts, and they’ll often be busy with high-profile clients
  • The main way to reach them will be through a support desk, which probably won’t give you access to those more technical people
  • The response times could be longer than you need, depending on the size of the partner
  • They may also have a high volume of clients all demanding their attention
  • They may not have any advanced technology solutions or automation capabilities to optimise your cloud performance
  • If your rep is away from work, you’ll be switched over to an unfamiliar rep who will be learning your business almost from scratch
  • If your partner is hit by any technical issues, it will have a knock-on effect to your own business continuity.

The Verdict?

The approach of working with a support partner is a reasonable option.

It’s often more reliable and cost-effective than working directly with the provider, and you’ll gain a great deal of experience in cloud support.

Microsoft Azure Partners will augment the capability of your in-house IT team, but they can only give you so much time when they’re juggling other clients.

While we’d suggest working with a partner is a preferable option to relying directly on Microsoft, it’s worth doing some more digging to find an even better approach.

 

‘DIY’ Cloud Support

In some businesses, the responsibility of cloud support falls to the in-house IT team.

Circling back to the earlier point of rushed cloud deployments during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the most obvious choice for many of us during the 2020 lockdowns.

If your own cloud support is currently in the hands of an internal developer or IT manager, we appreciate it may have been a stop-gap or necessity at the time. But the risk here is very high.

Even if it’s worked well so far, you will eventually begin to experience challenges in areas such as management, maintenance, performance, and over-spending on monthly costs.

You also need to spend significant time and money training your staff in skills specific to the cloud (or hiring a new employee entirely) for this approach to be successful in the long-term.

The Pros
  • You have full control of your cloud infrastructure, and support is done on your terms
  • With your support team is in-house, you’ll have full visibility into your cloud environment
  • Your business’s issues will be the only priority of your cloud support team
  • You’ll also have transparency into your own capabilities and limitations, allowing you to plan accordingly.

 

The Cons
  • Your employees will require time-consuming training in cloud support which will likely be very expensive
  • Once trained, those people will then be able to command higher pay
  • Those employees could even be poached to leave for a partner or consultancy, and the investment in them would be wasted
  • Even though your support is done internally, you’ll still need to resource three eight-hour shifts if you want 24/7 cloud support, plus holiday cover
  • Every issue and problem you experience will be a new one to your support team, because they’ll be learning as they go
  • Several employees with different specialisms will likely be required for larger IT infrastructures to cover everything
  • As the Azure cloud platform evolves, your cloud support team will need to evolve with it.

 

The Verdict?

Handling cloud support in-house is a risky approach with a long list of potential pitfalls involved.

The key issue here is the amount of time and money you’ll need to invest, just to gain a basic level of support.

Without specialist monitoring and optimisation of your cloud usage, you’ll also be vulnerable to drastic over-spending on your monthly bills. And even if you can afford industry-leading training, your team will still lack experience. With technology as complex as the cloud, this is a position we’d strongly advise against putting yourself in.

 

Introducing igroup CAMS into the Conversation

When you’ve placed your critical applications and business processes in the cloud, you need an Azure support service that will guarantee:

  • Reliability
  • Consistency
  • Accuracy
  • Predictability
  • Efficiency
  • Scalability

It’s rare to be able to achieve all that from any of the three options discussed earlier.

Due to the complexity of the cloud, the support you’ll receive from a normal partner or managed service provider is unlikely to be sufficient, unless you’re able to pay a steep cost. An important element of effective cloud support today is having some form of technology solution as well.

Thankfully, there’s a fourth option available.

  • You don’t need to sit at the back of a long queue, waiting for your support partner to eventually respond to your ticket.
  • You don’t need to train your staff or hire someone new just to get a basic level of support in place.

At igroup, our team has a combined 50+ years of experience in cloud support, along with all the relevant certifications.

All of our professional services are underpinned by our cloud management software CAMS. This allows us to replicate our experience and apply it across all our managed cloud environments 24/7. And that’s all for less than the cost of a partner’s support package, or a fully trained in-house employee.

How can we do that? With CAMS.

CloudOps Active Management Solution (CAMS)

Our CloudOps Active Management Solution (CAMS) was developed by leveraging all our 10 years’ experience supporting and managing complex cloud environments.

CAMS is an easy-to-use, efficient system, which can be tailored to support your unique cloud infrastructure and meet your specific requirements.

It has been designed and automated to give you 24/7 access to:

  • A simple, personalised dashboard to manage your cloud environment
  • Comprehensive automated cloud support processes
  • Fault find and fix services
  • Proactive optimisation of your cloud usage and performance
  • Visibility into cloud spending and guaranteed cost savings
  • Automated reporting and analytics tools
  • In-built risk registers
  • Automated scanning and patching after platform updates.

On top of that, we also provide you with a dedicated contact who will learn your business inside-out, as well as advisory services, guidance, and support.

We take a proactive approach to finding potential issues before they arise, rather than reactive handling of problems after they’ve occurred. This allows us to minimise the loss of business continuity for you.

With our unique combination of experience, expertise, and innovative automation technology, your Azure support will become easier than you ever thought possible.

With CAMS delivering industry-leading capabilities behind the scenes, you’ll have absolute confidence that your cloud environment is always operating at the optimum level.

This gives you total peace of mind, meaning you can stop worrying about your IT systems and focus entirely on doing your job or running your business.

 

Final Thoughts

When it comes to Azure support, there are plenty of options available for you, catering for any size and budget.

But with something as critical as the cloud, it’s important to find the right solution to meet your unique requirements.

The impersonal support available from Microsoft and its larger partners will leave you exposed, while the smaller partners will come with limitations.

Leveraging our sophisticated automation technology and industry-leading expertise, igroup can act as the perfect fit for robust, reliable Azure support.

igroup is Here to Help

Further reading

This article aims to outline the support plan options available from the cloud providers themselves (What are the Azure support plans? / Whats are the AWS support plans?) and their partners (Who are the partners? What do they offer?). Then ask the questions you have, in how it relates to you and your needs for the short or long term.
 
Many traditional IT companies have adapted to the new (virtual) world and recruited cloud specialists, but there is a major skills gap when it comes to specialists on the different platforms.
A fully qualified Azure Consultant provides your business with the support and expertise required to migrate applications and data to the Microsoft Cloud.
 

The Perfect Solution for Supporting Your Azure Cloud

CAMS is designed specifically to give you full transparency, control, and support, for your cloud infrastructure. Get in touch with a member of our team to learn more, and we’d be happy to help!

 Steve Rastall

Steve Rastall - Managing Director 

Get in touch: Steve.Rastall@igroupltd.co.uk

https://uk.linkedin.com/in/steverastall

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