What is Microsoft Azure?
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What is Azure? Microsoft’s Cloud Platform Guide

Lars Klint
Lars Klint

What is Azure? (It’s not just a lovely shade of sky blue.) Microsoft Azure is one of the largest cloud computing platforms, serving millions of applications, integrations, and customers.

Microsoft Azure is a public cloud platform. It offers more than 200 products and cloud services accessible over the public internet. This collection of services is, as Microsoft puts it, “designed to help you bring new solutions to life—to solve today’s challenges and create the future.”

Azure and other public cloud vendors — like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) — manage and maintain hardware, infrastructure, and resources that can be accessed for free or on a pay-per-use basis. 

Migrating to the cloud (whether it be Azure or another cloud service provider) can save organizations and individuals the cost and complexity of purchasing and running resources on site.

The history of Microsoft Azure

Announced in 2008 as Project Red Dog, Microsoft Azure has grown to become a major cloud computing player. As of 2021, Azure has a 20% market share — with AWS at 31% and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) sitting at 9%.

At the time of publishing this, Azure has 67 available and announced regions globally, more than 160 physical data centers, numerous availability zones, and millions of users. But how does it all work together though?

Azure Infrastructure and Regions

When talking about cloud infrastructure, Azure has a global network of regions, availability zones, and data centers.

Azure regions are placed strategically all over the world to cover as large a percentage of the potential cloud customer as possible. Regions include Central U.S., Norway West, Brazil South, West India, South Africa North, Australia East, and everywhere in between. 

Each region consists of one or more data centers and availability zones, which are made up of one or more data centers equipped with independent power cooling and networking. This means that a service in an availability zone will keep running if one of the parts of the zone becomes unavailable. Nifty!

Azure also has geographies. These usually contain more than a single region and allow customers with specific data residency and compliance needs to keep the data and applications close. Geography is defined as a discreet market for doing just that.

Government regions

Azure also has government regions, which are only accessible to U.S. government bodies and their contractors. These regions are more stringent when it comes to compliance with government guidelines, and their locations are not disclosed. (However, I’ll let you in on a secret: they’re all in the U.S.) 

Azure services can vary by region

Azure services are not all created equally either. Some require more resources than others and some just aren’t as popular. For this reason, not all services are offered in all regions. 

However, apart from the aforementioned government regions and newly established regions, most regions will have most of the Azure service catalog on offer. A few exotic services like Azure Machine Learning are sometimes only offered in one region within each geography. 


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Azure IaaS vs SaaS vs PaaS

Infrastructure on Azure isn’t just a bunch of services. You need to understand the basic pillars: compute, network, and storage. 

Everything on Azure is built on top of those pillars, and they form a foundation for your cloud infrastructure too. You can build your own architecture from infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) products, such as Azure Virtual Networks, Azure VMs, and Azure Disc Storage. Or you can take advantage of the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings, such as Azure SQL and Azure app services. All are built on top of the pillars, but offer different layers of abstraction for you to build your business applications. 

Azure vs AWS and GCP: Is Azure right for you?

Comparing Azure to the other cloud providers, Azure falls in the top three of most popular alongside AWS and GCP. AWS has the most market share, but Azure has the most regions, and GCP is growing rapidly. 

The documentation for Azure to learn from is decent. Documenting a whole cloud computing platform is a large task and maintaining it is a constant exercise. Check out our other cloud platform overviews below:

Curious about how various aspects of different cloud providers compare to Microsoft Azure’s offerings? We have overviews comparing serverless, NoSQL databases, IAM services, and virtual machines (VMs).

Azure pros and strengths

We’ve got to talk about strengths and weaknesses, because how else can you know which cloud platform will work best for you? While cloud computing as a concept is a way to offer various levels of abstraction through IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, each cloud vendor is better at some things and less so at others. 

  • First, Azure has a lot of data centers, and they keep expanding. This means services and your applications will be closer to users. It also means specific legal requirements for certain countries when it comes to cloud computing are more likely to be met.
  • Because Microsoft has been supporting on-premises customers for 40-plus years, they have an extensive hybrid cloud offering to get all of their existing customers into cloud. They also have a very good integration with existing tools and technologies such as Visual Studio, Active Directory, and File Storage.

If you have applications written in the .NET framework, Azure is almost a no-brainer as well. Azure has the most industry certifications of any cloud provider, and this can be useful for certain countries or industries when having to adhere to these.

Azure cons and weaknesses

While there aren’t many drawbacks or areas of improvement for Azure, there are a couple. 

  • Since Azure is trying to be all things to all cloud-computing crowds, at times some services just don’t get enough attention. This can mean that the new data analytics service you have made that uses a certain Azure feature might fall behind a bit as the feature disappears. 
  • Azure will try and keep up with every single trend in cloud computing, so the number of new services and renamed services (thank you, Microsoft) can be overwhelming. The key is to focus on just the ones you need for your project.

Azure services and project use cases

Let’s look at a couple of well-suited real-world use cases for Azure — something to whet your Azure appetite.

Hybrid cloud

Let’s start with the wonderful world of hybrid cloud. Microsoft has a long history of supplying on-premises compute systems, and a ton of those customers are still around. Are they going to throw all that they have away and buy it again because someone’s written “cloud” on it? Of course not! But there is value in some of the Azure services for most companies. Azure is making it increasingly easy to implement a hybrid cloud strategy. 

For example, using Azure Sentinel, you can monitor both your cloud assets and your on-prem services. Inadequate security is often a concern with hybrid setups, but with Sentinel express route and VPN gateways, this is just not an issue. 

Cosmos DB

I can’t talk about Azure and not mention Cosmos DB, one of the most impressive services on Azure. This single-digit-millisecond latency, automatic and instantly scalable global secure SQL database is about as cloudy as you can get. 

A company that is looking to scale globally or to several regions can provide an exceptional experience for the end-user by plugging Cosmos DB into the front-end application. You are guaranteed speed at any scale. It’s super easy to plug into your application. It’s fully managed, so no servers or maintenance to do. And it’s cost-effective . . . when used correctly!

Ready to start your Azure Journey?

If you want to stay up to date with Azure, check out Azure This Week here on A Cloud Guru. It’s a weekly show with the latest news from Azure.

If you want some further guidance on ramping up your Azure knowledge — or you’re wondering which Azure certification is right for you — we have you covered. Check out our rotating line-up of free Azure and other cloud courses and other fun projects, Azure courses, and hands-on labs.

Not sure where to begin? If you haven’t started your Azure journey yet or you’re just getting started in your cloud career, check out our AZ-900 Azure Fundamentals certification course.

It may sound like a bit of a mouthful (side note: Microsoft’s certification exam names can be confusing) but this foundational-level certification will teach you the basics of cloud computing with Azure and prepare you for the AZ-900 exam. Consider it Cloud 101.

The Azure Fundamentals cert lays the foundation for many different roles — not just budding Azure engineers and architects but cloud-adjacent folks, from leadership to sales to support. And it’s one of the top-paying Azure cloud certifications. Plus, I hear the instructor is pretty darn good. (Spoiler: It’s me.)

There are plenty of reasons why you should consider getting Azure certified. But one nice bonus of pursuing Azure certs is how easy Microsoft makes it to get certified and stay certified. Azure certification exams can be taken remotely and big certification renewal and expiration changes made in 2021 make Azure certs free to renew indefinitely (which make them arguably the best certification renewal option in cloud).

Whether you’re looking to get certified or just build up some new Azure skills, browse ACG’s Azure learning library and get started with a free 7-day trial.

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What is Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure is a public cloud platform that offers more than 200 products and cloud services accessible over the public internet. Azure is also the largest cloud computing platforms, serving millions of applications, integrations, and customers.

When did Azure launch?

Announced in 2008 as Project Red Dog, Microsoft Azure has grown to become a major cloud computing player. As of 2021, Azure has a 20% market share — with AWS at 31% and Google Cloud Platform (GCP) sitting at 9%

What are Azure Regions?

Azure has a global network of regions, availability zones, and data centers: Each region consists of one or more data centers and availability zones, which are made up of one or more data centers equipped with independent power cooling and networking.

Benefits of using Microsoft Azure

Comparing Azure to the other cloud providers, Azure falls in the top three of most popular alongside AWS and GCP. AWS has the most market share, but Azure has the most regions, and GCP is growing rapidly. Read more!

What are the cons of using Azure?

Since Azure is trying to be all things to all cloud-computing crowds, at times some services just don’t get enough attention. Additionally, Azure will try and keep up with every single trend in cloud computing, so the number of new services and renamed services can be overwhelming.

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