There has been a lot written about Microsoft Azure from a technical perspective, but many of our customers still struggle with the essential question of, “What can I do with Azure?” Sure, many know that websites can be staged in Azure or that virtual machines can be deployed in Azure. Beyond that, most folks have no idea what else Azure offers in terms of services or solutions. This post will challenge you to think of Azure as your data center – an extension of your on-premises services – without boundaries! 

Let’s start by noting that Microsoft data centers worldwide have more capacity in terms of storage and compute than either Google or Amazon. Let’s also remind ourselves that Microsoft is not a new entry into the data center business; in fact, they have been maintaining data centers for almost two decades. Lastly, Gartner places Microsoft in the “Leaders” quadrant in the PaaS, IaaS, storage and virtualization Magic Quadrants. Pretty impressive, to say the least, especially given no other provider shows up in that quadrant in all four areas except Microsoft.

Azure has been sliced and diced numerous ways, but has almost always been based on underlying technologies. For our purposes, we want to look at Azure in terms of the solutions that Azure can provide for some of your more commonplace data center problems. Let’s look at Azure from three perspectives: extending your data center, reducing capital expenditures, and securing data and applications.

Extending your data center is not a new concept, but with the cloud, it becomes more agile and more flexible. In traditional data centers, adding a new server takes weeks and weeks of process, while in Azure, it takes literally minutes. Also, Azure has data centers all around the world, so you can stage servers and provide services locally almost anywhere with the speed and flexibility of the cloud. Azure becomes an extension of your data center, so it can be connected back to your on-premises data center using VPN or MPLS technologies.

Let’s talk money. Everyone works under shrinking budgets, so the opportunity to suspend or eliminate capital spending is very welcome. With Azure, there are numerous opportunities to do just this. In the server procurement area, Azure offers you the ability to deploy virtual servers rather than purchasing hardware for your on-premises data center to install and configure. In storage, Azure offers you the ability to stream backups to BLOB (Binary Large Object) storage, as well as reduce the need for expensive SAN disk or tape. In the area of security, rather than purchasing smartcards or hardware fobs, use your mobile device to provide for two-factor authentication services – directly from Azure. Or how about deploying that thin-client solution that requires lots of servers and storage to support, broker servers and terminal servers and load balancers? Now, using Azure RemoteApp, you can make rich client applications available to any client using a thin-client app – and all of the storage and compute necessary to support this is provided by Azure in the background. All you have to do is just check some boxes to subscribe to the thin-client service. Not bad, right?

Securing data and applications has been done for decades using credentials and sometimes a second-factor device. In Azure, you can now publish on-premises applications, but require that whenever the user is outside the corporate network, that they provide that second factor for authentication I just mentioned. Or applications can be available in the cloud, so SaaS applications like Salesforce or Concur can be accessed by your users using single sign-on – all made available through Azure Active Directory Services. Additionally, you can secure your data itself – both at rest and in motion – using Azure Rights Management Services (RMS). Azure RMS encrypts files and provides for deep controls over data sharing behaviors in the enterprise, such as not allowing an email containing protected content to be forwarded outside the company or placing an expiration on the permissions to view a file. This service in Azure – as with so many others – used to require numerous servers and complex configuration to deploy on-premises, but now starts with a check box.

So, what next? There’s more. In fact, there’s a lot more. My suggestion would be that you contact an Azure subject matter expert and ask for a comprehensive tour. You very well might have a project team assessing hardware or software purchases that Azure could simplify and shrink in terms of budget impact.

A lot is changing, so we cannot continue to approach solutions in the manner we did even two-to-three years ago. Rather than expanding your on-premises services, extend them with Microsoft Azure and rid yourself of those IT boundaries that have been holding you back.

Interested to learn more about Microsoft’s partnership with CDW? Check out our collection of Microsoft-related white papers, data sheets and infographics for more information.