What’s your strategy to move to the cloud?

It’s no surprise if I say we are living in a Cloud-First tech world. If you are not at least thinking about the idea of moving your legacy and current systems to the Cloud, or at least integrating part of them with cloud services, or not thinking about the cloud when architecting your new software systems, then you are falling behind. You are ditching the opportunity to be more agile, reduce costs and differentiate from the pack.

I recently had the pleasure of being the Keynote speaker of the Global Azure Bootcamp Montevideo so this blog post is based on that talk.

Gartner defines cloud computing as: A style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ to external customers using Internet technologies.

This cloud has 5 attributes.

  1. Service-based: Consumer concerns are abstracted from provider concerns through service interfaces.
  2. Scalable and elastic: Services scale on demand to add or remove resources as needed.
  3. Shared: Services share a pool of resources to build economies of scale.
  4. Metered by use: Services are tracked with usage metrics to enable multiple payment methods.
  5. Internet technologies: Services are delivered through use of Internet identifiers, formats and protocols.

In order to take full advantage of it, you need to have a solid strategy to move to the Cloud. Every company needs to decide how to use it and there are three major areas of approach to combine. You have SaaS solutions that help you save time and money. You can extend your current infrastructure with the Cloud to be more agile and save money too. And you can take advantage of Higher-level services that provide out of the box solutions to common scenarios that you can extend and adapt to your business needs to reach your customers in more efficient and innovative ways at lower costs. By working on these three areas is how we really can transform our business.

The most complete cloud

At Kaizen Softworks we are sure Microsoft has the most complete Cloud out there. Not to mention Gartner positions Microsoft as a Leader in three Magic Quadrants of the Cloud: Cloud Infrastructure as Service, Public Cloud Storage Services and Enterprise Application Platform as a Service.

Microsoft is leading the journey by providing SaaS solutions like Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics and Power BI deployed in millions of customers worldwide.

To cover the other two areas they have:
Microsoft Azure

Azure is the Cloud platform of tools and services Microsoft has to cover the areas of Higher-level services and infrastructure. Amazon WS is a great IaaS, but they don’t have Saas, Salesforce has SaaS, but no IaaS, and the examples keep coming. By using a Cloud that covers all the three areas is how we can truly find the value of being agile, save money and integrate smoothly to transform our business.

At the time of this writing, Azure has 34 regions with 4 coming in the next few months, that’s the double of what AmazonWS offers.

The Azure Cloud has three foundational pillars: Choice and Flexibility, it is Enterprise Ready, and has a big focus on Productivity. Let’s dive a little more on each.

Choice and Flexibility

Azure provides us with a big set of tools, technologies and frameworks to choose from and be flexible on each tech decision. Having every Server OS including Linux with 12 different distributions, almost every DB system, so many different programming languages and platforms allows us to choose the best tool for the job and use the open source or commercial version on a case by case.

Here’s some of the tools and frameworks we can choose from:
Tools and frameworks supported by Microsoft Azure

We also have something very particular and unique to the Azure cloud, this is the Azure Stack. With it we get the same experience and power of the public cloud but on-premises or on a server provider hosting service. Same management portal, same APIs, same apps and same DevOps experience. For government and other companies with particular needs and restrictions this is a huge deal. No other Cloud provider has this type of service.

Enterprise Ready

This Cloud has more compliance certifications and standards coverage than any other Cloud out there. Security and Privacy are key to enterprise customers and Microsoft has vast experience running online services developing industry-leading security measures and privacy policies.

These are just a few, but you can check them all:
Compliance certifications and standards coverage of Microsoft Azure

85% of Fortune 500 chooses Azure for their Cloud needs because of this and many more reasons.

Productivity

What’s great about Azure is it’s awesome focus on productivity allowing our teams to move faster and achieve more with smooth integrations between all their tools, services, workloads and infrastructure creating a DevOps lifecycle beyond everything else.
Tools, Advanced Workloads, Core Infrastructure and Hybrid capabilities of Microsoft Azure

Using Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) SaaS solution, we can code on a PC or Mac, using Visual Studio (and even Visual Studio for Mac — in preview), Eclipse or XCode; any IDE, any platform, any language, a SaaS solution used by more than 4 million developers worldwide. We can have all the private repos we want using Git or TFS, without paying anything additional, or we can integrate with our repos from other platforms like GitHub. VSTS offers a full DevOps cycle with build service, deploy and unit testing; and you know what else? We can compile Java, Android, .NET and some more. After we passed our Unit Tests we can do some Load Testing simulating thousands of users hitting our web app or backend before moving to a Production environment. Once everything is tested and ok, we can establish and use our own release policies and deploy our apps and backends to the Azure Cloud. While in Production we can use Application Insights to study the performance of it and keep the cycle running.

Azure Momentum and Success Stories

Let’s take a look at the numbers:

  • More than 120k new Azure customer subscriptions per month
  • 1.6 million SQL databases in Azure.
  • 2 trillion messages per week processed by Azure IoT
  • 600 million Azure Active Directory users from 5 million companies
  • More than 4 million developers registered with Visual Studio Team Services
  • More than 40% of the revenue comes from startups and ISVs

Now that’s some serious numbers but I also want to share some cool stories I heard from Scott Guthrie.

AccuWeather, probably the biggest weather company out there, uses Azure to process more than 10 billion data inputs per day and 7 trillion unique data entities where they apply Machine Learning to be able to predict weather, not to mention they are using API services to sell this info to third parties too.

BMW built the whole ConnectedDrive platform using Azure technologies like Azure IoT, Machine Learning services, Data Services and many more. The BMW ConnectedDrive platform

Rolls Royce, well known for its cars but also for making flight engines are providing their customers a better experience by informing them of engine failures, preventing fails, predicting them, applying analytics and optimizing engine use. All this by using Azure services like the IoT Suite, Cortana Analytics and Power BI, this last one used to analyze fuel consumption and suggest better routes that optimize it.

App Platform

The App Platform of Azure brings to the table Web Apps, Mobile Apps, Logic Apps and API Apps. You can develop your apps in any language like Python, NodeJS, PHP, Java and .NET. They have Auto Patching which means we don’t have to care or worry about updating the Operating System they are running on. We have the Autoscale feature which allows us to configure some rules to indicate how the app has to react to heavy loads and how to scale down when the load has been reduced. We can integrate them with our existing apps and we can configure continues deployment from our favorite repository system.

Nascar and Alaska Airlines are examples of integrations between on-premises applications and new solutions in the Azure cloud. We also have Jet using everything from F# to Azure, I had the pleasure to meet Rachel Reese from the team and I can firmly say they know what they are doing.

I would like to give a special mention in the App Platform to Azure Functions. This is a Serverless Computing service Azure is offering recently to compete with AWS Lambda and it is great as far as I tested it. With this we forget about Virtual Machines, Apps and all that stuff and we just code some functions and that’s it. Our code runs in the cloud and we just pay per invocation, which can be triggered on certain events in Azure or by external services. We can code these functions using F#, JavaScript, C#, Python, Batch, Bash, PHP and PowerShell and even code them using a web based interface, so no need for IDE neither — crazy. The Azure Functions runtime is open source and we can basically get it up and running anywhere, including AWS. My very good friend Rachel Appel is working in the Azure Functions team at Microsoft, be sure to follow her and stay tuned for her speaking appearances.

Microservices

When it comes to Microservices, Azure doesn’t leave us alone. We have three different approaches to choose from depending of our needs and situation. The most basic one is VM Scale Sets, then we can jump to Azure Container Service or lastly use Azure Service Fabric like many Azure customers chose including BMW, TalkTalk and many more.

The Azure Container Service has standard Docker tooling and API support, you can orchestrate everything thru Azure, and you can use it on Azure or Azure Stack. Azure Service Fabric is a prescriptive microservice platform which also uses Docker but with more services like sanity state management and more. You have .NET and Java APIs on Windows Server and Linux and you can deploy it to Azure, Azure Stack, VMWare, OpenStack and AWS.

Data and Analytics

The data management options Azure has to offer is wide. We have some official Microsoft options like SQL Azure, DocumentDB and Azure Redis Cache, but then we also have some other interesting options like Postgres, DB2, Oracle, MySQL, Cassandra, MongoDB, CouchDB and RavenDB.

SQL Azure has more than 1.6 million databases running, it’s a first class citizen developed by Microsoft with high availability, durable and fault tolerant, and you can scale elastically all around the world. For your existing SQl Server databases, fear not my friend, it is compatible and we have a really cool tool to help us: SQL Database Migration Wizard.

DocumentDB is another first class citizen here, a fully managed NoSQL database system made by Microsoft that scales from GBs to 100s of TBs. High performance with support of millions of operations per second. Another cool thing is that we can scale app data and throughput independently, a feature introduced based on client feedback. I’m also really happy to say that my friend and Microsoft MVP Matías Quaranta is joining the DocumentDB team in Redmond.

The Walking Dead No Man’s Land app that reached number 1 in the Apple App Store is an excellent example of DocumentDB use with 1 billion queries per day with responses of less than 10ms 99% of the time. A video is worth a million words:

We all know systems generate more and more data every day at a pace that only keeps incrementing, but this is really good news if we are clever enough to take advantage of that data, gain insights from it and take intelligent actions. For this, we have a big suite of options to use depending of our needs to know what happened, why, what will happen and what we should do about it, this suite is called the Cortana Intelligence Suite and includes: Power BI, Machine Learning, SQL Data Warehouse, HDInsight, Data Lake Analytics, Data Lake Store, Stream Analytics, Data Factory, Data Catalog and Event Hubs.

Internet of Things

IoT is not left behind in Azure with the Azure IoT Suite offering secure device connectivity and management, business workflow integration and pre-configured solutions to start quickly and customize later to our needs. Some big names using this Suite but not limited to these are Ford in their newest vehicles and Thyssenkrupp. The market leader in elevator systems uses the Azure IoT Suite to analyze and predict failures so they can optimize the service experience offered to their clients.

Cloud Infrastructure

If we move into infrastructure services in the Cloud, we can use Virtual Machines, Blob Storage, Active Directory, Virtual Networks, Load Balancers, DNS, Gateways, I mean… you are a fully covered here too, there’s so many services in the Azure Cloud that we can take advantage from to create all the infrastructure of our systems in one place and manage everything from the same portal.

Gozilla size VM on Azure There’s up to 64 TB of storage per VM with less than 1ms read latency. If we step up, Azure has the largest VMs in the Public Cloud of up to 32 CPU cores and the latest generation of Intel processors, 450 GB RAM and 6.5 TB of local SSD! Crazy!

Companies using Azure Cloud Infrastructure include Walmart, United Nations, Samsung, Toyota, 3M and the list is long.

Last but not least: Security

Nowadays hearing about attacks to companies systems is no surprise and Security has being positioned as a top priority for CIOs. Azure Security Center allows you to have visibility and control to prevent, detect and respond to security threats of your Cloud services.
Azure Security Center view using the Management Portal

Again, all from the same management portal with integrations to known security solutions like Barracuda, Trend Micro and many more.
Security solutions integrations with Microsoft Azure

Wrapping up

I hope I gave you an overview of why Microsoft Azure is a great opportunity to jump into the Cloud, in our experience at Kaizen Softworks it has been a great choice in every project we used it. We have vast experience using the App Platform and is probably one of the easiest ways to start investigating and doing some tests of your systems with the Azure Cloud. In several of our projects we have used SQL Azure and is not in vain that 1.6M databases are in use in Azure, the experience is practically the same if you are used to work with SQL Server. Some other great services we have been using for a long time are Azure Active Directory, Blob Storage and Service Bus among other, all of which together allows us to build robust architectures in the Cloud. As we are big fans of Single Page Applications built using Angular and many other non-Microsoft tech we can also say that serving applications built using these technologies has been a breeze in the Azure Cloud. Choice and Flexibility checked.

The DevOps experience while working with Microsoft is great from Source Code Repo options to build, deploy, test and analyze, I think that this well integrated lifecycle in the Cloud is what has let us rely so many aspects of the process in the platform and just take care of what’s really important: building the system. The Productivity focus of Microsoft is clearly noticed.

As another remarkable point from our experience, we had the opportunity to work implementing the HIPAA Compliance standard in the Azure Cloud and there are a lot of aspects of it already covered by Azure out of the box, so another great differentiator there. Enterprise Ready verified.

Follow up

Ready to jump into your journey to the Cloud? Here’s what I recommend.

  • Start today at azure.microsoft.com
  • Follow Executive Vice President of Microsoft Cloud and Enterprise Group: Scott Guthrie
  • Professional help? Kaizen Softworks is a nearshore consulting tech shop focused on collaboration with vast experience in Cloud systems, the Microsoft stack of technologies and open source frontend tech like Angular. We dedicate our work to North American companies seeking a flexible team of experts that deliver value at a fast pace. Say hello@kzsoftworks.com

Resources

This article is based on:

This is me Keynoting at the Global Azure Bootcamp:

Fabian Fernandez | CEO

Fabian Fernandez | CEO

I’m a tech guy that loves business and coding, turned CEO of a beautiful company with great people; speaker and community builder.

Read More