What Is Microsoft Azure?
Azure is a cloud computing platform launched by Microsoft in 2010 for building, hosting and scaling applications. Azure provides Platform as a Service (PaaS) capabilities that provide developers with the tools and development environment needed to deploy new services in the cloud, as well as Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) capabilities for virtual machines, storage and networking.
Azure has grown in popularity since its inception for numerous reasons. For one, its Microsoft origins provide it with a gentle learning curve: developers can easily opt to work with familiar systems and features, such as Windows, Active Directory and the .NET programming framework. Indeed, businesses using Microsoft products are often incentivized to pick Azure via the Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. Second, Azure is the cloud provider that is compliant with the most security standards from different organizations—including the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Cloud Security Alliance—and they offer servers in more locations than any other provider.
How to Use Azure for Building Applications
Owing to its scalability, security and longevity, Azure has grown to become one of the most popular options for developers to build applications in the cloud. The following examples are only a few of the potential uses of Azure.
Since its launch in 2010, Azure has evolved from a Windows-oriented platform to a more open one that supports many different systems and platforms. These days, mobile developers can use Azure to build applications for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac devices, as well as with cross-platform solutions including Xamarin and PhoneGap.
Azure App Service provides a number of developer-friendly features, including automatic scaling to handle extreme amounts of customer load and offline sync to create applications that remain useful without a connection to the server. Corporate applications on mobile devices can securely authenticate users via Azure Active Directory, which includes functionalities such as multi-factor authentication and security monitoring.
e-Commerce Portal Development
Azure can build e-commerce solutions that are scalable and secure. Major companies such as Jet.com and smaller retailers have chosen to use Azure to build their e-commerce platforms.
Ready-made e-commerce solutions such as Magento, Virto Commerce and OpenCart are available through the Azure Marketplace and can be used to quickly set up a web application. For those who wish to do more of the work themselves, a variety of Azure services are available. Azure Virtual Machines allow developers to run their applications in the cloud, while Azure Key Vault keeps important information encrypted and Azure API Management makes it easier for merchants to connect to the platform.
Big Data Applications
The supply of and demand for big data continues to grow each year, and Azure is available to help. The Azure Marketplace provides popular frameworks from big data stack companies such as Cloudera and Hortonworks. Users can take advantage of the existing Microsoft stack for big data, including SQL Server for managing databases and tools like Excel and Power BI that provide visualization and reporting of big data insights.
Other Azure services allow developers to explore the world of big data independently. Azure HDInsight is a service for deploying Apache Hadoop, the prevailing framework for working with big data, in the cloud. Another useful service is Azure SQL Data Warehouse, an elastic data Warehouse as a Service solution that can easily scale up or down according to storage and computing needs, giving developers more power over the costs of the cloud.
Analytics and Visualization Applications
One major application of big data is in the arena of analytics and data visualization. To extract that data, developers can use Azure Event Hubs, a publish-subscribe service that can collect and stream millions of events per second from connected devices and applications.
Once the data is in hand, Azure can also transform and process it. Azure Stream Analytics, which is integrated with Azure Event Hubs, can process events in real time, detecting errors and issuing alerts when a given condition is met. Meanwhile, Azure Machine Learning, part of Microsoft’s Cortana Intelligence Suite, is a cloud-based service for predictive analytics with support for a variety of models and algorithms, including neural networks, support vector machines and logistic regression. Data from within Azure can also be fed into the Microsoft Power BI software, which will create visualizations providing different insights that can be explored interactively.
Driven by the convenience and speed of cloud computing, developers are gradually shifting from a monolithic software model to a microservices architecture, which consists of independent components that work together to form the application.
Microsoft’s response to this growing trend is Azure Service Fabric, which powers some of Microsoft’s own applications including Skype for Business, Intune and Cortana. Service Fabric supports both stateless and stateful microservices. In addition, Service Fabric includes capabilities for lifecycle management, giving developers more control over the full lifetime of their applications, from deployment to maintenance and, eventually, decommissioning. Applications built on the Service Fabric platform can run on Azure, on-premises, in hybrid environments, or within another cloud entirely.
How to Use Azure for Building Infrastructure
As mentioned above, Azure offers a number of premade solutions through the Azure Marketplace for developers who want a quick and easy way to deploy their applications in the cloud. With the click of a button, users can download solutions that help them deploy virtual machines, install content management systems, or protect them from web-based attacks.
However, Azure also provides developers the flexibility to do things independently and build their infrastructure from the ground up, if they so choose. The infrastructure for even a simple web application will involve many distinct components: servers to run the front end, servers to run the back end, database servers for storing persistent information and servers to handle security and authentication. In addition, developers must consider how to balance traffic among the various servers and how the servers will operate under high levels of demand.
To assist these “power developers,” Azure provides a service called Azure Resource Manager that enables users to view and deploy the resources in their application – including applications, databases, virtual machines and storage accounts – as a single entity. Resource Manager has numerous useful features for developers, including managing infrastructure via declarative syntax rather than imperative scripts and constructing dependencies between resources so that they are deployed in the correct order.