What is the Cloud?

Apr 20, 2017

The Cloud may sound scary to some. What is it? Where is it? If I move to the cloud, where does my data go? These are common questions. Cloud computing is increasing in popularity and can now be heard around water coolers everywhere. But what is it really?

Well, at a very high level, any of the cloud provider offerings (including Microsoft Azure) can be seen as a network comprised of servers, storage, switches, routers, firewalls, HVAC, operating systems, applications, and other software that are offered at hyperscale. Hyperscale is a fancy word which simply means that cloud providers can offer services similar to those of your existing network, but the important part here is that they are elastic – they can expand and contract as needed. This is the big feature of the cloud.

Imagine a business that has ebbs and flows based on season, day of the week, or a trend which is unpredictable.  This business may not be able to predict high-traffic times or they may not be comfortable spending the money required for the infrastructure needed to accommodate the spikes in customer traffic. Example: An accounting firm has relative stability in day-to-day business operations, but at income tax time, they are very busy. The extra traffic to their website makes for slowness and a poor customer experience. What do they do about it? Well, they can spend ‘X’ number of dollars to purchase servers and storage required for the month of April. The problem is, for the remaining 11 months, the servers are powered off or run on idle incurring unnecessary power consumption. Not an ideal solution. Enter the cloud. By running servers in the cloud, the accounting firm has the elasticity to automatically turn on additional servers or services once certain traffic thresholds are reached. When the number of customers drops, some of the services are turned off in order to maintain the optimal efficiency. From a cost perspective, they are only paying for services they need WHEN they need them. When services are powered down, they do not incur charges. Pretty cool.

IS IT SAFE?

This all sounds fine and good, but how safe is it? When you have hardware at your place of business, you have a locked door, security system, and possibly, staff to watch your property overnight. Microsoft Azure takes security and resiliency very seriously. Microsoft has committed to spending $1 Billion dollars each year on cyber security. They have achieved such certifications as: ISO 27001, CSA/CCM, ITAR, CJIS, HIPAA, and IRS 1075…more than any other cloud provider. Microsoft is committed to keeping your data safe. You own it. They protect it. They are transparent: you know how your data is stored. As reflected in their standards above, they are committed to conforming to global standards of compliance. Resiliency is very important when it comes to Microsoft Azure, as well. Azure is a network of warehouse-type datacenters spread across 32 regions across the world (including 2 regions in Canada)…and they are growing all the time! This dispersed layout helps customer to achieve the best performance.  Another cool feature of Azure is geo-redundancy. Let’s say that you want your data housed in Canada. Great. That can be done. What happens if there is a natural disaster or other phenomenon that impacts that region? Although it’s highly unlikely, your data could be temporarily impacted – not lost, just unavailable until service is restored. This may be an acceptable risk for most organizations, but what if you have different requirements? Geo-redundancy creates a copy of your data in another region, which physically distant from your primary copy. If you main site goes down, the backup site kicks in. This is very much like a Disaster Recovery site utilized by many organizations today.

IS IT RIGHT FOR ME?

The decision to move to the cloud is a big one as it can be a real shift in philosophy and policy. It’s not necessarily for everyone. There are specific scenarios in which workloads are not suited to residing with a cloud provider and should stay in an on-premises environment. For most instances, though, Microsoft Azure can really benefit your organization. Costs are stabilized do to the pay-for-use model. You can remove a lot of the burden involving hardware and software upgrades, licensing, power and cooling, physical security considerations, etc. Let Microsoft provide the infrastructure for your workloads so that you can get back to managing your business. Sounds like a great idea to me.

 

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Written by
Anthony Plume

Technical Analyst, Support Services

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