Microsoft Azure – How does it stack up?


Not long ago Microsoft released Azure Stack, which is essentially Microsoft’s Azure cloud for an organization’s home datacenter. It runs Hyper-V, Windows and all other Microsoft properties, but in fact it is Microsoft’s public Azure cloud inside a proprietary organization’s data hub. Let that sink in for a minute.

Azure Stack will completely transform how a datacenter handles large scale applications, including development and testing of secured and scalable apps. This doesn’t signal the end of virtual machines. Small-scale organizations would not invest in Azure Stack when they could just host a couple of VMs or rent Azure public capacity. Azure Stack is designed for companies needing on-premise cloud-sized capability.

Microsoft has secured a niche in the market offering scalable, globally-available public cloud services while at the same time giving companies the capacity to use the same thing on their own premises. They offer the flexibility of working part cloud, part on-premise, doing part of their business with virtual machines in an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) environment and part in a scalable Platform as a Service (PaaS) space.

In what way is Azure better than the current VM environment? We used to think of scalability as just adding more servers. Put more men on the job, so to speak. Now, with virtual machines, we can do that by adding more machines without having to buy more hardware. But whenever you bring on a new virtual machine, along with it you also bring the overhead of an operating system and core application, with all the integration headaches. Azure aggregates the CPUs, data storage and all the rest of it, making it possible for you to access only the exact capacity you need. You can add or remove resources without adding or removing virtual machines.

Azure does not restrict you to a PaaS model. You can use Windows and Linux VMs just like you’ve always done on VMware and Hyper-V in an IaaS model. But to make best use of the cloud, you must give thought to altering apps in order to access a really scalable PaaS platform. Azure gives you this capability. Say you’re constructing VMs in an IaaS framework for development and testing. Although Azure (public) provides a scalable environment, you would want more control over the development process working in separate locales with the option of accessing as much power as you need for compiling and processing code.

Consider highly secure environments. For an organization like the US Department of Defense, for example, they need the scalability that comes with Azure (public), but must meet certain information security requirements, some of which are extremely restrictive. With Azure Stack, they can develop their own VMs to meet their own requirements and move to a public model at any time in the future.

The government cyber security is a lucrative market. By 2013, nearly 70 percent of the nation’s intelligence budget was outsourced to contractors. Azure first received government certification in 2013, blessing Microsoft on working with the Department of Defense (DoD), Homeland Security and US General Services Administration and encouraging more contractors to seek Microsoft Azure certification.

In 2015, the DoD set out an interim rule that contractors who handle defense information must meet the security criteria in NIST SP 800-171, the regulation that governs protection of unclassified information. Azure met the FedRAMP requirements for authorization. All Microsoft systems outside the FedRAMP boundary are facing review to meet a deadline of December 31, 2017.

The Navy is looking to Azure Summit Technology of Fairfax, Virginia, to support signals intelligence on a number of manned and unmanned platforms. A $48.5 million contract was signed just a few months ago with the Naval Surface Warfare Center to support the sensor mission of forward-deployed units that locates, identifies and targets communications systems, weapons systems and radars. Azure Summit is scheduled to complete the project by December 2021. Most of the work will be done in Fairfax and in Melbourne, Florida.

Microsoft has developed a proof-of-concept for managing real-time Army operations using Azure as well. It allows commanders and soldiers to view orders, assess operational readiness, plan movement, receive alerts, locate personnel, supervise in real time, evaluate mission success, and monitor the budget.

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