In 2008, Microsoft launched Azure & Office 365 as their cloud solution infrastructure. Less than a decade later, we’re seeing substantial increases in adoption of the Microsoft cloud, with a huge number of services are offered with Azure and/or Office 365, especially in Europe, where most of the companies that launch evaluating these solutions as a hybrid solution within their on premise world.
In this article, I will discuss the various solutions that can be ordered and how to use them in a production world.
Microsoft has both owned and leased datacenter capacity to support customers in regions throughout the world. Microsoft’s global network of datacenters include more than one million servers in more than 100 locations, including Amsterdam; Australia; Boydton, VA; Brazil; Cheyenne, WY; China; Chicago, IL; Des Moines, IA; Dublin, Ireland; Hong Kong; Japan; Quincy, WA; and San Antonio, TX.
As you can see, there’s a datacenter near just about anyone. Microsoft also has decentralized datacenters in Canada and China, and later this year, a Germany-based Azure datacenter will be launched too.
So what’s the difference between the services?
Office 365 is a shared infrastructure solution based on Azure Active Directory and provides services like Exchange, SharePoint, Skype for Business, Yammer, and other Microsoft based services that allow employees to maintain their office environment in the cloud. The rest of Azure is mostly based on Azure Active Directory and is more of a technical solution. Most of their services are not a SaaS solution themselves.
The central portal for Office 365 can be accessed anywhere through the http://portal.office.com. Here’s what the interface looks like when you log in as an administrator:
The basis of each solution is the Active Directory Federation between the local Active Directory and the on-premise one. Microsoft provides a tool to make this work quite easily and is available for free; it’s an easy metadirectory synchronization tool.
After setting up the synchronization successfully, it’s quite simple for each end user because there is no difference with the login process anymore: the user account and password are the same in the cloud and in their local directory.
Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform and infrastructure created by Microsoft for building, deploying, and managing applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers. It provides both PaaS and IaaS services and supports many different programming languages, tools, and frameworks, including both Microsoft-specific and third-party software and systems.
The central management portal is accessible via http://portal.azure.com.
There is a huge offering of Azure Services and nearly each week new services receive GA (general availability).
Today the following services are available:
- Virtual Computers (IaaS)
- Web Services
- Enterprise Client Management (EMS)
- Data and Storage
- Big Data and Analysis
- Internet of Things
- Media Services
- Hybrid Integration
- Development Tools
- Azure Site Recovery (ASR)
- Key Vault
- Monitoring Solution: Operations Management Services (OMS)
- Container Services
- Machine Learning
And a lot more where that came from…
As already explained, Office 365 Azure Active Directory is perhaps the most significant of these offerings, because it is the service that serves as the foundation for identity management.
Since this is the most important offering, it must always be the starting point for your project when you start deploying Azure and Office 365 services within your enterprise.
Azure in your datacenter
As most IT infrastructures reside on a hybrid cloud setup, there may be workloads that you do not have to run in the cloud for law or compliance reasons. If this is the case, you should think about a hybrid setup where you have some services that are running on-premise and others are already in the cloud.
In the past, Microsoft launched a product on this called Windows Azure Pack. This was a portal frontend that looked like the “old Azure Portal” (so called “red dog frontend”), but underneath Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center was the fabric manager (which is in detail System Center Virtual Machine Manager, Service Provider Foundation, and System Center Operations Manager). As of today, this is still the product with is generally available.
You can download Azure pack here.
If you are starting with Azure Pack today, the standard recommendation is to run it based on the most recent Update Rollup (today, it is UR10) to have the best management experience. In addition, you should make sure that you are designing it within the supported numbers of items. You will find these details on Microsoft TechNet.
In May of 2015 during Microsoft Ignite in Chicago, Microsoft announced the next product for managing Azure in the datacenter based on Azure Technology. This product, called Azure Stack, is planned for release in late winter of this year. Azure Stack will rid Microsoft of its old System Center as its fabric manager and will be providing a management layer that is similar to the one on Azure itself.
Today, Azure Stack TP1 is available and runs based on Windows Server 2016 TP4. It provides a single server deployment based on Storage Spaces Direct (S2D). The hardware requirements are as follows:
This release is nevertheless a production ready release, it’s a “proof of code.” This means that there is no chance to run it in any type of production environment at all. But this is the future, because with Azure Stack you will have your own region in the “Ibiza Portal” called “local,” allowing you to run Azure services in your own datacenter.
The picture above gives an overview of which services available today in Azure will be part of Azure Stack (final release version 1). The green squares represent these proposed services, and the ones with a star (in yellow) will be available in a preview version with Azure Stack Version 1 General Availability.
And that’s a wrap
As you can see, Microsoft provides a wide variety of cloud services (public cloud, hybrid cloud, and private cloud). The big challenge is to choose the best setup for you or for your customer. Azure worldwide is a service that provides the highest flexibility, but Azure in some regions (like Azure Germany) provides nearly the same services than Azure but does not provide any direct interaction with Azure Worldwide.
You can set up local Active Directory services that trust the Azure/regional Azure services and that in addition trust each other, but it’s only a tricky setup and not a recommended practice. If you how that you need services on-premise, you need to know that Azure Stack will be the solution for the future, but it won’t be available before winter this year. This means that if you are starting today, you should start with defining your services and start to plan and play with Azure Stack TP1 to be ready to deploy when it is generally available.
You could still start with System Center technology, but to be honest, it is an old school product without a born in the cloud design. Within just a few years, there will likely not be any future for this solution
Today, there’s a lot to explore, and it’s only growing to be more efficient as time progresses. Cloud services will become a commodity in the near future, and it’s something any IT infrastructure should prepare for and adopt.