What is Azure?
Microsoft Azure is an ever-expanding set of cloud services – currently over 600 – to help your organization meet your business challenges.
Azure markets itself as a hybrid cloud solution with hundreds of ready-made tools for numerous aspects of a business. Developers can take full advantage of Azure, which offers Visual Studio integrations, flexible computing resources, and massive analytic capabilities. Researchers will find an abundance of uses for Azure services, too, as it provides access to super-computing performance that reduces the time needed to analyze large data sets. Most small businesses will not need the full breadth of Azure’s services, but its scalability and versatility make it a great solution for small businesses.
Azure is such a robust tool that it is impossible to cover all the potential benefits in a single article. It has solutions for analytics, databases, identity management, storage, media, and web applications. The focus of today’s article is Azure for small business. We will focus on the applications within Azure that will benefit your small business.
On-Premise vs. Virtual Server
Many businesses want to own their server hardware because a one-time capital expenditure can be easier to digest than an ongoing monthly fee, but on-premise servers have continuing overhead that can increase the total cost of ownership (TCO). Most server hardware suitable for a small business will cost between $500 and $3,000. The cost of software, installation, and configuration will add an additional $1,000+ to the cost of the server. From that point, maintenance costs should be factored in the TCO. Your IT provider will need to ensure that the server is protected from viruses, malware, and unauthorized access. Lastly, you must consider the full life of your server. Over time, your server’s performance will decrease. Hardware components will wear out and software will need to be upgraded. With all of these factors to consider, the total cost of ownership of a premise-based server can increase exponentially in the 4th and 5th year of ownership.
Azure offers a cloud server that can save you money and increase efficiency, especially if utilizing a hybrid model. With a cloud server, you can scale your server resources up or down and you only pay for what you need. This is ideal if you have a quickly growing business or you experience predictable or unpredictable peak times – known as bursting. Unlike on-premise servers, Azure can accommodate the increase in traffic without adding physical hardware. Similarly, you won’t have the overhead of idle servers during slow periods.
Controlling users can be one of the biggest challenges to owning a server. You want employees to have access to the information and applications that they need without seeing everything that is on the server. Azure offers easy to use tools to manage user permissions and access rights.
Software, especially industry-specific applications, can be one of the biggest IT expenses in a small business. Purchasing licenses for every user can quickly add up. A cloud server that runs specific applications can reduce your software investment without hindering productivity. It can also facilitate the mobility of your workforce. An excellent example of this would be accounting software with a remote bookkeeper. Installing the required software on the bookkeeper’s home computer would not be necessary if the application was implemented on a cloud server. The bookkeeper could log in to the Azure portal from any authorized computer without needing special software on each device.
Security is a major concern of any business. With phishing emails on the rise and ransomware attacks crippling businesses and municipalities, every business should be hyper-aware of their security. Azure offers network layer controls to limit access to specific devices or subnets. This prevents hackers from reaching your infrastructure. Rule-based access control gives users access to only the information that they need using need-to-know and least privilege security principals. Data transferred in and out of Azure Storage is encrypted so information can’t be intercepted in transit. Adding multi-factor authentication and password policy enforcement will take full advantage of Azure’s ready-to-use security protocols.
Moving your server to the cloud has an additional benefit for your working environment. Removing the server hardware from the premise will eliminate the need to supply power to the server. Servers put off heat and by removing the hardware from the premise you will have a cooler environment and won’t have to increase the AC to keep workers happy. Removing the hardware will also reduce the noise pollution in your office space. All this translates into cost savings and reduction in overhead.