Exploring capabilities, costs of Microsoft Azure cloud

Microsoft Azure targets enterprises that want to connect their existing data centers to the cloud. But is Azure the best bet for your organization?

Despite facing tough competition from rivals like Google and Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure has become a major player in the enterprise public cloud market. But before making Azure the designated cloud platform for your organization, it's important to review its unique services, pricing structure and customer support model.

The Microsoft Azure cloud combines infrastructure as a service and platform as a service, which allows organizations to choose between public, private or hybrid clouds environments. Organizations can also opt to have Microsoft fully manage those environments for them.

Azure was designed for enterprises looking to connect existing data centers to public or private clouds. The platform supports popular operating systems, tools, languages and frameworks, including Windows, Linux, SQL Server, C# and Java.

According to Microsoft, Azure has 99.95% availability, and the company offers service level agreements to that effect. Azure is deployed through data centers around the world in 19 regions, including mainland China.

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Here's an overview of Azure's key cloud services to determine if it's the right cloud platform for your organization:

    1. Compute: Azure gives customers the ability to provision Windows and Linux VMs, run large-scale batch jobs, create scalable applications and deploy Windows client apps.
    2. Web and mobile: Users can deploy and scale websites in seconds on Azure, according to Microsoft, and developers can build and host mobile app back ends on the cloud platform. Enterprises can securely share APIs with developers, partners and employees.
    3. Data and storage: Azure offers a managed SQL database as a service, as well as a NoSQL document DBaaS called DocumentDB. Azure's StorSimple service is hybrid cloud storage for enterprise customers.
    4. Analytics: Using Azure HDInsight, customers can provision managed Hadoop clusters on Azure and tap into real-time stream analytics.
    5. Networking: Using Azure, customers can provision private networks and connect to on-premises data centers. Azure Traffic Manager balances incoming traffic loads.

Microsoft Azure pricing and support

Azure is available for free as a one-month trial, and customers get an additional $200 to spend on Azure services.

After deploying Azure, customers pay per minute, and only for services they've used. There are no upfront costs or termination fees. The cloud is available in a pay-as-you-go model through Microsoft resellers, or through a special enterprise agreement involving upfront guarantees for usage and discounted prices.

Azure prices vary depending on the type of service. Microsoft offers website and application hosting in four different tiers:

  • Free tier: Free of charge for up to 10 sites or apps;
  • Standard tier: An unlimited number of sites or apps for $0.10 per hour;
  • VM pricing ranges from $0.018 per hour, or about $13 a month, for the basic tier to $0.171 per hour, or about $127 per month, for optimized computing; and
  • SQL database services range in price from $0.0067 per hour, or about $5 per month, for the basic tier to $0.625 per hour, or $465 per month, for the premium tier.

Microsoft offers 24/7 support and around-the-clock service health monitoring. There are four levels of support:

  • Developer support: $29 per month and offers a service dashboard, Web incident submission, 24/7 break/fix and a response time of less than eight hours;
  • Standard support: $300 a month and offers a response time of less than two hours and three support phone calls per month;
  • Professional Direct support: $1,000 a month and includes a response time of less than an hour, unlimited support phone calls, pooled service delivery management, priority handling, an escalation phone line and limited advisory support; and
  • Premier support: Pricing is not published, but it does include a response time of less than 15 minutes, full advisory support, onsite services and developer mentoring.

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