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5 Surprising Azure Cloud Services

Whether or not you use any form of hybrid cloud, I think it's important to at least know what's available, and how it's being used. There are two primary uses: One is to extend the traditional datacenter to the cloud, including virtual machines (VMs), networking and storage. The other main use is in building cloud-native applications.

The Microsoft Azure cloud offers a lot of options for both uses, and continues to add services, making it extremely useful and flexible. I've listed some of my favorites here, demonstrating that Azure is a lot more than just a bunch of Hyper-V VMs running Windows.

  1. SQL Server Stretch Database: This service, which is currently in preview, enables "bottomless" cloud storage for SQL Server 2016 databases, while still having it on-premises. This is a hybrid application for perhaps one of the most critical applications in any datacenter.

    The fundamental idea with a SQL Server Stretch database is that hot and cold data can be placed in the right type of storage. This is an absolute game-changer for those familiar with their SQL Server data profiles at a table and database level. For example, a critical application may use one database, but typically only a few tables are actively used. There may be other tables (taking up a lot of storage) that would be a good candidate for a SQL Server Stretch Database.

  2. DocumentDB: You don't have to use SQL Server, though; Azure has a fully managed NoSQL implementation. NoSQL has similarities to relational database technologies SQL, but scales out well; it also won't lock you into relationships that may not work at huge scale.

  3. Azure Active Directory: A big concern organizations have with any technology service is authorization and access. Active Directory (AD) is the arguably the most common authentication framework in the world for business datacenters, so it was natural for Microsoft to extend it to Azure. What may surprise you, however, is that Azure AD can integrate with its on-premises namesake. This is a good control element when services, accounts and access needs to be added, changed or revoked.

  4. Nearly 400 Linux Virtual Machines: As I said earlier, Azure isn't just a bunch of Windows VMs. Some of the most interesting Linux VMs I found include Wordpress, the Tenable Nessus security scanner, Oracle Database 12.1 and Docker on Ubuntu Server. Of  course, the traditional Linux distros like Debian, CentOS, Asianux, Red Hat and SUSE have images as well.

  5. Cognitive Services: This service is in preview, but I want to think big here. This is a significant innovation for future frameworks such as additional factor authentication, security surveillance and even creating metadata on images after they're created. One example is the Face API, offering services like face verification, face identification, face searching and more. Other services include Recommendation API, Speech API, Emotion API and more. Fascinating stuff!

Within the next year -- or maybe even sooner -- I'll do an updated version of this post, listing more Azure innovation.

Do you see a use for new cloud services from Azure? Are you the hybrid cloud seeker? Are cloud-native apps making their way into your environment? Share your comments below.

Posted by Rick Vanover on 05/06/2016 at 12:30 PM


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