Is azure worth it for small business?
Before discovering a cloud environment like Microsoft Azure, most small businesses will either self host their technology and applications, use a local provider to host, or pay for co-location of their systems. However, when first learning about a cloud like Microsoft Azure, a small business may wonder if the switch is worth the effort?
Microsoft Azure is definitely worth considering for a small business as there may be savings in time, money, and time to market for many projects they are hosting. The small business will also get to rely on the expertise Microsoft has in this area instead of requiring in house knowledge.
It can still be a little difficult to picture where the savings or benefits come from, so that’s why this post will go over 13 different areas that could be extremely beneficial to the small business when running in the Microsoft Azure cloud.
One amazing benefit to using a cloud environment like Microsoft Azure is the on-demand pricing options available compared to buying and running their own computer systems. Using this model, the small business is able to only pay for the time that a virtual machine is running instead of needing to pre-pay for a server that they may not even be able to fully utilize. With the Microsoft Azure cloud, the virtual machine can be specifically sized and tuned for the work load being used, and when the virtual machine is no longer needed it is simply shut down and no more costs are charged to the small business.
Another benefit is that the small business can take advantage of the economies of scale that Microsoft is able to get when buying hundreds of thousands or more machines on a yearly basis. Because of this, the small business is able to get access to machines at a fraction of the cost of purchasing an equivalent machine themselves in a small order. The ability to instantly upgrade or downgrade the properties of the machine is also a huge benefit over simply buying your own, that once bought the small business is stuck with it until it is sold.
When a small business orders servers from somewhere like Dell, it can take weeks to months for that machine to arrive at their current location. Once the machine arrives, someone at the small business will need to spend some time setting the system up and configuring it for their needs before adding it to the production bank of servers that they may already have.
Comparing this to running servers with the Microsoft Azure cloud, at any moment a new machine can be spun up and ready to use within minutes and it can be running pretty much any operating system that they desire, including most variations of Linux and Microsoft Windows. Another benefit is that using a piece of software know as cloud-init, the virtual machine can be instructed to pre-install and configure any software that that small business might need for their operation as it is booting up. No more waiting weeks to months to add capacity. No more purchasing more machines than needed just in case there is extra traffic to the servers than expected.
The cloud environment provided by Microsoft Azure is specifically designed to have high levels of redundancy. The data centers that Microsoft Azure uses to host their virtual machines and services usually have several availability zones that are nearby geographically but each setup to run on different power sources and networking routes so that a failure in one should theoretically not affect any of the other zones.
When looking at something like the Microsoft Azure storage service, this service will normally require that copies of any data written to the service are made to several of these zones in a given region before notifying the user that the write was successful. This helps make sure that any data stored with the service is highly redundant even if an entire zone in a Microsoft Azure region fails. This can be very reassuring to the small business to know that their data is safe even under almost catastrophic failure.
Another feature provided by Microsoft Azure helps with keeping systems and services available. For example when using compute resources in this cloud, the machines can be launched in what are known as availability sets or virtual machine scale sets. In each of these cases, pretty much identical copies of the machines are launched to run the same type of software and services. Usually a load balancer is put in front of these machines so that the work can be distributed among them.
The benefit to running the virtual machines this way is that if any single machine fails within an availability set or in a virtual machine scale set, one of the other will take over the work for the failed node. This helps keep applications and services in the cloud highly available, which usually means happier customers, as there is always a machine ready to handle the work even during failure of one of the nodes. For a small business to handle something like this themselves, they would need to purchase multiple machines and make sure they were configured identically and setup so that if any machine failed, the others would pick up the slack.
Microsoft as a company spends over a billion dollars annually on security related initiatives. They also employ tens of thousands of security experts worldwide. These security focused employees are always focused on making sure Microsoft Azure is an incredibly secure environment for their cloud based customers.
There is no way a small business would be able to compete with this amount of security knowledge as well as make sure all of their systems are up to date and continuously patched for every security hole that is discovered on a daily basis. Running the small business workloads in the cloud environment will greatly help with this risk.
If a small business were to be attacked with a DDoS attack, most would have no clue what to do, or how to fix the issue. Engineers in Microsoft Azure deal with this type of thing on a daily basis, so as a customer of theirs, you very likely wouldn’t have to worry much about these types of issues.
Another benefit with Microsoft Cloud is their global presence. Microsoft currently has fifty three regions spanning the globe. In each region they have two or more availability zones. Azure customers are able to deploy virtual machines in practically all of these regions.
Normally for a small business to be able to deploy and run virtual machines and services in different parts of the world would require them to determine the location of a co-location facility in the given country and sign various contracts with those facilities. After that, they would then be required to ship their hardware to those facilities so that they can service the customers in that region. Running a similar setup in the Microsoft Azure cloud is much simpler, and can normally be done within minutes, if not seconds.
Another advantage for a small business when running their services in the Microsoft Azure cloud is the speed of the Microsoft network that is available to them. Inside a given region, the data can move at tens to hundreds of gigabits per second. Even inter region on the Microsoft backbone that they’ve built between their different Azure regions, the speeds can still be in the gigabits per second or faster.
The number of points of presence that Microsoft Azure has around the globe is also a huge benefit to their customers as it gives fast local connections to the end customers pretty much no matter where they live around the world.
When comparing this to what a small business would need to purchase to achieve the same connection speed to their customers, this alone could cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month. This is probably one thing that most small businesses do not consider when looking at the pricing of different services offered by the Microsoft Azure cloud.
Microsoft azure also offers many different types of backup services for all of their virtual machines and other services. The virtual machines that a small business uses can be setup to have daily backups, or less frequent backups if desired, so that the machine can be restored at any point in time if something bad happened to the given machine.
Azure Storage also offers automatic backups of data to a secondary region with their geo redundant storage option. Also, the Azure SQL servers have built in restoration features that allow the Azure customers to restore the database to a state very recently in the past.
For most small businesses, getting any type of backup and restore feature similar to what Azure provides would be out of reach. Having a good backup system is usually not appreciated by most until the moment that it is needed. At that point it could be too late if the small business had decided to roll their own and hadn’t tested the backup service properly.
For most small businesses, having a proper disaster recovery setup can be very difficult and expensive. A lot of small businesses might not even know how to set this up properly, or may not have in house expertise that would even know how to get this going.
With Microsoft Azure, this is built in to almost every service they offer. For example with Microsoft Azure Storage accounts, using the geo redundant service option, any data that is written to the primary storage region is automatically, and asynchronously, written to a secondary region. This secondary region must be a very large geographic distance away from the primary. For example the West US region will have its secondary replication region set to the East US.
This means that if a major failure were to happen in the West US region and all of its data centers were to fail, there would still be multiple replicated copies of the data stored in the East US region. The most that could be lost is several seconds worth of data that may not have had time to asynchronously copy itself over to the secondary region.
A very similar setup can be done with Azure SQL Server so that a primary region can fail over to the secondary region if some sort of regional failure were to happen in the primary region. Being able to setup and run an equivalent setup for a small business without using the cloud would be extremely expensive, and likely there wouldn’t be enough knowledge in house for most small businesses to accomplish this.
Another benefit to using the Microsoft Azure cloud for small business is the virtually unlimited storage capacity that is available. The Microsoft Azure Storage accounts are designed to handle the storage of almost any amount of data. A single file or object stored in the storage account can use up to 5TB of space, and there can be any number of these files stored in the account.
For a small business to handle storage like this, they would need many redundant hard drives, likely setup in a RAID configuration and with some specialized software to host and maintain that data. This doesn’t include all the backup and soft delete functionality provided by Azure or even all of the permission functionality that can be configured for that data.
For a small business to operate this on their own, they would need some in house storage expertise, and someone that is able to replace hard drives as they fail. This means that the small business would need to have hard drives on hand to replace the failed drives when they occur. With the Microsoft Azure cloud storage service, this is something the small business does not need to worry about.
Working with the Microsoft Azure cloud can also be of extreme benefit to most small businesses as it allows for faster testing of new ideas and concepts. When you can spin up new virtual machines in minutes or seconds to test a new idea that that company has come up with, that can be game changing.
The alternative for most small businesses is waiting for new hardware to arrive, configuring that hardware to work with the new project, and then seeing if the idea or concept worked. Even then, those test machines still need to be purchased at full price even if the test fails. Compared with running on the Microsoft Azure cloud, you could just start up virtual machines to test the new proof of concept and shut them down when finished, only paying for the time that the machines were running.
Another benefit for a small business for running in the Microsoft Azure cloud is the availability of the managed services that they offer. Services like the Azure SQL server are completely managed by the Azure SQL team. There is no need for the small business to make sure the underlying machines running the SQL server are patched for security vulnerabilities and that the SQL server software if updated. This is all handled by the Microsoft engineers, and due to their expertise with handling these types of things, they are likely more suited to handle this than most small business staff.
Not only are database services managed by Microsoft Azure, but things like storage accounts, the azure kubernetes service, the streaming analytics service and many more. The expertise that Microsoft engineers would have in maintaining and patching these services would far outweigh any expertise that a small business staffer might have surrounding the specific managed services.
One other benefit to small businesses when using a cloud service like Microsoft Azure is the amount of expertise and support that Microsoft engineers can provide to their customers that no small business would be able replicate. This can be a game changer. Due to the enormous volume and capacity provided by a cloud like Azure, they have most likely run into almost any type of issue that a small business could think of and then some.
Being able to have a large resource like Azure to call upon when certain issues arise is an attractive option. This also doesn’t count the support that might be available from different online communities and support forums available on the web that could help a small business with any issue that they run into, mainly because the other Microsoft Azure customers would be using similar services and configurations that the small business would be running.
As you can see, there are plenty of advantages to a small business for running their services and applications on top of the Microsoft Azure cloud when comparing it to them running or hosting themselves. This is definitely something that most small businesses should at least consider if they use any amount of technology to provide the services that they do to their customers.