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Azure is Microsoft’s Cloud Computing platform. It is an amalgamation of services for creating, deploying and managing applications that run in Microsoft’s secure worldwide data centers. The set of services can make virtually any software solution possible, from large retail targeting a global audience to CPU-intensive, scientific data calculations, to simple data backups. Almost any software that can be imagined can be written to take advantage of Azure services and can run in the Microsoft Cloud.
In this course, we will review the categories of services available in Azure today, then select some of the more commonly used services for a closer look. We will wrap up with a conceptual overview of how we can combine many Azure services to build a more ambitious solution. By the end of the course, you should have a general appreciation for the breadth of available services and start to see how they can be composed to create more powerful business solutions.
This course is for developers, operations engineers, and other IT professionals. Viewers should have a basic understanding of the cloud and cloud terminology.
The Learning Objectives for the course are:
● Learn what categories of Azure services exist and what problems they address.
● Learn the most common Azure services and how to use them now.
● Learn how you can combine Azure services.
Welcome and Introduction: These brief lectures will introduce you to the instructor and let you know what you'll be covering.
Azure Services: A description of how to build your first service.
Service Catagories: Overview of the 14 categories of Azure Services
Services Drill Down: A look at Websites, SQL Database, and Storage
Managing Services: This lesson includes a Security Center demo and a Command Line Interface demo.
Putting it Together: Tying all that you've learned into some real-life examples.
Conclusion: A wrap-up of what you've learned.
We'll step back and we'll look at the 14 categories of Azure services and some examples of services within those categories so you have an idea of the breadth. Let's take a closer look at the categories of services available the the Azure Portal. Earlier we clicked New and we searched, this time let's look at the individual categories.
As of today the Microsoft Azure Portal organizes services into 14 categories, with some services appearing in more than one category. So let's go through the categories one by one.
The Compute Service category is dominated by virtual machine images. These are primarily Windows and Linux VMs where you have administrative or root access. That means that you have full control over VM customization, management, tuning, and software installation. This sort of cloud service, as you know, is called infrastructure as a service or IS for short.
This is your VM running on infrastructure managed for you by Azure. As you can see, there are a variety of Windows Server versions, some with additional software such as SQL Server. On the Linux side, there are many distros: Ubuntu, Red Hat, Kali, and others. You can choose Linux configurations with NGINX or a LAMP stack pre-installed, many many options. Some of the options include configurations beyond a single virtual machine.
As mentioned, you can create a Windows Server with SQL Server already installed on it and licensed. Or you could also choose a multi VM SharePoint farm that includes multiple SQL Server and Windows Server machines ready to hydrate as a unit. And there are also Azure function apps. Azure functions allow you to deploy just code with no VM and not even a server in sight.
This is usually called serverless computing. Through the magic of software-defined networking, Azure has networking services for creating and configuring networks, subnets, gateways, firewalls, and so forth. There are point-to-point VPN services and site-to-site VPNs. You can even extend your corporate network and Azure over a rented private connection with express routes. You can reserve an IP address and manage DNS or configure a geo load balancer with traffic manager.
All your networking needs are in here. File systems, bulk storage, and backups are all under the Storage category. Nearly every use of Azure involves an Azure Storage account. As you saw from the Ubuntu Linux demo we just went through, there were two storage accounts created. Typically a storage account includes block storage which supports anything from small documents to multi-terabyte sized files. File storage, which supports a file system abstraction that implements the SMB standard and is one way to add a drive to a VM, among other uses, and even more features beyond that.
There are storage appliances that help integrate your on-premises and cloud infrastructure. For example, to back up on-prem data to cheap cloud storage for long-term archiving. One such service is the StorSimple virtual device. And further, the data link store is an example of a service listed under multiple categories.
We will describe it shortly. Earlier we looked at the VM offerings which included some ready to go LAMP stacks for running web applications. The services under Web and Mobile contrast sharply with the VM approach, because they are highly managed for scale and availability allowing you to focus on your code. Web apps obviously of they're building web apps, but they can be very sophisticated, including background processing and incredible scale. Java, .NET, Python, PHP, Node.js runtimes are all supported. You can integrate with a source control system like GitHub so that code updates can trigger automatic deployment. We'll demo this shortly.
There's also web apps for Linux supporting darker containers. But there's so much more. You can quickly spin up a content management system or blog using WordPress, an option that can involve multiple services, such as Web App and perhaps MySQL Database. The hard disk behind an Azure Web App is backed by Azure Storage, a service we mentioned earlier in the Storage category.
You can also configure storage to work with the content delivery network service shown here. The CDN service. Logic Apps make it easy to build custom workflows visually through an intuitive user interface. The workflow steps are flexible, include a long list of possible trigger events and responses. You can weave together many steps, for example when a new book review is posted it can kick off a workflow that runs the text through a spam detection service. If it passes it sends the text via email to a human for review. If that is approved, it goes ahead and posts a review for public viewing. And there's even support for mobile applications.
Modern mobile apps involve more than just the bits installed on the iPhone or Android. They also have a server side. The Mobile Apps Services support building that mobile backend with, for instance, API support and support for sending notifications to Apple and Google phones. We already saw in the Compute category that you can create a virtual machine and run your own database.
There's a lot of choice already right there. But there are also a bunch of database as a service options available here. What's different about the database as a service options is that you don't have to, and don't get to even if you wanted to, manage the database server itself. These operations are handled by Microsoft for first-party services, such as Azure SQL Database, Azure SQL Data Warehouse and DocumentDB. Azure SQL Database is substantially like a manage SQL Server Database, although that doesn't quite do it justice since there's so much more to Azure SQL Database. For example, supporting a point-in-time restore feature that will allow restoring the database or a copy to any minute within the past 14 to 35 days.
DocumentDB is a no SQL document oriented database similar in style to MongoDB. For all these database services, geo-replication, scaling, failover, these are all a breeze. And database software version updates, they're handled transparently for you as well. The Intelligence and Analytics category includes big data and business intelligence tools. HDInsight is Azure's managed Hadoop service.
The Azure platform supports not only cloud-scale storage of files and relational data, and other objects, but also higher level abstractions like data lake support. The Azure Data Lake presents disparate data types through a Hadoop file system or HDFS abstraction so it can be accessed by Azure HDInsight and other Hadoop distributions, as well as Azure Data Lake Analytics. Data Factory is a Swiss Army knife of data processing services, such as ETL. You can run your own machine learning models, or use pre-built ones through the Cognitive Services API spanning computer vision, speech-recognition, and translation. There are a lot of useful tools and services here. On to the Internet of Things, or IoT category.
Services in this category are there to help you scale to handle up to millions of devices and endpoints. While Event Hubs is there to ingest data and telemetry. Both of these work at very high scale and they can be combined with other Azure services for stream processing or batch analytics. Enterprise Integration includes hybrid cloud enablers to help connect services running in Azure with on-premises systems.
In Security and Identity we have Azure Key Vault, which is a hardware security module, or HSM, as a service. With Azure Key Vault you can securely store digital certificates and secrets like database passwords. Azure Active Directory is a cloud-scale directory service that backs Azure, Office 365, and other Microsoft Cloud properties, and it handles more than a billion login and authentication operations every day for Microsoft. Clearly this is a service that's earned your trust for authentication and single sign-on. And you can use it within your own applications.
Also under this category you'll find lots of Microsoft partners with security related offerings like firewalls. And to round it out, Microsoft also has the Azure Security Center, a security monitoring service and dashboard. We'll have a brief look at that shortly. The Developer Tools area includes code management with team project, some third party services like MyGet, which offers private hosting for NuGet, NPM, and other package manager assets. Microsoft's Application Insigts offering provides telemetry APIs, a telemetry gathering agent that can be co-deployed with your application, and a sophisticated suite of tools within the Azure portal itself making use of all that telemetry. This is very useful in tracking down the source of exceptions or performance issues.
We're gonna skip down to Containers, and in the Containers category are all of your favorite container tools. Docker, Kubernetes, and so forth. And finally, there's the Blockchain category. Blockchain became well known as the distributed leger technology behind the Bitcoin, cryptocurrency. The set of problems now being addressed by Blockchain is expanding, helping explain why there's now a whole category of Blockchain related services available in Azure.
About the Author
Bill Wilder is a hands-on architect currently focused on building cloud-native solutions on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Bill is CTO at Finomial which provides SaaS solutions to the global hedge fund industry from the cloud, co-founded Development Partners Software in 1999, and has broad industry experience with companies of all sizes – from modest startups to giant enterprises. Bill has been leading the Boston Azure group since founding it in 2009, has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for Azure since 2010, and is author of Cloud Architecture Patterns (O’Reilly Media, 2012). He speaks frequently at community events, and occasionally at conferences, usually on topics relating to cloud, cybersecurity, and software architecture.