What you need to know about Azure, Microsoft’s public cloud

Imagine an apartment developer who prepares the lot, pours the concrete, does the rough framing, and installs electricity—but leaves you to build the rest of your apartment yourself. The builder gives you the infrastructure but you have to take it from that bare minimum to something you can live in. And once you move in, don’t even think about relying on anyone else for maintenance and security—you’re on your own.

Just like a new apartment home you share with other tenants, it’s best to know what you’re getting into before moving into a new cloud computing “home.” Marketing messages don’t tell the whole story. If you choose public cloud hosting like Microsoft Azure, you’ll get an infrastructure—servers and basic functionality—but your new cloud home isn’t furnished and will lack some essential elements. Plus, you’re in charge of managing it—a challenging and time-consuming responsibility—with no “super” to call.

Azure compared to a Managed Private Cloud

If you go with Microsoft Azure, your IT staff or Managed Service Provider (MSP), not Microsoft, is responsible for managing your Azure environment and ensuring it has:

  • Reliable connectivity and sufficient bandwidth
  • Regular, comprehensive backups
  • Automated replication
  • Geographic redundancy
  • System load analysis and compute adjustment
  • Layered security
  • Regular patching, upgrading, maintenance, and monitoring

On the other hand, if you choose a managed private cloud solution, your new cloud home will be completely furnished and you’ll have a team of experts taking care of maintenance, security, and other areas of concern.

When considering a public cloud offering like Azure, pay particular attention to these issues:

Security: The Azure cloud environment is a multi-tenant environment, therefore opening organizations up to some risk. Getting a solid understanding of the Microsoft security platform and service level delivery is challenging to say the least. On the other hand, private cloud providers are very clear and upfront about their security practices and policies.

Before you entrust your systems and data to a public cloud, determine whether you fit in their box and whether they can live up to an SLA.Unlike public clouds, a private cloud is a single-tenant environment. A client’s compute, storage, and networking are isolated from other clients (tenants). If in the rare case a security breach occurs, it’s isolated to the single-tenant environment only. Because a public cloud is a multi-tenant environment, your server shares hardware, storage, network devices, and security breaches with other tenants and vice versa.

Customization: Forget about it. Remember, you’re renting an apartment, not building a custom home. Customization is limited in public cloud offerings like Azure. However, managed private cloud solutions give organizations the flexibility to scale when needed and upgrade when desired.

Service: Carefully review the public cloud’s service level agreement (SLA). Public clouds like Azure don’t provide guarantees for up time, recover time, or loss of data.

Cost predictability: Some public cloud IT costs like the cost of bandwidth usage change month-to-month and are therefore unpredictable. Many private clouds don’t charge for bandwidth usage—it’s included.

Cost misconceptions: Don’t assume public clouds like Azure are less expensive than a private cloud solution—that’s not always the case.

Relationship with your cloud provider: Perhaps the biggest difference between a public and private cloud offering is the relationship you have with the provider. There’s no comparison between the (lack of) relationship a customer has with Microsoft and the personal relationship our clients have with their trusted technology advisor, DelCor. Whenever they wish, our cloud clients can talk with DelCor consultants who are based in the U.S. and who understand the business of associations and nonprofits—many having worked in associations and nonprofits themselves.

Choosing Azure with the support of an MSP

Despite the drawbacks, some organizations decide to go with Azure but have their Managed Service Provider (MSP) implement and manage it. This is a smart choice if the cost and technical specifications of Azure match the organization’s requirements, but they don’t have the internal capacity or expertise to manage it. Implementing Azure is tough to do on your own. An MSP with cloud computing expertise like DelCor can help your association:

  1. Manage the discovery and inventory of IT resources.
  2. Develop a cloud roadmap.
  3. Build and configure the Azure environment to the correct, specific requirements for your organization.
  4. Migrate and manage workloads and applications, and decide which workloads and applications belong in Azure and which belong elsewhere.
  5. Enhance security by adding security services on top of Azure, for example, encryption, patching, and threat detection and analysis.
  6. Configure, test, and manage backups per your organizational requirements.
  7. Develop a disaster recovery plan and protection that’s mapped to your organization’s exact needs.
  8. Deliver a service level agreement that ensures a reliable, stable cloud environment.
  9. Proactively monitor and maintain the cloud environment for you.
  10. Plus, be available for client support, troubleshooting, and problem resolution by phone 24/7 every day of the year. Try reaching someone at Microsoft on the phone—not going to happen.

Whichever option you choose—private or public—do your due diligence. Before signing a contract, take a look at our list of questions to ask a cloud hosting provider.

Don’t limit your cloud solution search to big names like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Take a look at private options that provide the level of service needed by your association or nonprofit, and in DelCor’s case have been specifically designed for associations and nonprofits. Whether you choose a private or public cloud solution, don’t go it alone. Take advantage of the expertise and services offered by a Managed Service Provider and you’ll have the best of both worlds.

Read how one association determined that a managed private cloud was right for them. Download our free white paper, Out of the Server Closet, Into the Cloud, to learn how Enterprise Wireless Alliance’s move to DelCor’s private cloud began with a network assessment and how they turned IT from a cost center to a mission-enabler.

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