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What Is Azure?

Updated: April 15, 2014

Azure is an Internet-scale computing and services platform hosted in data centers managed or supported by Microsoft. It includes many separate features with corresponding developer services which can be used individually or together.

The following illustration shows a mapping of capabilities to the features that comprise Azure. Be sure to check which Azure services are available in your region.

Microsoft Azure Platform graphic overview

You can also view or download the What is Microsoft Azure Infographics which further explain Azure visually.

If you are running Windows 8 or later, try the Server Posterpedia application. It provides the ability to zoom and interact with numerous posters on various Microsoft products, including Azure.

Azure.microsoft.com provides tutorials, downloads, and how-to guides that help you get started developing on Azure.

The following sections outline the MSDN documentation available for Azure.

The Azure SDKs for .NET, Node.js, Java, PHP, Python and Ruby provide common tools and resources that you use to package, test and deploy your application. The Azure SDK for .NET includes the Azure Tools for Microsoft Visual Studio, which extends Visual Studio to enable the creation, building, packaging, running, and debugging of scalable web applications and services on Azure. The following learning resources are available:

The Azure Management Portal provides access to deploy and manage Azure features as well as charts and status information that show the health and performance of your services and accounts.

You can run applications on Azure using Azure Web Sites, Cloud Services (formerly hosted services), Virtual Machines (which support IaaS), and Mobile Services. For more information, see the following locations.

  • Virtual Machines provide Infrastructure As a Service (IaaS) functionality. You get full control over a server in the cloud, and maintain it as your business requires. Choose from a gallery of images including Windows Server and Linux with various preinstalled additional applications including Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle databases. Alternatively, you can create and upload your own image.

  • Web Sites - Get started for free and scale as you go. Use any tool or operating system to build a web site with .NET, PHP, Python, Java or Node.js and deploy in seconds.

  • Mobile Services - Mobile Services is designed to make it easy to create highly-functional mobile apps using Windows Azure. It brings together a set of services that enable backend capabilities for your apps.

  • Cloud Services - With Cloud Services, you can quickly deploy and manage multi-tier applications where Azure handles the details: provisioning, load balancing, and health monitoring for continuous availability.

Data Services provide the ability to store, modify and report on data in Azure. Benefits include manageability, high availability, high scalability, and a familiar development model. The following learning resources are available:

  • Windows Azure Storage is an overarching feature that contains 3 developer services.

    1. Blobs can store large text or binary data files. For example - log files, video, audio and images.

    2. Tables can store large amounts of unstructured non-relational (NoSQL) data.

    3. Storage Queues provide reliable, persistent messaging between application tiers running in Azure. Also see Service Bus Queues, which are similar but have different benefits and limitations.

  • SQL Database can store large amounts of relational data.

  • SQL Data Sync enables creating and scheduling regular synchronizations between SQL Database and either on-premises SQL Server(s) or other instances of SQL Database.

  • HDInsight is based on Apache Hadoop. It simplifies working with big data through integration with tools like Microsoft Office and System Center. Additional information is available at Big Data

  • Site Recovery Manager (formerly Hyper-V Recovery Manager) lets you orchestrate and manage replication of your primary data center to a secondary site, for the purposes of data management, continuity, and disaster recovery. You can use off-premise automation to control on-premise private clouds that are defined in System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and System Center 2012 R2 Virtual Machine Manager (VMM).

  • Backup protects important server data offsite with automated backups to Azure, where they are available for easy restoration.

  • Cache is a distributed, in-memory, scalable solution that enables you to build highly scalable and responsive applications by providing super-fast access to data. This includes a very common scenario of session state and output caching in ASP.NET. Caching increases performance and reduced traffic by temporarily storing information from other backend sources and updating it at controlled intervals. In an Azure solution, Cache can reduce the costs and increase the scalability of other storage services such as SQL Database or Azure storage.

  • Azure SQL Reporting is a cloud-based reporting service built on SQL Server Reporting Services technologies. It allows you to build reporting capabilities into Azure applications. Reports can render on the desktop and remove the need to maintain your own reporting infrastructure. NOTE: SQL Reporting is being deprecated in favor of running SQL Reporting Services on an Azure Virtual Machine. The documentation here is provided to support existing users only.

Networking services provide general connectivity and routing at the TCP/IP and DNS level.

  • Notification Hubs provide an easy-to-use infrastructure that enables you to send mobile push notifications from any backend (in the cloud or on-premises) to any mobile platform. You can easily send cross-platform, personalized push notifications, abstracting the details of the different platform notification systems (PNSs). With a single API call, you can target individual users or entire audience segments containing millions of users, across all their devices.

  • Service Bus provides a hosted, secure, and widely available infrastructure for widespread communication, large-scale event distribution, naming, and service publishing. Service Bus provides connectivity options for Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and other service endpoints, which includes REST endpoints.

    Azure Storage Queues and Service Bus Queues provide different benefits. After reading the overview material for each feature, see Azure Queues and Azure Service Bus Queues - Compared and Contrasted for additional information.

  • Media Services form an extensible cloud-based platform that enables developers to build scalable media management and delivery applications.

  • BizTalk Services provides common integration capabilities (e.g. bridges, transforms, B2B messaging) in Azure. It provides rich messaging endpoints to process and transform the messages, enables business-to-business messaging, and helps organizations integrate with disparate applications, both in the cloud and on-premises.

  • Active Directory provides multiple services for controlling and using identity in a cloud application.

  • Scheduler is a multi-tenant application service in Azure for scheduling reliable actions on a recurrent or calendar aware-basis. The scheduled actions are executed reliably even in the face of network, machine, and data center failures. The Scheduler REST API helps manage the communication for these actions.

  • The Content Delivery Network caches Azure blobs and the static content output of compute instances at strategically placed locations to provide maximum bandwidth for delivering content to users.

  • Multi-factor Authentication reduces organizational risk and helps enable regulatory compliance by providing an extra layer of authentication in addition to a user’s account credentials. Windows Azure Multi-Factor Authentication can be used for both on-premises and cloud applicationsMulti-Factor Authentication can be enabled for Windows Azure Active Directory users or for custom applications using the SDK or on-premises application using the Multi-Factor Authentication Server.

  • Automation automates the creation, monitoring, deployment, and maintenance of resources in your Azure environment. IT pros and IT developers can use Automation to construct, run, and manage runbooks to integrate, orchestrate, and automate IT business processes. Automation runbooks run on the Windows PowerShell workflow engine..

  • Visual Studio Online (formerly Team Foundation Service) allows you to get Visual Studio up and running in minutes in Azure without having to install or configure a single server. You can set up environment that include hosted Git repos and project tracking tools, to continuous integration and an IDE, and pay a monthly per-user cost. You can also connect projects using on-premises development tools, such as Visual Studio, Eclipse or Xcode.

Networking services provide general connectivity and routing at the TCP/IP and DNS level.

  • Virtual Network enables you to provision and manage site-to-site and point-to-site virtual private networks (VPNs) in Azure and to securely link these with on-premises IT infrastructure. It allows you to use Azure as you would a branch office, or as a protected private virtual network in the cloud.

  • ExpressRoute is a service that enables private connections between Azure datacenters and your on-premises or colocated environment(s). ExpressRoute connections do not go over the public Internet, and offer higher security, more reliability, faster speeds and lower latencies than typical connections over the Internet.

  • Traffic Manager load-balances incoming traffic across multiple Internet accessible services using DNS-based policies.

Both Store and Marketplace provide a place to buy or sell Azure applications and data subscriptions. The Azure Store is integrated into the Azure Management Portal, while Marketplace is not.

See Also

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