Azure Top 10 Important Buying Tips
In April of 2014, Microsoft News reported that Office 365 had reached a $2.5 billon annual revenue rate. Since that time, the usage of all Microsoft Online Services has continued to accelerate with growing interest and confusion about Microsoft Azure. The following points provide some insight for customers to avoid pitfalls and better understand how to leverage this technology:
- Azure is a platform and not a specific product or service. All Microsoft Online Services including Office 365 are run on Azure. In addition Microsoft Azure features include:
- Compute: virtual machines, cloud services, parallel and batch compute jobs, and RemoteApps.
- Web & Mobile: web apps, mobile apps, logic apps, API apps, notification hubs, and mobile engagement.
- Data & Storage: SQL database, DocmentDB, Redis Cache, StorSimple, and Azure search.
- Analytics & Internet of Things: HDInsight, machine learning, stream analytics, data factor, event hubs, and SQL data warehouse.
- Networking: virtual network, ExpressRoute, Traffic Manager, load balancing, DNS, and VPN gateway.
- Media and CDN: Media services, encoding, Azure Media Player, media intelligence, content protection, live and on-demand streaming, and CDN.
- Hybrid Integration: BizTalk services, service bus, backup, and site recovery.
- Identity and Access Management: Azure Active Directory and multi-factor authentication.
- Developer Services: Visual Studio Online and Visual Studio Application Insights.
- Management: preview portal, scheduler, automation, operational insights, and key vault.
- The most popular services are Dirsync/Active Directory, Site Recovery, RemoteApp, and Virtual Machines.
- Dirsync: Allows customers to have the same password for the network and Microsoft Online Services.
- Site Recovery: Replicates offline copies of on premise virtual machines for disaster recovery.
- RemoteApp: Provides the capability to publish popular applications like QuickBooks accessible from any device without a VPN or managing a virtual server.
- Virtual Machines: Traditional Windows or Linux virtual servers hosted at Microsoft rather than on premise.
- A firewall that supports dynamic VPN is required in a hybrid environment. For a hybrid environment a site to site VPN must be established to Microsoft with a firewall that supports dynamic VPN. Lower-end firewalls like some Sonicwall models support dynamic VPN, but may not be robust enough for throughput while higher-end Cisco firewalls oddly do not support this feature. Matrixforce recommends and supports only Fortinet firewalls for Azure connections.
- Understanding Azure account setup is very important. Your Azure subscription should be created using a Microsoft Account for flexibility and avoiding limitations with an organizational account. The initial logon created becomes the service and account administrator for the Azure subscription. The account administrator cannot be changed and controls the account portal for Azure, which is managed separately from the Management Portal using the service administrator account. Best practice is to use the same account for both roles and create co-administrator accounts for the management portal as needed.
- Azure may be purchased via credit card, Open License Azure credits, or Azure Enterprise Agreement. The simplest, but most expensive way to purchase Azure services is by credit card. Azure Enterprise Agreements are intended for large customers with high usage scenarios. Open License is the preferred method to purchase Azure. Open Licenses provide a key to apply toward a single subscription for the purchased amount of credits (approximately $100 each). Open License credits must be activated within 5 years after purchase or become void. Once activated, the credits are only valid for one year whether consumed by services or not. Open License orders typically take 24-72 hours to process, so it is imperative to monitor usage to prevent downtime. Unfortunately, very few people in the channel understand these rules or can explain them to customers.
- Support is not included and billed separately. The only support you automatically receive for Azure is free billing or account questions. For any technical support, you must purchase an Azure support plan.
- Usage or consumption is difficult to estimate. Dirsync and low traffic websites are free. However, we challenge any rocket scientist to pick a business scenario and then confidently calculate usage cost using the Azure Price Calculator. Some services are flat cost and others are billed by the hour or gigabyte. You can upload data for free, but data egress or download incurs a charge. Fortunately, the calculated pricing is usually higher than reality. However, the only way to truly understand billing is testing usage or working with an experienced vendor.
- Azure subscription payment types cannot be changed. If you have a trial backed by a credit card and want to buy some Open License Azure Credits, then you’ll have to create a new Microsoft Account and a new Azure subscription. Then you must contact Azure billing support to transfer applications and data to your new Azure account.
- Transition of services from one Azure subscription to another is not seamless. Although transition is free, not everything is transferred and accounts with any significant amount of data may take 24 -72 hours. Any advanced services like RemoteApp and even common requirements like Active Directory must be moved by you manually.
- Don’t buy Azure, but rather services from a qualified Microsoft Cloud Partner. Less than 1% of Microsoft Partners are qualified to conduct business or configure Azure services, but they will gladly sell Open License Azure credits for a small commission. However, once you buy Azure credits, you then have to figure everything else out and purchase support. A better alternative is to leverage the technology, while mitigating the risk and complexity by purchasing offerings like RemoteApp or virtual machines for a flat cost per month with support from a qualified partner like Matrixforce.
Microsoft Azure provides enormous benefits to businesses by lowering the burden of uptime and disaster recovery for most current technology. However, it is key to understand the right way to purchase and configure to avoid costly transitions and disruptions to business. Matrixforce is a top 50 provider of Microsoft Online Services today and anticipates 80% of cloud customers utilizing some form of Azure in the next 5 years.
Please contact us if you’re interested in learning more about Azure. We hope you found this post helpful and be sure to share your Azure experiences and tips below.