Microsoft Azure, formerly known as Windows Azure, is Microsoft's public cloud computing platform. It provides a range of cloud services, including those for compute, analytics, storage and networking. Users can pick and choose from these services to develop and scale new applications, or run existing applications, in the public cloud.
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Microsoft categorizes Azure services into 11 main product types:
- Compute – these services provide virtual machines, containers, batch processing and remote application access.
- Web and mobile – these services support the development and deployment of web and mobile applications, and also offer features for API management, notification and reporting.
- Data storage – this category includes Database as a Service offerings for SQL and NoSQL, as well as unstructured and cached cloud storage.
- Analytics – these services provide distributed analytics and storage, as well as real-time analytics, big data analytics, data lakes, machine learning and data warehousing.
- Networking – this group includes virtual networks, dedicated connections and gateways, as well as services for traffic management, load balancing and domain name system (DNS) hosting.
- Media and content delivery network (CDN) – these services include on-demand streaming, encoding and media playback and indexing.
- Hybrid integration – these are services for server backup, site recovery and connecting private and public clouds.
- Identity and access management (IAM) – these offerings ensure only authorized users can employ Azure services, and help protect encryption keys and other confidential information.
- Internet of Things (IoT) – these services help users capture, monitor and analyze IoT data from sensors and other devices.
- Management and security – these products help cloud administrators manage their Azure deployment, schedule and run jobs, and create automation. This product group also includes capabilities for identifying and responding to cloud security threats.
The full list of Azure services is constantly subject to change. Users should check the Microsoft Azure website for updates.
Just as they can with other public cloud platforms, some organizations use Azure for data backup and disaster recovery. In addition, some organizations use Azure as an alternative to their own data center. Rather than investing in local servers and storage, these organizations choose to run some, or all, of their business applications in Azure.
Microsoft introduced Azure in October 2008. The cloud platform was originally called Windows Azure, but was rebranded to Microsoft Azure in April 2014. Azure competes with other public cloud platforms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud Platform.
To ensure availability, Microsoft has Azure data centers located around the world. As of January 2016, Microsoft said Azure services are available in 22 regions across the globe, including in the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia and Brazil.
As with other public cloud providers, Azure primarily uses a pay-as-you-go pricing model that charges based on usage. However, a single application may use multiple Azure services, so users should review and manage usage to minimize costs.
Considering Microsoft Azure for your organization? Read our expert overview of Azure cloud services, pricing and support model to help with your decision-making process.