What Windows Azure means for business

Opinion Jan 30, 2013

The features and customer benefits of Microsoft Windows Azure

The world has changed immeasurably over the last fifty years, and the speed of development and innovation seems to be accelerating almost daily with new software, hardware and applications.

A recent example is cloud computing - a vast cyber-sea of data and processing power that is just there, waiting to be plugged in-to and used. Small companies now no longer need to have a full IT department.

This is all thanks to virtual office space, which is one of the concepts offered by Windows Azure. Windows Azure offers several services: development and global deployment of applications, data storage and hosting services.

What is Windows Azure?

It’s Microsoft’s application platform for cloud computing. Windows Azure can help connect the user to the cloud, and further assist them to take advantage of the processing power available.

The development of applications is a fast-growing field and young designers are jumping on the bandwagon, each desperate to invent the next Angry Birds or Cut The Rope, and make their millions. However, creating and developing apps chews through an inordinate amount of bandwidth, much more than a single processor can cope with.

Windows Azure can help designers to achieve good processing speeds, as the system charges the same fee for one processor running for a thousand hours as it does for one thousand processors running for one hour. Pixar uses Windows Azure for this exact reason, as each frame of an animated movie would take eight hours to render on one processor. This means that one movie would take 272 years to produce!

Once an app is in development, Windows Azure’s infrastructure continues to provide benefit to the designer by enabling global sharing of the app. Windows Azure, like many cloud computing services, guarantees its customer that apps and data, both string and binary, will be compatible with other devices that use an appropriate operating system.

Storage space – the final frontier

Data storage is an increasingly important feature of business management. Often it is necessary to have a wealth of information accessible, but not actually cluttering up the office hard-drives. Cloud computing services provide external ‘storage areas’ for data, which can be easily retrieved when needed. The process is as simple as logging-in to the external service and clicking on the file that is needed, exactly as if it was stored in the office.

Windows Azure hosts servers at 24 locations all over the world, including eight sites in Europe. Each location hosts 1,800 to 2,500 servers, any one of which is capable of holding vast amounts of data, or offering high band-width to users, depending on their need. It is unlikely that a user will employ Windows Azure to simply store data though as so vast, flexible and adaptive is the system that an entire IT package can be put together for any company, from a sole trader to a large multi-national.

Host more than most

Hosting services are the features of Windows Azure that provide the most benefit to a small- to medium-sized business. Setting-up and maintaining a website can be a costly business, and brings with it the need of having a dedicated server running constantly. Often an IT expert is needed to make sure the site looks professional and trustworthy, and that the links all work efficiently. This includes payment and order links – customers won’t order from companies if their website looks unprofessional.

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