Microsoft Azure is a great cloud platform with both infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) offerings. Since Microsoft opened their data centres in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, more and more clients are asking me about moving workloads to Azure. It’s now a very attractive proposition with data now residing in Australia and easily replicated between data centres. No need to update and manage hardware on-site or install hardware at a secondary site for disaster recovery purposes.
The technology is great but what about management of the environment? When I sit down to discuss a cloud solution with a client I’m often asked to explain what is managed by Microsoft (the platform provider) and what the client will still be responsible for. Many companies are looking to ease the burden of maintenance and support with a move to the cloud. Removing the need to support back end infrastructure like servers and storage or having to patch, monitor and protect the server operating system are often seen as key cloud benefits. However, this is an area of confusion for many clients, so let’s look at the most common types of cloud computing and answer the question of who manages what?
The three primary types of cloud computing services are software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). SaaS is probably the most common form of cloud computing. This is where a client pays a subscription and gains access to an application such as Microsoft’s Office 365. If I need email for a new employee, I pay Microsoft for an additional license, create the account and Microsoft delivers the service. Everything is managed by Microsoft: the hardware, operating system, application, data, updates, and antivirus. I don’t have to worry about supporting the application in any way, including upgrades or patching.
Unfortunately, in my experience it seems to be that many people assume that the SaaS model of responsibility automatically applies to other forms of cloud computing, such as IaaS and that is not the case. IaaS delivers a virtualised platform and other computer hardware such as firewalls and switches, upon which the client runs their own virtualised servers. Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines are IaaS. Microsoft provide and manage the underlying hardware while you as a customer either bring your virtualised server or install a new server into the Azure environment. IaaS customers are responsible for managing their operating system and applications. This includes troubleshooting issues, patching, software upgrades and managing antivirus applications. If a new version of installed software is released or if a service pack for the operating system is released then the customer is responsible for these updates. Microsoft is supplying the underlying hardware platform only.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) sits somewhere in between SaaS and IaaS. PaaS provides a computing platform and the vendor typically provides the operating system, database, web server, etc. PaaS speeds up the development, test and deployment of applications. Microsoft Azure provides a number of PaaS services such as Azure SQL databases. Microsoft delivers and maintains a SQL database engine and the client is responsible for the client application only.
Many companies are looking to move services into the cloud and in most cases the end solution will be a mix of SaaS, IaaS and PaaS. The cloud vendor does not manage and support all cloud components, so where does that leave a client that wants to streamline processes and remove day-to-day management of components such as anti-virus software and patching? The solution is to engage a managed services provider (MSP) who specialises in cloud services management. The MSP will cost effectively manage Azure-based services with specialised tools and remove the entire management burden.
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