6/11/2019 8:28:51 AM Leona Baričević
What are Microsoft Azure business solutions

Microsoft Azure is a massive set of hybrid cloud services and it has been present for a while now. Its expansiveness and the variety of services it offers might seem overwhelming, but we’ve listed out some of its most important features which our colleagues find valuable and handy.

Having been a long-term business partner with Microsoft, Comminus has achieved a Gold Partner status which ensures the company applies the highest standards in terms of usage and development of Microsoft technologies and tools, so as continuous improvement of its IT professionals through rigorous exams. Therefore, it seems logical to present some of the technologies used at Comminus on a daily basis, one of them being Microsoft Azure. But let's start from the beginning and explain what is implied under the term „hybrid cloud“.

Hybrid cloud computing environment is a combination of a private and a public cloud, which means that data can be shared and distributed between the two. Such an arrangement allows companies flexibility and scalability, since all non-sensitive data can be stored in the public part of the cloud, while sensitive or confidential information remain secure on-premises, which reduces the possibility of an overflow-induced error.


Picture 1: Logicmonitor's predictions for cloud usage in 2020 (source: Forbes)

Quality cloud services have become indispensable for growth and progress of contemporary businesses and Microsoft Azure provides a wide palette of business solutions for every industry. Azure is an ever-expanding (and growing in popularity, according to ZDNet's 2019 article) set of hybrid cloud services and products, covering areas from machine learning to a variety of developer tools, analytics and storage solutions, and much more. Let's see a brief overview of some of the interesting possibilities it offers and how they can be useful.

BI and ML taking over the world

It is impossible to imagine a successful contemporary company which doesn't use some form of a business intelligence strategy. Making informed and fact-based business decisions is crucial in order to achieve and maintain competitiveness, and Azure might help you with that. Power BI Embedded enables developers to simply add interactive visuals and reports based on data into their applications, without wasting time on developing analytics features themselves. That kind of interesting visual aspect increases accessibility, usability and attractiveness of their apps and websites. Companies from several different industries (banking, insurance, education etc.) all rely on Power BI business solution because it is easy to use, quick and offers valuable insights into their business stats.

Machine learning can be understood as a sort of an extension of BI. The majority of population is probably still unaware of the extent it has spread to and its presence in everyday life, from personalized newsfeed on Facebook and music recommendations on YouTube to financial transactions, self-driving vehicles and smart personal assistants. In short, machine learning is a form of AI which implies training computers and systems to learn from data and act accordingly with little or no human intervention. It is extensively used for collecting data about customers' habits and preferences, and applying the collected to the improvement of a certain product or a business plan.

Picture 2: The machine learning process (source: Python Tips)

ML widens the concept of BI in that it uses predictive analytics, which means it is oriented towards future trends, not only past and present. Just as Pluralsight article suggests, a business can thrive if it can adequately exploit data in order to predict patterns and work in accordance with them, and therefore it would not be wise to underestimate its power in today's world. Azure has machine learning covered.

User-friendly machine learning

Azure Machine Learning service allows users to build, train and deploy machine learning models in accordance with their own level of skills, which means using either open-source Python packages (coding included), or using drag-and-drop functionality where no background in data science or programming is required. Therefore almost anyone can use it, from students who are just starting to expand their IT knowledge, to developers, business analysts and marketing professionals who seek to improve their businesses with the help of data analysis.

Renowned companies such as Asos and Schneider Electric use Azure Machine Learning service, which basically speaks for itself. Similar products include Machine Learning Studio for building, deploying and sharing predictive analytics solutions without using code in the process, and Data Science Virtual Machine which offers pre-configured VMs used for AI and machine learning, and data analytics.

Data management

Speaking of data, in digital world it is usually organized into databases, collections designed to handle large amounts of information arranged in comprehensible ways in order for users to access it easily. A database has to be created and managed by some kind of a system, a DBMS, acting as a channel between the database and users or programs which interact with it.

There are various types of databases depending on their functions and capacities, most popular being relational ones which use relational DBMSs (based on SQL programming language), such as MySQL, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL etc. Azure offers many database services (data warehousing, data migration to the cloud, data storing etc.), both SQL-related and those with NoSQL options. All of them are fully managed which means a lot of saved time, and they also ensure global and fast distribution.


Picture 3: Results based on a 2019 study which proved that Azure SQL Data Warehouse outperforms Amazon Redshift according to two benchmarks (source: Microsoft)


Development with Azure

Flexibility and versatility of Azure platform reflects also in users' ability to choose among a selection of language-specific software development kits within .NET, Java, Python, PHP and other domains. When it comes to .NET framework, with Visual Studio 2019 – an integrated development environment (IDE) which supports almost every major programming language and offers various tools for development – you can build programs, web and mobile apps, websites and web services.

Apps can be developed locally (with the help of intelligent code completion feature which significantly speeds up the process), and then easily analyzed afterwards, since Visual Studio allows quick insight into every change made, along with other important information related to those changes. Debugging can be executed at any moment without restarting your programming session, and the default Unit Testing option can be expanded with additional testing tools available in Visual Studio Enterprise edition. App deployment to Azure is possible directly from Visual Studio in a few quick steps. Web developers rated Visual Studio second favourite development environment in 2019.

What about DevOps?

When it comes to services which enhance collaboration between software development and IT operations teams within companies, Azure DevOps services cover a broad area. Azure Boards help you and your colleagues plan projects in detail while everyone is constantly involved and able to track changes and stages the projects go through. Thanks to the agile approach the Boards apply, it's easy to run sprints, organize meetings, and monitor the progress of your work at any point.

With Azure Pipelines you can automatically build and test code projects using various languages such as Python, Java, PHP and others, and run them on different platforms (Linux, Windows and MacOS), while deployment to any cloud is possible. Azure Repos enable you to manage your code by means of version control systems Git and TFVC. The system can take snapshots during development process, which means having insight into every previous stage of your project. With Azure Artifacts you can organize and control access to your packages by means of multiple feeds, and Azure Test Plans provides you with manual and exploratory testing service for your apps.


Picture 4: Azure DevOps (source: Telerik)


In conclusion

This brief overview does not even begin to describe all that Azure has to offer and it only serves as an outlining tool for guidance towards its many aspects. Azure's list of references is huge and quite impressive – it incorporates both small to medium companies and giants such as Coca Cola, Marc Jacobs, Samsung and Harper Collins Publishing, all of which have found at least one Azure's product or service useful.

If you want to check out how Microsoft Azure fares in numbers and percentages, here is a review which may convince you that you should try it out too. Additionally, one of the focal points of this year's Microsoft Build Conference in Seattle was precisely Azure and its new features already available or soon to be released. You can read our colleague's informative report on the event here.

Tags: business intelligence, cloud, data, DevOps, machine learning, Microsoft Azure