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Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform, which means it’s a service that allows clients to utilize cloud-connected servers owned by Microsoft instead of buying or renting physical servers in a data center or running their own servers on-site.
Azure offers a long list of cloud services including data backup, content delivery, and virtual machines. The main reason people use Azure is that it provides more flexibility and significantly less up-front cost compared to traditional servers.
Microsoft Azure was originally known as Windows Azure, and it serves as an umbrella for all of Microsoft’s cloud computing services and other offerings. It’s similar to other cloud computing platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, and Oracle Cloud Platform.
The purpose of cloud computing services like Microsoft Azure is to provide on-demand access to various computer system resources like data storage and computing power, which is referred to as ‘compute.’ Azure also offers hundreds of apps, products, and other cloud services.
The cloud is often thought of in terms of cloud storage because that’s the aspect of it most people run into in their daily lives. For example, if you take a photo with your iPhone and later access it on your Mac without needing to have done anything special, that’s enabled by cloud storage, specifically in the form of iCloud.
Cloud computing is a lot broader than just cloud storage, and it provides users with remote access to a variety of computer resources. That includes storage, and a lot of businesses use cloud services to back up data, deliver content, and for other purposes. Software developers also use cloud services to develop and deploy software, and cloud services can host apps, websites, and various other services.
When you sign up for an account with Microsoft Azure, you are provided with access to a variety of cloud services through Microsoft’s Azure Portal. Through this portal, you can access cloud-based resources like virtual machines, databases, and apps. For example, a software developer might sign into the portal, set up a virtual machine, and either use it to develop or deploy a new app.
While cloud resources are the main service offered by Azure, the portal also provides access to a variety of other apps and services from Microsoft, and software from third-party vendors that can be accessed and used through the cloud.
Signing up for Azure is free, but there are costs associated with accessing cloud services and third-party software. When you sign up for Azure, Microsoft provides you with some credit that you can spend on services within the first 30 days. You also get free access to certain services for a limited amount of time, and other services are always free.
Microsoft Azure provides a lot of different services, so it can be used for a lot of tasks. Common usages include running virtual machines, hosting databases, backing up data, and delivering content.
Taking just a single one of those options, Azure virtual machines can be used for a variety of purposes. A virtual machine can host a website, DNS servers, applications, Windows Server services, and more. Virtual machines can also be used for development and deployment as an alternative to running everything on local hardware.
For data storage, Azure allows for secure, off-site data backup. Cloud storage is typically less expensive and more redundant than local storage, which makes it well suited to backing up data. Cloud storage can also be used for content delivery. The Azure content delivery network (CDN) is capable of streaming media and providing access to large files, which can take some of the load off of web servers.
This is just a small sample of the ways Azure can be used. It offers analytic services, can host and back up databases, and migrate workloads from a local data center to the cloud. It can also facilitate development by helping developers share code, test applications, and track bugs, and has a robust set of project and collaboration tools in the form of Azure DevOps. It even provides access to a range of artificial intelligence and machine learning features.
Azure is a cloud computing platform, but it also offers on-premise and hybrid services in the form of Azure Stack. This allows companies access to the entire range of Azure services and applications with the option to run everything on local servers for higher security, or in a hybrid between local and cloud for increased flexibility.
The price of using Azure depends entirely on what services you want to sign up for, and can vary from around $10 to several thousand dollars per month. The best way to figure out how much Azure would cost for you, specifically, is to use the Pricing Calculator.
You can create a free trial account directly through Microsoft. Free accounts will have access to over 40 different Azure services for free (such as such as Azure Functions and Azure Event Grid), with access to other popular services (like Windows Virtual Machines) for 12 months.
Microsoft first launched Azure on February 1st, 2010.
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