How does pricing work for Azure Features

Cloud computing

The fact that in early 2014, Satya Nadella, a cloud computing specialist, was appointed to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft was a clear sign. The software company wanted - and had to - break new ground. Because after initial skepticism, companies and public institutions are increasingly relying on cloud computing. This is often done in addition to conventional delivery models, i.e. IT services from the company's own data center, keyword hybrid cloud.

A study by the consulting house KPMG in cooperation with Bitkom Research showed that at the end of 2016 two thirds of companies in Germany were using cloud services. Small and medium-sized companies with 20 to 2,000 employees have also discovered the cloud for themselves. 64 percent of small companies with up to 100 employees rely on the cloud; in the case of medium-sized companies with up to 2,000 employees, the figure is 69 percent.

The market research company Techconsult estimates the turnover with cloud services in Germany in 2017 at 7.5 billion euros. The market experts expect growth of more than 25 percent to 10.5 billion euros by 2019. Of this, software-as-a-service offers around 60 percent, and infrastructure services such as servers and storage around 17 percent. According to Techconsult, a tenth of IT spending in Germany now goes to the cloud.

The trend to book operating systems, applications and development platforms as cloud services is also having a positive effect at Microsoft. The cloud services business now makes a significant contribution to the company's sales. That shows a look at the business figures for the fourth quarter of the fiscal year 2017. Microsoft achieved a worldwide turnover of 23.3 billion dollars in this period. The Intelligent Cloud division, which includes Azure, contributed $ 7.4 billion. A year earlier it was 6.7 billion. The profit margin is also impressive. In the third quarter of 2017, it was around $ 2.5 billion for Intelligent Cloud. In the same period of fiscal 2016, however, operating profit was still $ 2.18 billion.

According to the company, sales with Microsoft Azure alone increased by 97 percent compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016. Another component of "Intelligent Cloud" is Office 365, the cloud version of Office. According to a blog post from Microsoft, the service had around 85 million active users worldwide in the spring of 2017.

You can also read in our "Cloud giants" series:

Amazon Web Services - a lot of cloud for little money

T-Systems - with four IaaS platforms against AWS and Co.

IBM Softlayer and Bluemix on the test bench

The Oracle cloud still has a lot of room for improvement

Google Cloud Platform is supposed to stand up to AWS

  1. Azure Microsoft Cloud Germany
    Microsoft has been offering cloud services "Made in Germany" since mid-2016. For this purpose, two data centers in Frankfurt am Main and Magdeburg were put into operation.
  2. Azure Cloud: Nadella in Germany
    Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft at the presentation of the Deutschland-Cloud in Berlin in November 2015: "Our approach is to build a highly scalable public cloud. We offer our customers a real hybrid and distributed computing platform."
  3. Azure Paired Region
    Higher reliability through "paired regions": Users of Azure cloud services can replicate data and resources such as virtual machines and databases between two Microsoft data centers. Both are in neighboring regions, such as Western and Northern Europe, but must be at least 300 miles apart.
  4. Azure Marketplace
    Just like Amazon Web Services and other cloud service providers, Microsoft has set up a marketplace for third-party products on Azure.
  5. Microsoft Cloud Trustee Model
    In Germany, Microsoft has set up a separate Azure cloud infrastructure. Only an intermediary trustee, in this case T-Systems, has access to the customer data.
  6. Alex Stüger
    Alex Stüger, Deputy Chairman of the Management Board of Microsoft Germany: "From our point of view, the connection of our Microsoft cloud platform with German infrastructure and German data trustee is unique on the market."

Microsoft Azure is number two behind AWS

Microsoft has now established itself as the clear number two behind Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the public cloud sector. Microsoft defends this position with its cloud platform Azure confidently against the third largest provider Google.

According to a study by the cloud broker Rightscale, 34 percent of users of public cloud services worldwide used Microsoft Azure in 2017. Another 21 percent are experimenting with the platform, and another 12 percent want to use the Microsoft cloud. This increased the number of Azure users by 14 percent within a year. It should be noted, however, that Microsoft's software-as-a-service offerings, i.e. Office 365 and the cloud version of the CRM solution Microsoft Dynamics CRM, must be added.

For comparison: AWS's market share stagnated in 2016 and 2017 and was 57 percent. In contrast, Google's cloud platform was able to increase the number of users by 5 percent. Another trend is reflected in these figures: companies are increasingly relying on multi-cloud environments. In other words, they use public cloud offerings from several providers. One reason is to minimize risk: companies want to avoid becoming dependent on a single service provider.

Azure: Comprehensive range of IaaS and PaaS services

The basis of the Azure cloud structure is currently (as of September 2017) 42 regions - according to Microsoft, more than competitors such as AWS, Google, IBM and Oracle have to offer. Microsoft wants to add further "regions", for example in France, South Africa and Australia. If you include the planned cloud data centers in France (Paris and Marseille), Microsoft is represented with eight data centers in Europe, for example in Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany (Magdeburg and Frankfurt am Main).

"Our approach is to build a highly scalable public cloud. We offer our customers a real hybrid and distributed computing platform," emphasized Nadella at the presentation of the Germany cloud in Berlin in November 2015 (see also: Microsoft is building a German cloud Infrastructure.)

A comparison of the public cloud services from Microsoft and AWS shows that both providers are pursuing a similar strategy. This applies, for example, to Infrastructure-as-a-Service offers such as virtual machines, storage services, databases or content delivery services. Interested parties can also order technologies such as Hadoop from both Microsoft (HDInsight) and AWS (Elastic Map Reduce). A similar picture emerges for IoT platforms (Internet of Things) and services in the area of ​​machine learning.

Azure with services for AI and archiving

The most important extensions that Microsoft presented for Azure in 2017 include the NoSQL database Cosmos DB as well as support for MySQL and the object-relational database PostgreSQL. Archive Blob, a service for archiving data, has been available in a preliminary version since summer 2017. With Archive Blob, Microsoft closes a gap in its cloud storage offering. It offers functions comparable to those of AWS Glacier and Google Coldline. Microsoft is addressing users of Azure who want to archive data in the cloud, keyword "cold storage".

Together with Nvidia, Microsoft is also making resources for AI (Artificial Intelligence) applications available via the cloud. Users can access HGX-1 chassis with eight high-performance graphics processors from the Pascal 100 series from Nvidia via Azure. The platform is specially designed for AI applications, for example in the areas of autonomous driving, speech recognition and data and video analysis.

The Brainwave project aims in a similar direction. It provides Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) on Azure that support deep learning applications, among other things. Google has presented a comparable approach with TensorFlow. Analyzes and "predictions" can be created particularly quickly with FPGAs. Google uses TensorFlow, for example, to weight search queries or to translate information in OCR (Optical Character Recognition) format into other languages ​​in real time.

New container service on the move

Together with Windows Server 2016, Microsoft has also introduced its own container technology, which will also be available on Azure. These Hyper-V containers complement the Docker containers based on Linux and complement Windows containers. Each Hyper-V container contains a basic version of Windows and uses the Hyper-V hypervisor to create an IT environment that is isolated from the host. Management is carried out using tools that are also used at Docker.

In addition, the Azure Container Service (ACS) and, since summer 2017, the Azure Container Instances (ACI) are available. In contrast to ACS, ACI is designed for smaller workloads and, with Kubernetes, only supports orchestration software.

However, it is controversial whether container technologies such as Docker and Windows server containers actually play such an important role as their providers indicate. According to a study by Cloud Foundry, only 25 percent of companies used containers in 2017, around 3 percent more than in 2016. A further 42 percent are looking into whether this technology is suitable for them.

Welcome to Open Source

In contrast to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft had a long hard time dealing with open source. On the other hand, AWS showed no reservations from the start. Databases and orchestration solutions as well as the Linux operating system have been part of Amazon's portfolio for a long time. In addition, AWS is integrating new open source solutions into its product range faster than Microsoft. One example is the Docker container technology.

Microsoft was more hesitant in this regard. The reason for this is the strong fixation on Windows and proprietary software, even if Microsoft officially presents itself as one of the biggest protagonists of open source. However, Microsoft has given up its restrictive stance, also in the area of ​​cloud computing. Since 2016, Azure users have been able to use images from Red Hat Enterprise Linux