7 min read

Azure Cloud Managed Services Made Easy

Azure Cloud Managed Services Made Easy

The cloud has been around long enough for people to have heard of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure, even if you don’t know what they are or do. And most of the comments I hear from non-IT people are – “I don’t know; I just know it’s in the cloud somewhere.”

That statement captures the beauty and risk of cloud services. You shouldn’t have to care where they are as long as things work as they should, and costs do not increase out of control

However, when there are issues, such as things stop working, systems can’t be accessed, or costs have doubled for no apparent reason, the level of interest shifts immediately from “I don’t care” to “what the hell is going on?” 

Cloud Solution Basics

cloud solution basics

The above scenarios are why it makes sense to have some general understanding of the cloud services you are using. In exploring Azure cloud managed services it's helpful to know what basic information we should know when examining any cloud solution. And in learning the basics, it’s helpful to recognize the cloud solutions you are most likely already using, and to acknowledge cloud solutions aligned with specific types of businesses.

Basic information to know about cloud services

  1. How is it priced?
  2. What are the cost levers?
  3. Is the data backed up?
  4. Is there a secondary site in the event of a disaster?
  5. How is data migrated to and from the cloud?
  6. What are the termination terms?
  7. How do I get my data if I need to terminate?

Common Cloud Solutions

Although the list is almost endless, here are some common cloud solutions many businesses use.

  1. Microsoft Azure/Office 365/Dynamics
  2. Amazon AWS
  3. Gmail
  4. Dropbox
  5. QuickBooks Online
  6. Adobe 
  7. ShareFile
  8. HubSpot
  9. Splunk
  10. Slack
  11. Facebook
  12. Instagram
  13. Twitter
  14. LinkedIn

Individual Cloud Software Solutions

Individual cloud software solutions aligned to specific types of business, whether lines of business or size of business. These are often referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions.

  1. SAP
  2. Workday
  3. ConnectWise
  4. Athena
  5. Salesforce
  6. ADP
  7. OGsys
  8. Petra
  9. GSS
  10. HubSpot

You can get an idea of how many cloud solutions you use daily by the number of tabs you have open on your web browser. Each tab will typically represent the software you are using in the cloud.

Microsoft Azure Cloud

Now that we have the table set, I’d like to focus on a one-cloud solution — Microsoft Azure. 

Microsoft Azure is a global cloud computing environment for application management via around-the world distributed data centers.

To set expectations and a reference point, the capabilities and products within Azure are huge and growing daily. Trying to cover it all would be like describing each grain of salt in a saltshaker. To keep it simple, let’s focus on a few common products (grains).

Azure Ecosystem

The Microsoft Azure cloud is more of an ecosystem than a single product. For example, all the Microsoft 365 (Office 365) products reside within Azure and are, therefore, Azure cloud. 

In addition, Microsoft Dynamics GP accounting software is within the Azure cloud. It also includes the more technical Azure cloud resources enabling you to create your own computing/server environment to run whatever software you want.  

One area of Azure I expect to get more traction in the coming years is Windows 365. This will provide the end user with their own personal cloud desktop, including the Windows operating system and all their ‘desktop’ software. The user can then have access to their cloud desktop from any device without requiring any software pre-loaded on the device, and when they log out, it goes away.

Azure Product Visibility

Azure Cloud Managed Services - iceberg water line

Some of the Azure products you will know by name, while others are what I call, "under the water line." They are there and used daily, but you don’t necessarily know or see them. Regardless of how visible they are, it can be helpful to understand and have answers to the basic questions I posed for each product you use.  I’ll break down the most common.

Azure Licensing Terms

Microsoft is constantly changing their pricing model and terms, so make sure you ask questions to understand the cost and terms before you sign on the dotted line.  For example, Microsoft announced they were doing away with the month-to-month term replacing it with an annual commitment (or you could stick with month-to-month with an added cost).  

Many businesses did not understand that as they added new licenses, they were also committing to paying for them for a full year even if that license was no longer used after a few months. Microsoft has since backed off this change because of the severe blowback from the business community.  It’s important to understand your licensing terms.

Azure Resources 

An Azure resource is an entity managed by Azure — virtual machines, virtual networks, and storage accounts are all examples of Azure resources. This is also a great example of an “under the water line” service used to run company software such as an active directory (Azure AD), file sharing, and company-specific software.

1. How is it priced?

Multiple options. Pay as you go monthly based on the computing resources used.  Reserve resources for a year, pay for those resources whether you use them all or not, and pay for any overage. It is much more complicated, but this is the gist of it.  

2. What are the cost levers?

Cost is based on the actual computing resources used as measured hourly. These resources include CPU processing, RAM, storage, and several transactions. Other factors include the type of storage used and where it is being run in the country.

3. Is the data backed up?

Generally, the data is backed up for two weeks within the data centers. For example, if the resources reside in the SouthCentral region data center, that is where it is backed up.  The data will not be backed up in the NorthEast region. If you want to retain backups beyond two weeks and offsite, it can easily be done at an extra cost.

4. Is there a secondary site in the event of a disaster?

Microsoft Azure has a service called Site Recovery for this purpose, but it is not on and available by default. It must be architected, implemented, and configured based on your business needs. The data is sent to other data centers in other regions to protect the site if a disaster or a region goes down. For example, there have been instances where the South Central region was down for several hours, and without site recovery, you are at the mercy of waiting for it to come back up.

5. How is data migrated to and from the cloud?

It is common for a business to have its data in one system and need to migrate it to Microsoft Azure. For example, the business has servers onsite in their office, and they would like to migrate them to Azure. In this instance, the first step is to design and build the necessary computing resources in Azure, then coordinate migrating the data and systems from onsite to Azure, and finally redirect users to point to Azure. 

Migration is not simple, and although most IT companies say they know how to migrate, we have found that most do not know how to do it properly. Improper migration puts businesses in a bad position because they typically trust the vendor when they say they know what they are doing. I recommend obtaining references from current clients the vendor has migrated to Azure to confirm it will go smoothly.

6. What are the termination terms?

Unless an annual reserved agreement has been signed, which is rare for small- to mid-market businesses (SMBs), the service is month-to-month. You can stop using Azure anytime and will only be billed for what you used up to the termination month.

7. How do I retrieve my data if I need to terminate?

With any cloud solution, the data should be owned by the business. Retrieving it can be simple or an act of congress, depending on the solution and provider. With Azure, you can ask your IT provider to create a backup and download all your data. This should not be confused with a complete migration, as obtaining raw data is different than obtaining images of servers, configurations, and software along with the data.

Microsoft 365

Azure Microsoft 365

Microsoft 365 is an expansive suite of products that sit “above the water line” and is very visible to the user. It includes fundamental office productivity tools such as email, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Project, SharePoint (file sharing), and Microsoft Dynamics accounting software.  Although there are some differences from Azure Resources, the basics are the same. 

1. How is it priced?

Per-user license based on the type of license. There are hundreds of products/license types in Microsoft 365. Some are available with or without email, MS Office, security, etc. 

Determining the license type to best fit your business needs is important. Our standard recommendation is Microsoft Business Premium, which includes all the basics for productivity and security. 

2. What are the cost levers?

Cost is based on the specific license type. There are also many license add-ons, such as adding more storage for an email account or specific security feature enhancements. Users can have a license type based on their job function and role. 

We like to ensure everyone has a baseline standard that includes security features to mitigate security risks. Microsoft is currently enhancing its security features with its Microsoft Defender for Business product.

Microsoft has helped to make selecting the right type of license for your business easy with their Microsoft 365 Plans comparison page. By selecting a license type you can then drill down into all the included productivity apps and services for that license. 

3. Is the data backed up?

No, Microsoft 365 is not backed up. However, there are solutions that can be easily deployed to backup files and email. Fluid IT can help to find the best solution to meet your needs.

4. Is there a secondary site in the event of a disaster?

Microsoft 365 is generally available across multiple regions within Microsoft. While there is not a formal and separate disaster recovery plan per se, it is set up with it in mind.

5. How is data migrated to/from the cloud?

The most common migration is to move email and files from one service/provider to Microsoft 365. For example, migrating Gmail to Microsoft 365.  As with any migration, preplanning is critical to ensuring the migration goes as smoothly as possible. 

Using a provider, like Fluid IT, that has done many migrations is recommended. Because when dealing with specific users' emails and files, it is common to have some kinks to work out on the day of the final cutover. Again, planning and having technical resources available to assist is key.

6. What are the termination terms?

Annual unless a month-to-month plan is in place.

7. How do I get my data if I need to terminate?

Data from Microsoft 365 can be exported depending on the type of data and where it’s going. For example, an email export differs from the export of SharePoint files.  Your IT provider should be able to provide guidance and recommendations based on your specific needs.

Getting Started with Azure Cloud Managed Services

As you can see, although I only focused on a small subset of what Azure entails and includes, there is a LOT of information to know about Microsoft Azure cloud. When ready for a cloud solution be sure to select an Azure cloud service provider that is knowledgeable and will examine your current and future needs.

Fluid IT is a Microsoft Azure cloud and Microsoft 365 Cloud Solution Partner and has a CSP-Tier 1 partnership with Microsoft providing direct access to Microsoft’s senior engineers and technical support.

We’re MSP experts in cloud solutions and Azure with deep cloud migration and management expertise, providing hosted Azure cloud solutions and à la carte cloud services. And our commitment to customer service ensures we’ll do our best to make your migration as smooth as possible and stay with you to ensure your business keeps growing and moving forward.

Want to discover how Azure cloud solutions can help your business, contact Fluid IT to get started today.

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