Every day, more and more organizations are leveraging the cloud. Gartner predicts that more than $1.3 trillion in IT spending will be affected by the shift to the cloud by 2022. However, with so many options available, it can be hard to decide when, where, and how to use cloud services. Microsoft Azure is one of the best cloud storage options for small businesses today. So what exactly is Azure, and how can Microsoft Azure be used for small businesses?
Recently, I sat down with NetGain’s Shane Wendel, a Consulting Engineer with over 20 years of experience, to discuss Microsoft Azure for small business, what benefits it has, and what kind of small business it may work well for. Shane has experience moving many NetGain clients over to Azure and the cloud from on-premise storage.
What is Microsoft Azure?
Azure is a lot of things. Azure is Microsoft’s “As-a-Service” platform for providing information technology resources and services via the cloud. When we say “As-a-Service”, normally there’s Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Azure actually encompasses all of those things.
What are the benefits of Microsoft Azure for small business?
From a technical standpoint the biggest benefit of using Microsoft Azure for small business would be their Infrastructure-as-a-Service(IaaS).
The benefit of Azure’s IaaS as opposed to using on-premises storage would be the flexibility. Flexibility in resources allows you to start small and grow, and not have to anticipate capacity or demands down the road. For example, when you’re buying servers and storage for your company, you have to buy the servers, anticipate how much memory you’ll need, CPU you’ll need, software licensing, storage needs, backup, security software and more.
Usually when you’re looking at a capital expenditure (CAPEX) you’re expecting your investment to last you at least 3 to 5 years. With Azure you’re able to move that over to operational expenses (OPEX), so you can start small with what you need now, and increase later on, or decrease if you need to. If you had a piece of software that you stopped using, with Azure you can shut that down and it stops charging you immediately. Whereas if you had done that with a physical infrastructure, you shut the software down, but you still have the physical piece you had to account for sitting there basically being wasted. You’re not getting any money back for it even though you might not be using it.
There’s other elements. Azure has Software-as-a-Service elements as well that may replace things that we might have traditionally put on-premises. These may not be as applicable to small to medium-sized businesses, however, due to their cost structure. So the main benefit to SMBs would be to use Infrastructure-as-a-Service as discussed above.
Why do business owners/your clients typically choose to use the solution?
The big driver is moving from CAPEX to OPEX. Business owners would rather spend a smaller chunk of money on a monthly basis. Clients just don’t want to outlay $100,000 at one time. They’d rather spend a little bit on services and move it to the cloud. I’ve experienced technical people at an organization say that they can “sneak in” $2,000 a month, but going and asking for $100,000 is much harder.
Clients also have the peace of mind that they’re not stuck with an asset that doesn’t fit their needs anymore and that they’ve got exactly the capacity that they need at any given time.
We continue to hear things like “I don’t want any servers on-prem”. It might be a security issue, or they want to use the server area for something else, or maybe they don’t have the space. Or for disaster recovery (DR), they don’t have the space for the secondary hardware, so they may choose to have their DR in Azure and the cloud.
Why do you, yourself, recommend the solution?
Part of my role is to listen to client’s challenges and needs. If I hear things like:
- “We don’t want anything on-prem”
- “We want OPEX vs CAPEX”
- “We don’t want to spend $150,000 at one time”
- “We need flexibility”
- “We’re expecting to grow quickly over the next 5 years and we don’t know exactly what we need”
…then, I know Azure may be a solution for their business.
One scenario I’ve seen is that a company has physical servers but is renting space at a data center. And when you aggregate the cost of equipment, racks for servers, network connections, all that, the switch to Azure comes out favorable in terms of cost.
Very small businesses are also a good fit for Azure, as typically it’s hard to buy storage for a very small company. Usually a physical server will have more storage than required. So Azure can be a good solution to pay only for what’s needed.
The benefits mentioned above are why I’d recommend it. If the main thing the client is focused on is flexibility and/or OPEX versus CAPEX then it would be recommended.
Are there any times when you would not recommend Azure?
I should clarify there are times when it’s not a good fit. Sometimes when you plan to move everything from on-premise to cloud, if you compare the costs it doesn’t end up being cheaper. If a business already has a place to put physical equipment, it might not make sense for them financially. If it ends up costing say, 30% more to move everything off premise, it may not be as big of a concern as when they first wanted to move everything to the cloud. And I have had that happen before. The client has to be strongly into the idea of flexibility and paying only for what you need, even if that ends up costing a little bit more, for it to make sense to use Azure.
What are examples of competitors?
Amazon has Amazon Web Services, Google has Google cloud. There are a plethora of smaller providers, such as Flexential and ILAND that have Infrastructure-As-a-Service. Amazon and Azure are the only ones that have a similar feature stack. Google is still catching up. Azure is probably one of the more robust offerings for Infrastructure-As-A-Service. Deciding on what service to use would depend on your company’s individual needs.
A large benefit of Azure is the potential for integration with Office 365, and some of the other big Microsoft solutions like Microsoft SQL or Microsoft Dynamics. There’s things that play across both environments. For instance, authentication can be shared between Office 365 and your Azure environment. You are able to simplify your security policies and apply them across both environments. If you’re heavily invested in Office 365, it would make sense for you to look into Azure.
Microsoft Azure for small businesses could potentially be a great fit for your organization. Consider the aspects Wendel discusses when considering your cloud strategy for the future.
Tech Talk Series: NetGain has a variety of subject matter experts on aspects across the technological spectrum. In our series, Tech Talk, we gain insights from these experts to bring you insight and understanding on topics such as security, I.T. infrastructure, and more.
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in 2020 and has since been edited for relevancy.