Monday 4 April 2016

Azure Platform Services

Last time around we compiled a large compendium of links detailing Azure Infrastructure services. In this post, we'll compile an even larger set of links detailing Azure's Platform Services (PaaS rather than IaaS).

The breadth of services that Azure offers is pretty overwhelming, so take a deep breath :)

Cloud Compute

Azure Cloud Services allows you to create a compute service (ASP.NET, Python, node and PHP are all supported). This might be a worker role (e.g. a background tasks) or a web role (e.g. simple requests to display data). Cloud Services gives you the ability to scale these horizontally as needed.

Azure Batch runs your large scale parallel tasks and big batch processing jobs. Azure scales these as needed.

Azure Service Fabric is an orchestration layer for micro-service based deployments. It was borne out of internal use at Microsoft used to develop Azure itself.

Azure RemoteApp is a bridging technology (similar to Citrix type things) allowing you to access your application anywhere.

Web and Mobile

Web App Service allows you to deploy web applications in languages like C#, node.js and Python. It's now part of the more general Azure App Service.

API App Service allows you to deploy secured API services and generate appropriate clients to access them.

API Management Service lets you "take any API and publish a service in minutes". More specifically you get monitoring, RESTful and JSON-ful support and the ability to combine multiple back-ends into a single API endpoint.

Mobile App Service gives you an API specifically for mobiles, including support for off-line sync.

Logic App Service lets you integrate business processes and workflows visually. It's goal is to make it easy for you to join your data from on-premise to cloud-based workflows.

Notification Hubs provide scalable push-notifications to all major platforms (including iOS and Android).


SQL Database provides a fully managed PaaS version of SQL Server with advanced features such as an index advisor (monitoring your workload to see access patterns that would benefit from an index).

SQL Data Warehouse is a data warehouse that can scale to huge volumes of data (pricing is based separately on Compute and Storage use).

Redis Cache is the PaaS version of Redis, an in-memory data structure store.

DocumentDB is a store for JSON documents. As of Build 2016, it was announced that there is a MongoDB compatibility layer (see here).

Azure Search provides a fully managed search service (with Lucene query compatibility).

Azure Table Storage provides you with a key-value store aimed at large schema-less documents.

Analytics and IoT

HDInsight is a managed Apache Hadoop (map/reduce), Spark, R, HBase and Storm service made "easy".

Azure Machine Learning is a set of machine-learning API's, allowing you to applying advanced analytics to a wide source of data (pictures, people, text etc.). As of Build 2016, this seems to be in the process of being rebadged "cognitive services".

Azure Stream Analytics gives you the ability to do real time processing of streaming data from huge numbers of sources.

Azure Data Factory is a set of data orchestration API's, allowing you to mangle data from different sources together (with tools for data lineage, ETL and so on).

Azure Event Hubs is a scalable pub-sub service for aggregating events from many sources.

Mobile Engagement is a set of API's for monitoring and understanding app usage on mobile devices.

Friday 1 April 2016

Azure Infrastructure Services

Azure “is a growing collection of integrated cloud services for moving faster, achieving more, and saving money”. Well, that’s the marketing lingo, but what are the actual services available?

The diagram above, from here, is the best example I've seen of capturing everything that Azure is and the services that it offers.

Let's start with the infrastructure services.

Infrastructure services (IaaS) abstract away physical machines to services that can be molded via code rather than plugging in cables.

Under the banner of Compute, there are a couple of services. Azure Virtual machines let you deploy images in any way. They aren't just limited to Windows, support includes Linux, Oracle IBM and SAP. Azure Container Service allows you to deploy containers to Azure. This is heavily open-source friendly and allows you to use Apache Mesos or Docker Swarm to orchestrate.

There's many options for file storage as a service. Azure Blob Storage provides a service for storing large amounts of unstructured data that can be accessed via http(s). A blob account has multiple containers (think of these are folders or organizational units) and each container can lumps of data (blocks, append-only, page blobs). Azure Files provides fully managed file shares using the standard SMB protocol. This allows you to migrate file shared-based applications to the cloud with no changes. Finally in the storage offerings there are a variety of low-latency and high throughput storages referred to as premium storage. These are essentially pre-configured virtual machines with optimized technology (e.g. SSD) for storage. Options include hosting SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, Redis and MongoDB.

There's a whole raft of networking services. Azure Virtual Network provides an environment to run your machines and applications where you can control the subnets, access control policies and more. Azure Load Balancer does exactly what it says on the tin - it's a Layer 4 load balancer that allows you to distribute incoming traffic. Azure DNS is another Ronseal service! ExpressRoute lets you create private connections between your data center and Azure data centers (giving you up to 10 Gbps). Traffic Manager is similar to load balancing, but with more flexibility around failover, A/B testing and combining Azure / on-prem systems. Azure VPN Gateways is another virtual network manager, and Application Gateway is an application level load balancer. 

Confused yet?