What is Azure?

Microsoft Azure is one of the most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud service providers in the industry, offering over 200 fully featured services from data centers globally. A wide spectrum of organizations across all verticals use Azure – to lower costs, become more agile and innovate faster.

Tight integrations with the Microsoft ecosystem and product portfolio make Azure highly attractive to many. Integrations with Visual Studio, the Windows OS platform and Office 365 applications make Azure the natural choice for many enterprises.

While Azure provides a vast spectrum of services, it can be challenging to determine the right services for your needs. This article provides details of the top 10 most popular service offerings from Azure and how they map to different business needs.

For similar information on AWS Services, please see: Explore the Top AWS Services with Use Cases | eG Innovations.

1. Azure Active Directory

Azure AD logo in an article about top Azure servicesAzure Active Directory (Azure AD, in the process of being renamed Microsoft Entra ID) is a cloud-based identity and access management service. This service helps your employees access external resources, such as Microsoft 365, the Azure portal, and thousands of other SaaS applications. Azure Active Directory also helps them access internal resources like apps on your corporate intranet network, along with any cloud apps developed for your own organization.

Azure AD is not simply a cloud version of AD (Active Directory), they do quite different things. AD is great at managing traditional on-premises infrastructure and applications. Azure AD is great at managing user access to cloud applications and is particularly widely used for accessing Office 365 apps. You can use both together (via Azure AD Connect), or if you want to have a purely cloud based environment you can just use Azure AD.

Key Azure AD features include single sign-on support, user provisioning, federated authentication, device registration, cloud authentication and so on.

Azure Active Directory – Use Cases

IT admins use Azure AD to control access to apps and app resources. E.g., you can use Azure AD to support multi-factor authentication when accessing important organizational resources. You could also use Azure AD to automate user provisioning between existing Windows AD and cloud apps, including Microsoft 365.

App developers use Azure AD as a standards-based authentication provider. Single sign-on (SSO) can be supported for the apps and users can sign in with their existing credentials. Developers can also use Azure AD APIs to build personalized experiences using organizational data.

Azure Active Directory – Learn more

2. Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD)

To support remote workers and enable organizations to have virtual desktops in the cloud, Microsoft provides Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), a fully managed, desktop virtualization service that enables your users to access the data, applications, and resources they need, anywhere, anytime, from any supported device. Windows desktops can be provisioned in a few minutes. No user data is stored on the local device.

Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) – Use Cases

AVD digital workspaces in the cloud can be used for onboarding new remote employees, contract workers, and partners. You may not want partners to be in your network, but at the same time, you want to collaborate with them remotely. You could set up temporary workspaces where both sets of staff (yours and partners’) can collaborate.

Some organizations run their entire business on SaaS applications and may have no physical offices. So, there is no on-premises infrastructure at all. In such cases, desktops in the cloud using services like Microsoft AVD makes a lot of sense.

PAYG desktops make a lot of sense for organizations that have finite length projects or cyclic use, e.g., universities with courses, terms and vacations. Organizations with traditional on-premises VDI deployments of Citrix or VMware are increasingly using AVD as a bolt-on to increase and grow capacity. Managing AVD desktops and apps alongside those on Citrix or VMware is becoming common practice.

For small, simple deployments Microsoft’s alternative Windows 365 DaaS service (Cloud PC) may be an alternative option to AVD.

Azure Virtual Desktop – Learn more

3. Azure Virtual Machines

Azure Virtual Machines is a cloud service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. Azure’s simple web service interface allows you to obtain and configure capacity quickly and with minimum effort.

Azure Virtual Machines provides a set of predefined instance profiles, or virtual server definitions, to create virtual machines. You can choose your VM configurations from any of the predefined instance types. VM instances can be memory-optimized, compute-optimized, or storage-optimized.

Instances are usually grouped into “families” with pricing varying by region. Some instances will include specialist resources according to their intended use case, e.g., GPUs may be included for instances targeted for HPC or for the delivery of 3D/CAD/Graphical apps via DaaS.

Not all families or instance options are available in all Azure Regions.

Azure Virtual Machines – Use Cases

Azure VMs provides you with the ability to spin up virtual machines on the fly with no major infrastructure investment and minimal startup costs. Quickly provision new servers, using the Azure admin web portal or automation scripts for production and testing environments and shut them down when no longer needed.

Typical use cases of Azure VMs include:

  • Host a variety of software from simple web sites to enterprise-grade web applications on on-demand infrastructure. Easy to lift-and-shift from on-premises since you have full control of the operating system. Spot pricing can help save up to 80-90% on hosting costs.
  • Create fault tolerant architecture with auto-scaling and load balancing options.
  • If you need heavy computation and GPU power for deep learning/ machine learning or to support graphically intensive CAD/VFX apps, choose Azure accelerated computing or NVv instances.
  • Used to provide IaaS to support the lift-and-shift of on-premises applications such as Microsoft SQL Server, whereby SQL Server is transferred to run on an Azure VM (alternative PaaS Azure options such as Azure SQL Managed Instance and Azure SQL Database exist).

Azure Virtual Machines – Learn more

4. Azure CDN

Azure Content Delivery Network (CDN) offers a global solution for rapidly delivering high-bandwidth content to users by caching their content at strategically placed physical nodes across the world.

Azure CDN – Use Cases

  • Azure CDN is used for delivering high bandwidth content that is stored in Azure or other location.
  • Lowering latency and faster delivery of content to users irrespective of their geographical location in relation to the datacenter where the content is hosted.
  • Reduces the load on an application because it is relieved of the processing required to access and deliver the content. This reduction in load can help to increase the performance and scalability of the application, as well as minimizing hosting costs by reducing the processing resources required to achieve a specific level of performance and availability.

Azure CDN – Learn more

5. Azure SQL

A large proportion of applications deployed in Azure will need access to a database. Azure SQL is a family of managed, secure, and intelligent products that use the SQL Server database engine in the Azure cloud. The two main options offered are Azure SQL Database and Azure SQL Managed Instance – for information on the differences and nuances, see: Azure SQL Deployment Options: Making the Right Choice.

Other database technologies are available within Azure, but Azure SQL offers one of the simplest and tightly integrated options; for those with specific or complex needs options such as Cosmos DB, Cache for Redis, Database for MySQL, Database for PostgreSQL or others may be a more suitable choice. eG Enterprise includes support for most mainstream Azure SQL alternatives.

Some users do opt to run SQL Server on Azure VM as an option that retains certain on-premises like benefits but increasingly Azure SQL is the obvious choice for most.

Azure SQL – Use Cases

Typical use cases of Azure SQL include:

  • Deploy a new database server in a matter of minutes while significantly increasing reliability and uptime without associated overhead or personnel costs. Good fit for OLTP (Online Transaction Processing) operations and moderately complex day-to-day database requirements.
  • Finance, sales order management, systems of record
  • Processing streaming data to uncover app insights
  • Simplifying complex data landscapes
  • Those looking to migrate to cloud managed services with in-house Microsoft SQL Server usage and workforce skills. You can customize the configuration for each database deployment with a number of database engines. Set up automatic failover, automated backups, and resize your database deployments seamlessly in line with traffic and application requirements. Allows you to focus on the application instead of managing the database.

Azure SQL – Learn more

6. Azure Storage

The Azure Storage platform offers highly available, massively scalable, durable, and secure storage for a variety of data objects in the cloud. Azure Storage data objects are accessible from anywhere in the world over HTTP or HTTPS via a REST API. The Azure portal and Azure Storage Explorer provide user-interface tools for interacting with Azure Storage.

Azure Storage services offers several benefits:

  • It is highly available. Redundant hardware ensures that data is available even if there are transient hardware failures. You can also choose to replicate data across data centers or geographical regions for additional protection.
  • It is secure. Data stored in an Azure storage account is encrypted by default. Azure Storage provides you with fine-grained control over who has access to your data.
  • It is a managed service. So, you don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance, updates, etc. Azure handles these for you.
  • It is highly accessible. Data can be accessed over HTTP/HTTPS. Client libraries are also available to access the data stored from Java, .NET, Python and other languages. PowerShell APIs can also be used to access Azure storage.

There are many different forms of storage to choose from in Azure, the top Azure storage services include:

  • Azure Blobs: A massively scalable object store for text and binary data.
  • Azure Files: Managed file shares for cloud or on-premises deployments.
  • Azure Elastic SAN (preview): A fully integrated solution that simplifies deploying, scaling, managing, and configuring a SAN in Azure.
  • Azure Queues: A messaging store for reliable messaging between application components.
  • Azure Tables: A NoSQL store for schema-less storage of structured data.
  • Azure Managed Disks: Block-level storage volumes for Azure VMs.

In addition, there is Azure NetApp Files which is a service offering enterprise files storage and is powered by NetApp. Use this service to migrate and run complex, file-based applications with no code change.

Azure Storage – Use Cases

  • Azure Files and Azure Disks are ideal for “lift and shift” migration of applications.
  • Azure Blobs are intended for applications that need random access, perform big data analysis or ones supporting streaming. Azure Blobs has historically featured in many “Top Azure Services” lists and reviews.
  • Azure Queues are used when application components need to communicate using asynchronous messaging.
  • Azure Tables work well for applications that store flexible data sets and metadata.
  • The premium Azure NetApp Files option is sometimes used for FSLogix within AVD deployments. See: What is FSLogix and how to monitor FSLogix? | eG Innovations.

Azure Storage – Learn more

7. Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is a managed container orchestration service provided by Microsoft Azure. It simplifies the deployment, management, and scaling of containerized applications using Kubernetes, an open-source container orchestration platform that automates the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.

With AKS, you can deploy, manage, and scale containerized applications without the need to manage the underlying Kubernetes infrastructure. AKS abstracts away the complexities of managing Kubernetes clusters, including server maintenance, upgrades, and scaling, allowing you to focus on developing and deploying your applications.

Azure Kubernetes Service – Use Cases

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is used for a wide range of real-world use cases, such as:

  • Deploying and managing microservices-based applications. It allows teams to break down monolithic applications into smaller, more manageable services that can be independently developed, tested, and scaled.
  • Deploying web applications that require high availability, scalability, and easy horizontal scaling. It helps handle variable workloads and provides a reliable platform for hosting web applications.
  • API Management: AKS is used to manage and scale APIs for various applications. Whether it’s a public-facing API or an internal API, AKS can efficiently handle the demands of API traffic.
  • Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD): AKS is integrated with various CI/CD tools and services, making it an ideal platform for automating the deployment and delivery of applications. Teams can use AKS to implement CI/CD pipelines for faster and more efficient application updates.

Azure Kubernetes Service – Learn more

8. Azure App Service

Azure App Service is an HTTP-based service for hosting web applications, REST APIs, and mobile back ends. You can develop applications using any language – .NET, .NET Core, Java, Node.js, PHP, and Python. Applications run and scale with ease on both Windows and Linux-based environments.

With App Service, you pay for the Azure compute resources you use. The compute resources you use are determined by the App Service plan that you run your apps on. Since Azure App Service is a managed service, Azure automatically patches and maintains the OS and language frameworks for you. You also have less to worry about security since Azure App Service is ISO, SOC, and PCI compliant.

You can take advantage of Azure App service’s DevOps capabilities, such as continuous deployment from Azure DevOps, GitHub, Docker Hub, and other sources, package management, staging environments, custom domain, and TLS/SSL certificates.

Azure App Service – Use Cases

Azure App Service is commonly used for:

  • Web Applications
  • APIs and Backend Services
  • Mobile App Backends
  • Microservices
  • Content Management Systems (CMS)
  • Custom Web Applications
  • E-commerce Platforms
  • Line-of-Business Applications
  • Prototyping and Testing
  • Dev/Test Environments
  • Static Websites

Azure App Service – Learn more

9. Azure Functions

Azure Functions is a serverless compute service that allows you to write less code, maintain less infrastructure, and save on costs. Instead of worrying about deploying and maintaining servers, Azure Functions lets you run code in response to various triggers without worrying about provisioning and managing servers – the cloud infrastructure provides all the up-to-date resources needed to keep your applications running.

Azure Functions supports multiple programming languages, including C#, JavaScript, Python, PowerShell, and more. This allows developers to use their preferred language for writing functions. You can deploy and execute Azure functions on any platform that can run .NET Core.

Azure Functions automatically scales up or down based on the workload. Functions are billed based on usage, and you only pay for the compute resources consumed during the execution of functions.

Azure Functions – Use Cases

Azure Functions is a lightweight serverless service and is not intended to replace an entire website. Common use cases of Azure Functions include:

  • Reminders and notifications
  • Scheduled tasks and messages
  • File processing
  • Data or data streams processing
  • Running background backup tasks
  • Computing backend calculations
  • Lightweight Web APIs, proofs of concept, MVPs
  • Sending background emails
  • Doing backend calculations

Azure functions are best suited for smaller apps have events that can work independently of other websites. It is important to note that not all applications can or should use Azure Functions as it is a service based around triggers. Once an event has been triggered, the task is executed in the background.

Azure Functions – Learn more

10. Azure DevOps

Azure DevOps provides developer services for allowing teams to plan work, collaborate on code development, and build and deploy applications. An on-premises alternative Azure DevOps Server provides similar functionality with the overhead of self-management. The managed service elements of Azure DevOps Services offer organizations:

  • Quick set-up
  • Maintenance-free operations, upgrades are the responsibility of Microsoft
  • Easy collaboration across domains
  • Elastic scale
  • Microsoft assured security

Azure DevOps – Use Cases

  • You can quickly setup an AVD (Azure Virtual Desktop) environment using Azure DevOps. Please see: Platform automation and DevOps for Azure Virtual Desktop – Cloud Adoption Framework | Microsoft Learn for information.
  • It helps the DevOps teams to manage their work with full visibility across products and projects, helping them keep development efforts transparent and on schedule.
  • It allows teams to share code and collaborate together with Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code. Users can create automatic workflows for automated testing and continuous integration in the cloud with Azure Pipelines.
  • It helps teams deploy applications to any Azure service automatically and with full control. For example, you can define and spin up multiple cloud environments with Azure Resource Manager or HashiCorp Terraform, and then create continuous delivery pipelines into these environments using Azure Pipelines or tools such as Jenkins and Spinnaker.

Azure DevOps – Learn more

Final Thoughts

There are over 200 Azure services and the number keeps growing by the day. In addition to component end services, there are a number of infrastructure services organizations need to deploy on Azure to support such services including Web application filters, gateways, etc. Users typically need to track usage and of course billing, and review Azure Advisor alerts and recommendations to reduce costs and minimize waste (see: Reduce Azure costs by finding unused and wasted resources).

You will of course also need to monitor all of your Azure services and Azure Monitor is a popular option. Many third-party monitoring options are also available. Learn more about how eG Enterprise helps with monitoring and reporting on Azure services here>>> Azure Cloud Monitoring Tools for IaaS, PaaS, SaaS.

eG Enterprise is an Observability solution for Modern IT. Monitor digital workspaces,
web applications, SaaS services, cloud and containers from a single pane of glass.

Further Information

About the Author

Babu is Head of Product Engineering at eG Innovations, having joined the company back in 2001 as one of our first software developers following undergraduate and masters degrees in Computer Science, he knows the product inside and out. Based within our Singapore R&D Management team, Babu has undertaken various roles in engineering and product management becoming a certified PMP along the way.