What is our primary use case?
We have been using Azure for DevOps and non-production environments. It is great when you want to deploy apps in your staging environment first using deployment slots. This allows you to flick the switch very quickly between your current prod app and the newly developed in staging to see how it behaves in the real world. If something goes wrong, you can easily switch it back.
How has it helped my organization?
Azure is a platform which allows our organization to be agile. It very quickly provisions servers, infrastructure, and apps on the fly and complies with security requirements and data safety.
What is most valuable?
Azure Active Directory, Azure VMs, Azure network security groups (NSG), and monitoring endpoints across different regions to check how your platform operates from different geographic locations. Azure backups are another feature which are quite useful, especially since they allow us to backup our Azure VMs and our on-premise servers. Data can be backed up to Azure, saving time, space, and using clunky tapes to restore data, when needed.
What needs improvement?
Azure ARM console can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning.
If you are not aware of costs, pricing, etc., you can end up with a hefty bill. However, I found that the Azure price calculator is a valuable tool to use before starting to deploy VMs in Azure. This tool will give you an overview of the costs you should expect on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis.
For how long have I used the solution?
One to three years.
What do I think about the stability of the solution?
I have had no stability issues. It is a very stable platform and very resilient. It comes down how you set up your geo-redundant options for backups, SQL replication. and VMs which run your services/apps.
What do I think about the scalability of the solution?
I have had no scalability issues. It is an elastic platform. It all depends how you set up your scale up options to address heavy loads, but the options are there for you to use.
How are customer service and technical support?
Microsoft Premier support is great to deal with. They understand very quickly the scenarios and how critical a scenario can be. They provide info, support, and knowledge to address issues.
We did not have a particular issue when implementing. It was mostly understanding all the options Azure had. We used Premier support to generate inquiries with Microsoft seeking clarification about what option was best suited for what we wanted to do.
Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?
I used AWS (Amazon Web Services), but mostly because I was involved in a project. AWS is also a great solution, but I found Azure was easier to use and it had a native integration with my current platform (Windows).
How was the initial setup?
The key here is design. You need to design and orchestrate how you want your VMs (geo-redundant, in an availability set, size of VMs, etc.). It is the key to understanding the costs of each set of VMs available to you in terms of size and computing resources. Also, understand what type of storage will be required for you to deploy your virtual infrastructure SSD storage and larger disks. Plan to use this (Standard, Basic, or Premium) and it needs to be taken into consideration depending of what you want to use Azure for.
What about the implementation team?
In-house deployment, as there were Azure skills on the team.
What was our ROI?
What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?
Use Azure price calculator before embarking on an Azure deployment. This will help you understand straight away what your cost expectations are on a regular basis. You can always run Azure on a 30 day trial, see how you feel about it, then make the decision to switch to the full Azure usage.
Which other solutions did I evaluate?
In addition to AWS, I also trialed Oracle Cloud (on a smaller scale) and it is great if you are running Oracle Databases. You can also stand up your VMs and build your environment. A cool feature of Oracle Cloud is you can run a private cloud version in your data center, exactly the same experience if you are running it on a private or public cloud. The private cloud solution comes in the form of an Oracle appliance which gets configured, deployed and installed by Oracle directly in your data center.
What other advice do I have?
Run Azure on a 30 day trial and see how you feel about it, then make the decision to switch to the full Azure usage. You see the reason when you view the benefits of using its cloud solution, especially one that integrates so seamlessly with your environment, collaboration tools, and apps.