Cloud

Know your Clouds: Microsoft Azure

As of Q1 2021, Microsoft Azure commanded around 19 percent of the public cloud market worldwide, making it the runner-up player compared to AWS (32 percent) and ahead of Google Cloud (9 percent).

Announced in Oct 2008 and formally released in Feb 2010 as Windows Azure, the cloud computing service is now named Microsoft Azure or simple Azure. The service uses large-scale virtualization at Microsoft’s global data centres, and currently offers more than 600 services.

Azure global infrastructure is made up of two key components—physical infrastructure and connective network components. The physical component is comprised of 200+ physical data centres, arranged into regions, and linked by one of the largest interconnected networks on the planet.

With the connectivity of the global Azure network, each of the Azure data centre provides high availability, low latency, scalability, and the latest advancements in cloud infrastructure—all running on the Azure platform. Together, these components keep data entirely within the trusted Microsoft network and IP traffic never enters the public internet.

Since its launch, Azure has grown to offer largely what AWS has, as a global ecosystem providing Compute, Storage, Networking, Database, IAM, Application services, automation and other services. The former currently has different regions and availability zones (AZ), and uses different approaches to pricing, security and grouping of its machines compared to the latter. Note that the two cloud computing services are dynamically evolving, so their pros and cons can vary over time.

Finally, Azure’s previous weaknesses, including complexity of management, lack of support for open source and compliance standards and so on, have been progressively addressed.

Big-name users of Azure:
3M, Accenture, Adobe, Aston Martin, BBC, BMW, Boeing, Bosch, BP, Carlsberg Group, Celcom, CenturyLink, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Citrix, Daimler AG, Duke University, Ebay, EY, Fujifilm, Fujitsu, HoneyWell International, HP, Intel, King’s College London, Konica Minolta, LG Electronics, LinkedIn Corp, Lufthansa, Merck KGaA, Monetary Authority of Singapore, MSI Computer, Nestlé, NTT America, News Corp, Pepsico, Polycom, PwC, Roche Diagnostics, Reuters, Ricoh, Samsung, Schneider Electric, Shell, Siemens, Singapore Airlines, Snowflake, Symantec, Tencent, Toshiba America Business Solutions, Toyota Industries Corp, Uber, Ubisoft, UPS, Verizon, Vodafone, Wikimedia Foundation

Key Strengths

One main strength of Azure is that it continually matches AWS services closely by expansion and improvement of services and service standards. As a highly-competitive and highly scalable and secure platform, Azure’s focus on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) does offer stronger support for hybrid cloud and a different costing approach that some organisations may benefit from.

Microsoft asserts that its platform is compliant with more standards certifications than its competitors. Also, as part of the Microsoft eco-system, Azure has tighter integration with the most widely-used business software such as Microsoft 365, Outlook and SharePoint.

Key Azure Services

Azure classifieds services into foundation, mainstream and specialised services. Here are just a few:

  • Foundational
    Storage Accounts, Application Gateway, Azure Backup, Data Lake Storage Gen2, ExpressRoute, SQL Database, SQL Managed Instance, Disk Storage, Event Hub, Load Balancer, Service Bus, Service Fabric, Key Vault, Virtual Machine Scale Sets and Virtual Machines series, VPN Gateway

  • Mainstream
    API Management, App Configuration, App Service, Automation, Active Directory Domain Services, Bastion, Caches for Redis, Various Azure Cognitive Services, Data Explorer, Database for MySQL/PostgreSQL, DDoS Protection, Firewall services, IoT Hub, Kubernetes Service (AKS), Azure Monitor series, Azure Monitor series, Azure Site Recovery, Synapse Analytics, Premium Blob/Files Storage, Virtual Machines series, Virtual WAN

  • Specialized
    Blockchain Service, Various Cognitive Services, Azure Data Share, Databricks, Dedicated Hardware Security Module, Database for MariaDB, Digital twins, Health Bot, HPC Cache, Stream Analytics, Database Migration Service, VMware solution, Spatial Anchors for 3D content, Ultra Disk Storage, Video Indexer, Virtual Machines series, Cognitive Services

What is Azure ExpressRoute?

Azure Infrastructure Overview

Azure services are provided via Azure Regions. Each region is a set of data centres deployed within a latency-defined perimeter and connected through a dedicated regional low-latency network. This gives customers the flexibility to deploy applications wherever needed, including across multiple regions, to ensure cross-region resiliency.

In additional, for resiliency, Azure offers Availability Zones within Regions. Each Availability Zone is made up of one or more data centre equipped with independent power, cooling, and networking. To ensure resiliency, there are a minimum of three separate zones in all enabled regions.

The physical separation of Availability Zones within a region protects applications and data from data centre failures. Zone-redundant services replicate applications and data across Availability Zones to protect from single-points-of-failure.

Private Connections

ExpressRoute is a service that lets users create private connections between Microsoft data centres and infrastructure that is on-premises or in a colocation facility.

The service let users extend their on-premises networks into the Microsoft cloud over a private connection, with the help of a connectivity provider. With ExpressRoute, user can establish connections to Microsoft cloud services, such as Azure and Microsoft 365.

Azure ExpressRoute Key Features

  • Massive Data Ingestion into services like Storage and Cosmos DB
  • Physical isolation for industries that are regulated and require dedicated and isolated connectivity like: Banking, Government, and Retail
  • Granular control of circuit distribution based on business unit

How Azure ExpressRoute Works
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Azure ExpressRoute supports any-to-any (IP VPN) network and point-to-point Ethernet networks, or a virtual cross-connection through a connectivity provider at a colocation facility.

ExpressRoute connections do not go over the public Internet. Connections are therefore more reliable, faster, consistent in latency, and of higher security than typical connections over the Internet. A dedicated connection enables access to Microsoft cloud services across any given geographical location, with the ExpressRoute premium add-on, providing access to all Microsoft services in all regions.

Dynamic routing between an organisation’s network and Microsoft is carried out via BGP as standard and there are additional QoS support options for Microsoft’s services such as Skype for Business. Azure ExpressRoute is compatible with all Azure services accessible over the internet and is available in speeds starting at 50Mbps and scaling up to 100Gbps.

Benefits of Azure ExpressRoute

All three of the top Cloud services offer a way to establish private connections. With Azure ExpressRoute, the following benefits hinge on this exclusive connectivity:

  • Lower latency, increased reliability and speed of up to 100Gbps (duplex bandwidth).

  • Optimised performance and security for periodic data migration, replication for business continuity, disaster recovery, and other high-availability strategies.

  • ExpressRoute offers a cost-effective option for transferring large amounts of data, such as datasets for high-performance computing applications, or moving large virtual machines between dev-test environments in an Azure virtual private cloud and on-premises production environments.

  • Connecting and adding compute and storage capacity to an existing data centre is seamless, allowing users to enjoy the scale and economics of the public cloud without having to compromise on network performance.

  • As ExpressRoute promises predictable, reliable, and high-throughput connections 24/7, this is the preferred way to build applications that span on-premises infrastructure and Azure without compromising privacy or performance. For example, run a corporate intranet application in Azure that authenticates customers with an on-premises Active Directory service, and serve all of these corporate customers without traffic ever routing through the public Internet.

  • Customers own the ExpressRoute port, and the Letter of Authorization and Connecting Facility Assignment are provided by Azure.

  • A unique Azure ExpressRoute Local feature allows users to connect to specific peer locations. Two types of peering protocols are available:
    • Microsoft Peering is used (on request) to connect to Azure public resources such as blob storage, Microsoft 365 and Azure PaaS services with higher reliability and security.
    • Private Peering supports on-premises connectivity to Azure compute services such as virtual machines and cloud services over logical connections.

  • No limits are set on the amount of data that can be transferred using ExpressRoute, subject to purchased bandwidth. However, up to two times the bandwidth limit can be accessed through a secondary connection of an ExpressRoute circuit that is normally used for redundancy over two Microsoft Enterprise Edge routers (MSEEs).

  • For users planning to use only the primary connection to transmit traffic, the bandwidth for the connection is fixed and attempting to oversubscribe it will result in increased packet drops. If traffic flows through an ExpressRoute Gateway, the bandwidth for the Gateway SKU is fixed and not burstable.

Benefits of ExpressRoute Connect via Epsilon

Platform Enabled

Our Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) platform Infiny provides flexibility in implementation and operation, allowing customers to have the full control of the Azure ExpressRoute with one simple service

Complete Cloud Journey

We support our customers’ cloud journey from direct connect to cloud networking. With cloud networking, we integrate with the Azure native networking construct such as ExpressRoute and ExpressRoute Local to deliver a simple and powerful solution. Real-time visibility into network performance enables users to monitor the quality of your direct cloud connections end-to-end.

Expertise in ExpressRoute

We have partnered with Microsoft on Azure ExpressRoute and have been recognised as a global Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute connectivity partners.

Quality of Service

We can guarantee the performance of our services connecting to Azure ExpressRoute delivered via a global network fabric. Our SLA ensures up to 99.95% availability and we are MEF-certified for reliability and flexibility.

Flexible Cost Control

Expanding on Azure’s costing models, Epsilon’s subscription-based service offers flexible ‘pay-as-you-go’ contract terms and bandwidth options.

How to use Epsilon Infiny to connect to Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute

  • What you need:
    • Azure account
    • Epsilon Port with cabling or last mile Access to your equipment (purchase from Infiny if you don’t have one)

  • Steps on Azure Console:
    • Create a Resource – Select Networking > ExpressRoute
    • Complete fields under Basics:
      • Resource Group
      • Region
      • Name
    • Complete fields under Configuration:
      • Create new or import from classic
      • Provider – Select Epsilon
      • Peering location
      • Bandwidth
      • SKU
      • Allow classic operations (No as default selection)

  • Steps on Infiny:
    • Add services
    • Choose Azure and type of connection
    • Enter the Azure service key
    • Customise bandwidth, contract duration and type of network protection