For many years now, experts, pundits, and websites like TechRepublic have touted the benefits of cloud computing for modern businesses of all sizes. The essence of the argument is that cloud computing offers more services and more advanced information technology infrastructure than just about any business could provide on its own. Cloud computing services provide the competitive edge every business needs to not only succeed but thrive.

One of the predominant cloud computing services available to business enterprises large and small is Microsoft Azure. With more than one hundred separate features and services, Azure can provide cloud-based IT infrastructure to satisfy almost any business need. However, the key to tapping into this cloud-based potential is learning what services are available and discovering how to implement them.

SEE: Vendor comparison: Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud (Tech Pro Research)

Microsoft Azure

To start using Azure, you must first sign up for the service. Before you start, you need a valid Microsoft user account. Using your preferred web browser, navigate to the Microsoft Azure Try It webpage (Figure A). Click the Start Free button, provide your Microsoft account information, and fill in the forms as requested. While you may sign up for the service for no initial charge, you will still need to provide credit card information.

Figure A

To encourage businesses to try Azure, Microsoft provides a $200 credit toward any cloud service you deploy. And, as a cloud-based service, you are only charged for what you or your business actually deploy and use. In other words, if you never deploy a service you will never be charged. You can just look through the list of services to see what Azure offers if you prefer.

In addition to the $200 credit, Microsoft also offers many common services for free for the first 12 months and another set of services are designated to be free forever. The combination of the $200 credit and the free services should give most businesses the opportunity to try the common Azure cloud services without incurring any expenses.

Once you establish an account and verify your credentials, log in to Azure. You will see a Home page that should look similar to Figure B. From here you can access more than one hundred different Azure-specific services and features.

Figure B

Some of the more common cloud services tend to deploy virtual networks, virtual machines, storage servers, and database applications. Azure offers several variants of each of those common IT infrastructure services in addition to features and tools that can monitor their performance and efficiency.

To help facilitate the use of Azure services, Microsoft also offers numerous online courses that describe how and why to deploy each cloud-based service or feature. Just pick your role (Figure C), and then choose what service or feature you’d like to explore.

Figure C

Much to learn

Like Amazon AWS and Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure is a complete cloud service and infrastructure platform. With more than one hundred separate services and features, IT professionals, whether architects, administrators, developers, or business managers, have many choices to make and much to learn about Azure.

To help introduce you to the power of cloud-based computing services, TechRepublic will continue exploring Azure’s services, products, and features. Future articles will delve into when to consider a specific service, why it makes sense from a business perspective and will explain how to deploy it for your business.

Cloud computing services like Microsoft Azure offer competitive advantages that cannot be duplicated by most companies individually–the required infrastructure is too big and too expensive. Under a pay-as-you-go subscriber model, businesses can afford sophisticated cloud-based servers and systems that they would never be able to purchase or implement on their own. Taking advantage of cloud computing benefits should be the standard operating procedure for all businesses.