Ian Hardenburgh offers an overview of the Windows Azure platform and the benefits of leveraging Microsoft's data center to host applications and store data.
Most enterprises require much more than what your basic productivity software can offer. There are a number of highly specialized front and back-office systems for collecting data, not to mention systems to store and understand that data, to be concerned about. An organization needs to readily push and pull information from a central location, as well as build customized systems and applications for facilitating this need. Moreover, enterprise users might also require to indispensably do this from their more commonplace office suite application, like Microsoft Excel, Word or Outlook. Therefore, organizations who use Office 365, or who have largely adopted Office 2010 throughout their footprint, should earnestly consider the supplementary use of Windows Azure, in at least an intermediate fashion.
Windows Azure can be used by the enterprise for a multitude of reasons, but basically, Azure is a platform as a service (PaaS). Initially, Azure is a storage point for an organization's data that is provisioned in terms of computing (hours of use), the amount of data storage occupied, how often that data is retrieved, as well as other considerations. Moreover, Azure is a platform for application development and business intelligence. Finally, it's also a service to host virtual instances of Windows Server images.
Businesses can easily get their feet wet with Azure by subscribing to a 90-day platform trial that will allow an organization to start building their first full-fledged application on a no-cost/no commitment basis. After the trial, standard rates apply that are based on several factors that are more chiefly decided by the amount of users referencing your application/data, and the level of performance you'd like it to be scaled to (For a fundamental idea as to what entering into the Azure market might cost you, go here).
If a company requires a higher level of control almost immediately, where tasks like OS registry changes are required for certain installs, a VM Role - is available. However, this feature seems relatively counter-intuitive to the underlying idea of cloud computing and might prove to be just as, if not more, cost-effectively managed from within the private data center. Lastly, to assist in the matriculation process, Windows Azure Marketplace, part of Microsoft's Pinpoint platform, allows consumers to purchase existing Azure applications and connect with Microsoft certified Azure partners/ISVs. This includes anything from add-ins to import data into Office applications, to content management system (CMS) installs for building community driven websites.
With Office 365 and Windows Azure, and the integration that can already be seen therein, Microsoft is making a comprehensive case for the cloud. Not only by providing solutions for enterprise data management, but also by providing the means to allow entry-level organizations ample time for the Azure learning curve, as well to set the groundwork for future project cost estimation, by making its pricing structure flexible. I'll go into more detail in a future post on Windows Azure Pricing.