intro to cloud computing - managed solution

Introduction to cloud computing and Microsoft Azure

Cloud computing overview

Cloud computing provides a modern alternative to the traditional on-premises datacenter. Public cloud vendors provide and manage all computing infrastructure and the underlying management software. These vendors provide a wide variety of cloud services. A cloud service in this case might be a virtual machine, a web server, or cloud-hosted database engine. As a cloud provider customer, you lease these cloud services on an as-needed basis. In doing so, you convert the capital expense of hardware maintenance into an operational expense. A cloud service also provides these benefits:
  •   Rapid deployment of large compute environments
  •   Rapid deallocation of systems that are no longer required
  •   Easy deployment of traditionally complex systems like load balancers
  •   Ability to provide flexible compute capacity or scale when needed
  •   More cost-effective computing environments
  •   Access from anywhere with a web-based portal or programmatic automation
  •   Cloud-based services to meet most compute and application needs
    With on-premises infrastructure, you have complete control over the hardware and software that is deployed. Historically, this has led to hardware procurement decisions that focus on scaling up. An example is purchasing a server with more cores to satisfy peak performance needs. Unfortunately, this infrastructure might be underutilized outside a demand window. With Azure, you can deploy only the infrastructure that you need, and adjust this up or down at any time. This leads to a focus on scaling out through the deployment of additional compute nodes to satisfy a performance need. Although this has consequences for the design of an appropriate software architecture, there is now ample proof that scaling out the commodity of cloud services is more cost-effective than scaling up through expensive hardware.
    Microsoft has deployed many Azure datacenters around the globe, with more planned. Additionally, Microsoft is increasing sovereign clouds in regions like China and Germany. Only the largest global enterprises can deploy datacenters in this manner, so using Azure makes it easy for enterprises of any size to deploy their services close to their customers.
    For small businesses, Azure allows for a low-cost entry point, with the ability to scale rapidly as demand for compute increases. This prevents a large up-front capital investment in infrastructure, and it provides the flexibility to architect and re-architect systems as needed. The use of cloud computing fits well with the scale-fast and fail-fast model of startup growth.

Types of cloud computing

Cloud computing is usually classified into three categories: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.

SaaS: Software as a service

SaaS is software that is centrally hosted and managed. It’s usually based on a multitenant architecture— a single version of the application is used for all customers. It can be scaled out to multiple instances to ensure the best performance in all locations. SaaS software typically is licensed through a monthly or annual subscription.
Microsoft Office 365 is a prototypical model of a SaaS offering. Subscribers pay a monthly or annual subscription fee, and they get Microsoft Exchange as a service (online and/or desktop Microsoft Outlook), storage as a service (Microsoft OneDrive), and the rest of the Microsoft Office suite (online, the desktop version, or both). Subscribers always get the most recent version. So you can have an Exchange server without having to purchase a server and install and support Exchange—the Exchange server is managed for you. Compared to installing and upgrading Office every year, this is much less expensive and requires much less effort to keep updated.

PaaS: Platform as a service

With PaaS, you deploy your application into an application-hosting environment that the cloud service vendor provides. The developer provides the application, and the PaaS vendor provides the ability to deploy and run it. This frees developers from infrastructure management so they can focus on development.
Azure provides several PaaS compute offerings, including the Web Apps feature of Azure App Service and Azure Cloud Services (web and worker roles). In either case, developers have multiple ways to deploy their application without knowing anything about the nuts and bolts that support it. Developers don’t have to create virtual machines (VMs), use Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to sign in to each one, or install the application. They just hit a button (or close to it), and the tools provided by Microsoft provision the VMs and then deploy and install the application on them.

IaaS: Infrastructure as a service

An IaaS cloud vendor runs and manages all physical compute resources and the required software to enable computer virtualization. A customer of this service deploys virtual machines in these hosted datacenters. Although the virtual machines are located in an offsite datacenter, the IaaS consumer has control over the configuration and management of them.
Azure includes several IaaS solutions, including Azure Virtual Machines, virtual machine scale sets, and related networking infrastructure. Azure Virtual Machines is a popular choice for initially migrating services to Azure because it enables a “lift and shift” migration model. You can configure a VM like the infrastructure currently running your services in your datacenter, and then migrate your software to the new VM. You might need to make configuration updates, such as URLs to other services or storage, but you can migrate many applications in this way.
Virtual machine scale sets are built on top of Azure Virtual Machines and provide an easy way to deploy clusters of identical VMs. Virtual machine scale sets also support autoscaling so that new VMs can be deployed automatically when required. This makes virtual machine scale sets an ideal platform to host higher-level microservice compute clusters, such as Azure Service Fabric and Azure Container Service.

Azure services

Azure offers many services in its cloud computing platform. These services include the following.
Compute services
Services for hosting and running application workload:
  •   Azure Virtual Machines—both Linux and Windows
  •   App Services (Web Apps, Mobile Apps, Logic Apps, API Apps, and Function Apps)
  •   Azure Batch (for large-scale parallel and batch compute jobs)
  •   Azure RemoteApp
  •   Azure Service Fabric
  •   Azure Container Service
    Data services
    Services for storing and managing data:
  •   Azure Storage (comprises the Azure Blob, Queue, Table, and File services)
  •   Azure SQL Database
  •   Azure DocumentDB
  •   Microsoft Azure StorSimple
  •   Azure Redis Cache Application services
    Services for building and operating applications:
  •   Azure Active Directory (Azure AD)
  •   Azure Service Bus for connecting distributed systems
  •   Azure HDInsight for processing big data
  •   Azure Scheduler
  •   Azure Media Services
    Network services
    Services for networking both within Azure and between Azure and on-premises datacenters:
  •   Azure Virtual Network
  •   Azure ExpressRoute
  •   Azure-provided DNS
  •   Azure Traffic Manager
  •   Azure Content Delivery Network


The U.S. Navy is using drone boat swarms to keep harbors safe

By John Biggs as written on
The U.S. Navy is testing a team of drone boats to protect harbors here and abroad. The boats, which are basically autonomous versions of the Rigid Hull Inflatable, are connected to a AI routing system called CARACaS. In original 2014 tests the boats worked separately to protect ships in a harbor and the new routing system now allows them to swarm as a team to surround and neutralize threats.
The system is also running an automatic vehicle identification system that allows the boats to assess friends and foes on the high seas.
Autonomous boats work well because, well, there isn’t much to hit in the ocean. These boats are especially useful in keeping unwanted boats away from Navy vessels and because they work in concert they can patrol a spot and then mass together to prevent a threat. The best thing? These aren’t special, custom-made boats. The Navy is simply outfitting standard boats with AI and control mechanisms and letting the loose making it far easier to retrofit older “dumb” boats and recruit them into the coming machine army.

Pay-As-You-Go Licensing

Paying your licensing on a per user, per month basis can save you money, time, and a whole lot of headache.  Check out the infographic below to learn what Pay-As-You-Go Licensing is all about!


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Flex—delivering supply chain innovation on a global scale with Office 365

By John Wrenn as written on
Global enterprises often struggle to maintain the kind of fast-moving culture of innovation that smaller companies appear to employ effortlessly. But this is a time of change in business, and thanks to technology advancements, global companies can communicate almost as quickly as a team working side by side. Now, companies like Flex can reach across geographical boundaries to serve global customers even more effectively than ever before. At Flex, our approximately 200,000 employees handle prototyping, design, manufacturing and logistics for customers worldwide. We’re operating as a single, cohesive company focused on innovation. It’s not just that we can communicate and collaborate efficiently among our more than 100 factories or between headquarters and our various business centers. We’re taking our focus on reinvention a step further by empowering all employees to share their ideas and experience to make Flex even more nimble.
The notion of continuous improvement is well established, but we wanted to make sure we’re capturing opportunities to enhance operations across every facet of our business—from the IT department to the factory floor. We’re supporting that effort with Microsoft Office 365, using the integrated apps not just for cross-company teamwork, but also as the basis for applications that foster innovation and process improvements. For example, we’ve built an ideation portal on Microsoft SharePoint Online where we can crowdsource ideas. Employees submit and vote on ideas, and we see which ideas gain momentum and buy-in. We’ve even included some gamification around the winning ideas to encourage our whole workforce to participate.
Giving employees the opportunity to see their ideas come to life is rewarding and empowering. It also benefits the operational efficiency of our business and enhances our level of service for customers. Supporting bottom-up communication is paramount to our ability to improve, because our employees see how things work every day and think about new ways to deliver improved results. And most important, employees can make an impact on a global level when their ideas are implemented as part of a workflow used by other colleagues.
We’ve also created interactive SharePoint Online communities for our project managers and salespeople, who can use Yammer directly from within the SharePoint Online sites or on their smartphones with the Office 365 mobile apps. Employees can freely engage with each other across geographic and hierarchical boundaries, communicating and cooperating throughout the company. Whether it’s for customer onboarding, production-line setup, materials distribution or new IT projects, select employees are using Office 365 to help us share expertise and foster better teamwork across Flex.
Our customers count on us to deliver the best solutions for their success. Showcasing the ways in which we’re tapping into our own knowledge base to become a stronger company makes us a better business partner and a smarter employer. The kinds of unified, open communication and support for innovation that we’re providing through Office 365 help us meet those goals in the modern workplace.


Yammer adds mobile application management capabilities through Intune

As written on
People are increasingly using apps for work on their personal mobile devices. This is especially true of “deskless” workers—employees who spend most of their work day away from a desk—in industries like retail, manufacturing, healthcare, airlines and consulting. In the case of Yammer’s customers, an employee might use the Yammer mobile app to help customers in-store or share customer feedback with colleagues. In other scenarios, employees might access Yammer when they are in transit or working remotely.
This trend of using personal mobile devices for work presents a challenge for IT departments that want to ensure the security of company data, especially those concerned about unintentional data leaks.
Today, we’re excited to announce an update to the Yammer apps for iOS and Android that allows IT administrators to protect their corporate data using mobile application management (MAM) controls in Microsoft Intune. Using Intune, organizations can provide their employees with access to corporate apps, data and resources on their personal mobile devices while protecting their corporate data with a rich set of mobile device management, mobile application management and PC management capabilities delivered from the cloud. Read the Intune blog post for more details.


(Left) Message on the iOS app informs users that their IT department has enabled MAM. (Right) Prompt on the Android app asks users to set a PIN to access the app in future.
Administrators can now apply different policies for the Yammer apps. These policies include requiring a PIN or corporate credentials to access the apps, limiting data sharing between apps and remotely wiping out data on the apps. For a complete list of supported policies, please review the Manage Yammer with Microsoft Intune support article.


IT departments can use the Intune admin console to set policies for iOS and Android apps.
All of these policies are available for use on both mobile device management (MDM) enrolled devices and on unmanaged devices through Intune’s MAM without enrollment capabilities. MAM without enrollment is a great option for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) scenarios, where you want to keep corporate data safe without managing a user’s device. To enforce MAM policies, users should be authenticated to Yammer by Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) accounts through Office 365 sign-in.
The updated app will be available in the Google Play and iOS App stores today.


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New editor coming to Outlook 2016 for Mac

As written on
Welcome to the new editor in Outlook 2016 for Mac. Enhanced formatting support has been one of the most frequently requested improvements in Outlook 2016 for Mac. Today, we are laying the foundation with the new editor and will continue to build on this work in future updates, including support for Tables.
Let’s take a look at some of the key improvements.

Resize and format pictures

When you insert a picture in an email message, you’ll notice the new resize and rotation handles. You can use these to resize or rotate the image on the canvas. You can also pull up the context menu and select the Size and Position…option to manually set the size in the dialog, as shown below. Double-click an image in the editor to open up the full task pane with image editing controls.

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Rich formatting support

With the new editor in Outlook 2016 for Mac, you now have access to a richer set of fonts, font colors and bullet and numbered lists—plus enhanced font editing and hyperlink dialogs. These are available on the ribbon by using the familiar controls in the Message tab or using the menus for Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, Notes and Signatures.

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These features will roll out in mid-May. You can also sign up for Office Insiders program to get early access to new Office innovations. Please read “Format email messages in Outlook 2016 for Mac” to learn more on how to use these features.

What’s next?

We will continue to refine the new editor in upcoming releases. This includes adding support for Tables. If you have additional requests for specific functionality, please suggest or vote at our UserVoice forum.
—The Outlook team

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