What is Microsoft Azure and Why We Use It As Our Hosting Platform

Microsoft Azure Hosting

This post is part of Vital Point Analytic's guided  internet marketing analytics implementation.  Check out the full course for free by entering your name and email below.

What is Microsoft Azure:  The Official Definition

Answering the question "What is Microsoft Azure?" is difficult because Azure is not any one thing.  Microsoft Azure is Microsoft's cloud services platform made up of different Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings.  Stay with me, I can feel your eyes glazing over - this gets more interesting and relevant in a minute.

Azure is an Internet-scale computing and services platform hosted in data centers managed or supported by Microsoft. It includes many separate features with corresponding developer services which can be used individually or together.

MSDN.Microsoft.com
                    Microsoft Azure               

Before I better define the answer to the question "what is Microsoft Azure?" in a way that matters to you, I first need to ensure you understand what web hosting is.

What is Web Hosting?

To launch and run an online business or website, you need some space on a computer somewhere where it connects 24/7/365 to the internet. Web hosting providers are the businesses renting out that space.  Technically, you can host your website on your computer at home. It's pretty easy to setup a web server, but you'll eventually run into issues.  Reliability (ensuring your web site is available 100% of the time) and security (protecting your website and any data you are collecting) are not easy to deal with at home.

Nobody runs a serious business off their home computer/internet connection. 

If you're doing this to make money, you must accept the fact that the cost of web hosting each month is the cost of doing business on the internet.  Choosing a host is a lot like choosing a location for your business and it matters.  Choose wrong and nobody is going to visit it.  The good news is that unlike buying a building, web hosting starts off pretty cheap - even free.  The bad news is that it doesn't stay cheap.  However, if you're doing things the Vital Point Analytics (VPA) way, you're only going to incur more cost when your data and revenue say you can handle it.

What is Microsoft Azure: The Definition that Matters to You

While Microsoft Azure is many things and can solve a wide variety of computing issues, what matters to you as you focus on building a profitable internet business, is that Microsoft Azure has web hosting covered.

Azure is the web designer's ideal hosting provider.  Microsoft makes it easy to securely and quickly setup and manage hosting that automatically grows as your business grows.  Azure gives you complete control while keeping you out of the technical weeds.  It allows you to develop sites for free and has a wide variety of application support.  It provides the visual analytics necessary to make business decisions and provides redundancy to ensure you never lose your work.  Most importantly, it is reliable and fast, built on the immense power and rock-solid backbone that is Microsoft.

Aaron Luhning
Vital Point Analytics

Is Microsoft Azure the Best Web Hosting Provider?

There are hundreds and hundreds of web hosting companies.  I'd rather not get into the debate as to which is best as there are plenty of good and bad hosting providers.  Instead, I'll share with you why Vital Point Analytics and all the other websites I've built ultimately ended up as web apps in the cloud on Microsoft Azure and why I now teach people to do the same.

My Journey to Microsoft Azure...

How to Box 2004

Screenshot of the boxing site in 2004. (Wow, it was ugly...)

Started in 2003 with the launch of my online boxing website.    As it was just a hobby for me, I initially looked for the cheapest web hosting provider I could find.  The web host I found offered a shared hosting plan (meaning lots of people are using the same space - kind of like roommates in an apartment).  It was cheap - about  $4/month or something ridiculously low.  I had no idea that How to Box would eventually grow to the size it did - (approx. 30,000 visitors a month/8000+ subscribers).

It didn't take long for visitors to complain that the site was extremely slow to load.  So, I looked for faster web hosting options.  I ended up on a virtual server that supposedly guaranteed a minimum level of resource availability at all times.  Of course, with extra memory and computing power, the cost increased so I was now paying about $39/month.  It did very little to solve my problems. 

More money and more power wasn't solving my speed issues...

I didn't know it at the time, but I had built my site on a memory hungry platform.  My solution to speed issues was to change hosts (and I changed many times...).  Each time, I thought a new host would solve the problem but it kept coming back.  I shudder to think of the number of hours I put into trying to figure out how to make the site load faster, optimize code and tweak settings.

Aaron Luhning Vital Point Analytics

Spending excessive amounts of time tweaking server settings, managing hardware, and generally being involved in the technical side of things means you aren't being creative, innovative, or engaged with your visitors.  It means visitors that could have come to you for help with their problems went somewhere else and that means less profit overall.

Eventually I figured out the issue was memory which meant I had to up the virtual server resources and the price.  As the popularity of the website grew, this cycle continued until I ended up on a dedicated server at another web host paying close to $200/month.  Besides the price, the technical side of trying to transfer everything from one host to another is not fun, but that's a different story. 

The dedicated server was basically my machine to do with as I please.  Unfortunately, that also meant that I was responsible for maintaining it, security (I was hacked twice ), and the typical day-to-day management things like backups.  Turns out I was only capable of doing these things half-assed and it came back to haunt me one day when the hard drive in the machine failed. 

You Know that Sickening Feeling You Get When You Lose All Your Work?

I was under the impression that another machine stored my backups.  Turns out that was not the case.  In the blink of an eye, I lost six years worth of work at a point in time when the business was really starting to take off.  It was not a good day.  I seriously thought about walking away from it all rather than starting again from zero.

Commando Boxing 2014

After the rebuild circa 2014 - How to Box rebranded as Commando Boxing

When I finally mustered up the motivation to rebuild the site, I vowed to get out of the web server management business.  Someone who knew what they were doing would handle all my technical, hardware related stuff.  All my focus and efforts would go to my business, content, and providing value to my customers.  I decided I wasn't going to continue to waste hours each week ensuring the server was running optimally or dealing with speed issues.

I had to find a better way to manage the server...

So, I looked into some managed server options (kind of like a condo where someone else takes care of the maintenance).  The price was prohibitively high - like hundreds of dollars/month high.  Considering my income stopped when the hard drive died - I was in no position to invest that kind of money in a managed option. 

It was about this time that cloud computing started getting more attention.  I tried out a few of the first cloud companies but wasn't really impressed with how they worked.  It wasn't until I came across Microsoft Azure (specifically their Web Apps service) that I finally found a solution to my web hosting woes.  I started using them shortly after Googling "What is Microsoft Azure?" and seeing what they were all about.  I took Microsoft up on their free trial (credits) offer and I now use Azure for every project I have.

What's So Great About Microsoft Azure (Web Apps)...

There are a lot of great things about Micosoft Azure web apps, but if I was to narrow it down to three, they would be:

What is Microsoft Azure?

What is Microsoft Azure?  It's Easy to Use.

It's Easy to Use...

You are literally going to be able to spool up a web server, install an application framework like WordPress, assign a domain name (www.yourname.com) in less than five minutes from an awesome visual portal.

Once running, ongoing maintenance of the web server is done for you.  You can customize your Azure portal to see the analytics that are important and set things so your server grows as your business grows (or shrinks as your business shrinks).

What is Microsoft Azure?

What is Microsoft Azure?  It's Affordable.

It's Affordable...

Azure has a great pricing structure for web apps.  You can start developing for free (some quotas you're restricted to).  When your site is ready, you can boost that up to a paid plan with a few more resources for about $9/month and it scales up from there.

What this means for you is that you don't have to pay anything while you are building your site.  When it's ready to earn money, you scale up to a level designed to handle your current levels of traffic.  You only pay for what you use and by then your profits are covering the costs.

What is Microsoft Azure?

What is Microsoft Azure? It's Protection.

It's Protection...

Microsoft follows a mandatory, industry-leading, assurance process that builds security into Azure from the ground up.  They were the first major cloud provider to adopt the new international standard for cloud privacy (ISO 27018).  Microsoft is committed to the protection and privacy of your data and services.

Note that this doesn't negate the need for you to securely design your web sites, but it does offer a layer of protection not necessarily found elsewhere.​

In Summary - What is Microsoft Azure

Now when people ask me "What is Microsoft Azure?", I tell them Microsoft Azure is probably the best cloud web host around.  In fact, I'm going to teach you to use Microsoft Azure's web app service when building your web sites.  Of course, Azure is actually a whole lot more than hosting and if their other services interest you, go ahead and fill your boots.  You could get lost in the cloud for weeks and months exploring everything they have to offer.  But, that is not going to get you any closer to your goal of making websites that make money - try and focus.

All you really want and need to know for now is that Microsoft Azure is where your web sites are going to live.  Microsoft will make sure they are accessible to your visitors. 

Next up we'll go through the process of opening your Microsoft Azure account.  See you then.​

This post is part of Vital Point Analytic's guided  internet marketing analytics implementation.  Check out the full course for free by entering your name and email below.

a.luhning

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