Azure is

Small and medium businesses and enterprises (SMBs/ SMEs) looking to move into a secure and versatile cloud computing environment need to take a closer look at Microsoft’s Azure platform. About to enter its 12th year, Azure has provided a wealth of open-source programs, renowned security, cloud computing services, and scalability to help small and medium businesses grow.

Microsoft’s Azure is:

  • Hybrid cloud computing, letting companies create virtual machines on Linux or Windows platforms.
  • Application development including E-commerce and mobile products.
  • AI (artificial intelligence) aimed at helping mine knowledge from your existing data.
  • Cloud migration and modernization, moving information from an on-premise server farm to a distributed cloud.
  • Data and analytics, including blockchain.
  • The Internet of Things, allowing manufacturers to attach sensors to machine components and be alerted before critical failures strike.
  • Security, including disaster recovery.
  • Industry solutions covering financial services, government, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, energy, media, entertainment and space.

Azure features are helpful in all of these situations and more. Companies can create custom applications for their unique needs using open-source programs and run them through Azure. Additionally, Azure can seamlessly share data with other Microsoft products like Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s flagship enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite.

Azure and IoT: A Perfect Match for Manufacturing

IoT in manufacturing refers to a set of intelligent machines and equipment communicating in a network. Hundreds of connected sensors can monitor wear on equipment, relate temperature and pressure settings, and monitor flow rates.

Each of these sensors feed information into a computer network. The data then needs to pass from its source where it can be analyzed and turned into actionable intelligence.

This is a huge benefit if your company has a manufacturing plant in another country. Every team is aware of what the other is doing, and if there are any issues in the manufacturing process.

Connecting other Microsoft programs, like Dynamics 365 Supply Chain Management on top of Azure ensures your small to medium enterprise (SME) has accurate control of its inventory. With the global supply chain issues ongoing, knowing what’s where and how to get your products to your customers has become critical.

Azure is Open Source

Azure’s being open source means your developers can create programs that help your business and other companies. As a bonus incentive, as of Sept. 28, 2021, your company can earn Azure credits for open-source projects for one year.

Among the programs already taking advantage of Microsoft’s incentive are:

Figure: 1 Advantages of Microsoft’s incentives

Advantages of Microsoft's incentives

  • FreeBSD, a Unix operating system for servers, desktops and embedded platforms. The credits help developers work on custom kernels.
  • Alma Linux is an enterprise distribution system.
  • Snakemate, a workflow management system for creating scalable data analyses. The workflows can be scaled to server, cluster grid and cloud environments.
  • Promitor discovers Azure Metrics for easy use anywhere.

Often, taking advantage of open source technologies like these helps SMBs getting just started with Azure identify a number of new opportunities for growth. Quoting a 2020 McKinsey and Co. report, Microsoft states, “organizations that adopt open source technologies score 30 percent higher on innovation and 20 percent higher on developer satisfaction.”

One of the oldest open source programs around is Linux. Linux virtual machine(VM) images make up 60 percent of Azure Marketplace VM images. Pairing Linux with Microsoft’s Azure lets developers and businesses:

  • Spend less time on administrative tasks
  • Streamline the creation of fully governed environment using Azure blueprints
  • Protect your intellectual property (IP) and digital assets with the Azure IP Advantage program.

Among the seven products listed on the Azure Linux home’s website is one that lets you provision Windows and Linux virtual machines in seconds, one letting you migrate your current on-premise virtual machines to Azure, and another letting you gain deeper insights into your data.

Azure is IoT

Azure is designed for the Internet of Things (IoT). Azure IoT Central is a secure, industry-focused, enterprise-grade, and scalable app platform. As your business grows, your investment can scale with it.

Since IoT is able to create stacks of big data in real-time, Azure has been designed to provide quick connectivity between IoT devices and the cloud. This lets you track what’s happening and modify commands when unexpected situations occur, like an unexpected breakdown on the production line.

Azure’s IoT-based design provides a bridge between business applications, such as the Dynamics 365 ERP suite and your IoT data. Complex custom intermediate software is not required to interpret what your IoT sensors are telling so it can communicate with your ERP. Azure handles it for you.

The IoT Plug and Play app helps simplify device interactions, enabling easy device-to-cloud integration. This cuts development time, cost and complexity. It lets you build devices that integrate easily with Azure IoT cloud solutions without writing embedded code.

Azure is About Making Data Useful

One of the programs built for the Azure cloud services program is Azure Databricks. Azure Databricks offers three environments for generating data intensive applications:

  1. 1.Databricks SQL for analysts wanting to run SQL (structured query language) queries, letting them explore your data from different perspectives.
  2. 2.Databricks Data Science & Engineering provides collaboration between data engineers, data scientists, and machine learning engineers. Ideal for big data pipelines, Azure Databricks, can turn information from multiple sources into insights your SMB can turn into profits.
  3. 3.Databricks Machine Learning is an end-to-end machine learning environment for experiment tracking, model training, feature development and management plus feature and model serving.

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Azure is Innovation

Being open source, Azure has access to a host of shared programs.

CsharpCorner lists nine ways to run an application in Azure. They include virtual machines, Azure Kubernetes service, Azure Container Instances service, Azure Batch, Azure App Services Web Apps or Mobile Apps, Azure Function Apps and Logic Apps.

With more than 180,000 open source projects and more than 1,400 unique licenses, the odds of finding pre-built, easily customizable open source software are in your favor.

For example, the Azure Marketplace is promoting featured apps that support innovation and software needs in several industries:

  • Digital Factory: Digitize manufacturing processes such as performance tracking, production scheduling and log-keeping quickly and cost-effectively
  • Exact Globe: Designed for financial services, it integrates financial and operational processes creating best-in-class financial administration
  • Personalization Platform: Made for online retailers, it lets your customers have a personalized, relevant and intuitive experience

The Bottom Line

Azure provides security and flexibility with unparalleled potential growth in terms of computing. This in turn will help your company grow, especially if it wants to digitize production. Designed with the IoT in mind, Azure has features that let it seamlessly move information from machine sensors to ERPs. Any SMB considering moving beyond on-premises computing to the cloud should take a long, hard look at Microsoft Azure, and the growing number of open-source solutions. What’s your next move?