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Microsoft's Azure will bring tiers to your eyes

The joy of automated backup

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Pay the price

So you have set up your test lab, you have proofed your concept and now you are ready to roll out your first test cases and servers. We have even had the elusive signoff from the CIO for some Azure hosting.

Once we get to this point we would normally get our local Microsoft rep in to have a little chat about pricing. If you are a large customer of Microsoft’s you should be able to wangle a decent discount. Otherwise you are likely to pay the sticker price listed on the Azure website.

You might want to make sure you are sitting down for the next part if you have a weak constitution, because this might hurt.

Say we need 200TB of storage because what we really want is to replace that pesky HSM array and therefore we are migrating everything in it to the cloud.

To do this locally, we could probably get away with paying at most £70,000 for the disks, enclosures, servers and the associated electricity costs over three years.

With the prices quoted under Pay As You Go on the Azure website, though, you would be looking at somewhere in the order of four times as much.

If you pay 12 months in advance you can reduce this by up to 32 per cent. Even with a discount of a third we would still be paying about £130,000 more to host our data in Microsoft's cloud than we could reasonably expect to pay to run our own local cloud.

By sending our data rocketing into the cloud we could also be opening ourselves up to a world of pain with regards to data sovereignty.

Microsoft is rushing to build up and roll out locally hosted Azure options in countries around the world, but these are not in place everywhere yet. There is no guarantee that once they are you will be able to migrate your services easily or at a reasonable cost into your locally hosted cloud.

You might think this doesn’t matter. It is certainly possible to encrypt your virtual hard disks and to further encrypt the data inside them, but are you absolutely certain that the programs and encryption you will be using haven’t been compromised?

The cloud continues to be one of the least secure options available from a data sovereignty point of view.

Fatal attraction

So given that we might not be able to utilise a remotely hosted cloud offering because it is so expensive at scale, is there a reasonable level where it remains affordable? Also, does it have any possible use at all given the data sovereignty concerns?

Actually, it does. In talking up certain aspects of how Azure handles your data at the data centre level, Microsoft has all but beaten us over the head with what remotely hosted Azure is really good for: providing an encrypted backup storage service.

For 50TB of storage on the Pay As You Go plan you will pay $3,333 per month (Microsoft’s website quotes prices in US dollars but bills customers in various countries in local currency).

Now that might seem like a lot for many businesses, considering that it clocks in at $119,988 for 36 months. But given that backups are a cost of doing business and a reliable backup service can often cost about this much anyway, it is definitely worth a look.

Small beginnings

It becomes an even better option once you realise that Microsoft has baked the necessary hooks to make it happen into the Windows Server 2012 R2 Backup and Restore Center.

So while we can’t store our clients’ data on Azure, we might just be able to store our own.

Azure as a cloud service is a fantastic option for development and for low-volume storage but it doesn’t really scale affordably yet.

Microsoft is working feverishly to get Azure hosting up just about everywhere and once this – or the option for wholly on-premise Azure – kicks in you should grab hold of it with both hands.

For now, use it as a wonderfully reliable online backup service and keep watching the skies. ®

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