Blog

Azure Cloud Migration

Roland Carter from PCG sits down with John Maher to talk about the benefits of the Azure cloud. He explains who can benefit from switching to Microsoft Azure, and then, he compares Azure to on-premises servers in terms of cost, safety, downtime, and convenience.

Portsmouth Computer Group · Azure Cloud Migrations

John Maher: Welcome to Tech Tuesday brought to you by PCG, a managed services and security provider in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I’m John Maher, with me today from PCG is Roland Carter. Welcome Roland.

Roland Carter: John, thanks for having me.

What Is Azure Cloud?

John: Sure. So Roland today, we’re talking about Azure Cloud Migrations. What is Azure Cloud?

Roland: Azure Cloud is really a place that isn’t inside of your building. So we’re posting this out in the great wild world of the internet. It’s typically somewhere out Midwest, they do have some east coast facilities. But Microsoft is hosting the servers for you. So don’t actually have to have a machine or device inside of your network that’s hosting your applications, your files, or any other relevant data to your business.

Azure Cloud Vs Remote Server

John: So it’s just like a remote server. Is there a difference with Microsoft Azure and just sort of a general remote server that you might get?

Roland: On the surface of it, no. It really is just seen as a remote device. So if you’re used to working from home right now, and a lot of people are more comfortable with that option these days, it’s very similar to that. You’re connected to resources that exist somewhere else.

Who Should Move Their Server to the Cloud?

John: So who is a fit for moving their server to the cloud?

Roland: This is pretty wide open. There’s a lot of use cases for this. So if you are a large business and you’re having to spend a lot of money on upgrades to have services in-house. If you’re a smaller business, but you want to have that flexibility of not having to have something in the building. Maybe you’re looking at moving to a new building at some point in time, or you just have a lot of remote employees. It’s a good time to look at cloud hosting through those services, if you’re just not going to be in the building all that much.

Benefits of Moving to Azure

John: Right. So what are some of the benefits of moving my servers to Azure?

Roland: The bigger things that are really good for this are downtime. You really don’t have to worry about what happens if my machine goes down? Because these are replicated throughout the Microsoft system. So if your machine does go down, you’re able to get it back up really quickly. And this is even in a disaster kind of scenario. Say the operating system just goes terribly wrong. At some point we’re able to go in and get a backup of it, get it up and running really quickly, because it’s all within that ecosystem, it’s all right there.

The other piece of this is the internet connection. You don’t have to worry about your internet connection necessarily at your business. Your remote employees will be able to access this from anywhere. If they’re at their house and your office loses internet, they’re still able to work from their house. It’s really nice in that sense.

How Azure Safeguards Your Connection to the internet

John: Right. So if you had your server at the office and then the internet at the office went down, all your workers who are remote would not be able to access that server. And that’s where this really comes into play?

Roland: Absolutely. This is something that Microsoft has figured out on their backend. They don’t just have that one internet connection, they have multiple, so they can make sure that they’re servicing everyone at that capacity. And we see that services go down from time to time. Right now we’re looking at AWS, Amazon’s version of this. And they’ve had some ups and downs right now. Currently right now they’re having an issue with service. So it’s possible that they need to look at redundant systems there. But Microsoft has done a really great job of not giving us that same scenario. We very rarely see that any connections are an issue.

Azure Makes Backups Easier

John: Right. And you mentioned that backups are easier to do with the Azure Cloud service rather than trying to back up a server that might be in the closet at somebody’s office?

Roland: Definitely. The backup services that exist for Azure are kind of built into the backend. So when we move someone into Azure, we have this backend portal that we’re viewing. We’re setting up network connections, we’re setting up how this is going to be accessed, the VPNs, things like that. And right in the mix of all of those settings is VPN and backups. So when you select the backup item, you just kind of say, “This is how often I’d like to do it. Here’s how much storage I think I need.,” And it’s done.

When we do this for on-premise servers or in-office servers, we have to allocate software, install the software, and set up our frequencies. And usually we have to have another server that just hosts as the storage point. And the server will also send replications to the cloud so that you have dual protection there. So it’s quite a bit more complicated. There’s a lot more steps, a lot more hardware, licensing fees, all that fun stuff that you really just don’t have in Azure. It’s kind of one place and one place to restore as well. And it’s almost a one click kind of system, we can put things back really quick.

The Cost of Azure Versus Owning an In-House Server

John: In terms of cost, how does this measure up to the cost of owning my own server?

Roland: When you have your on-premise servers, PCG would usually come to you and say, “Okay, time to put a server in here, or upgrade.” And we’re talking about a big lump sum at that time. So the cost of Azure is generally, if you measure it out, about the same as ownership.

But the total cost of Azure over time is going to be less because you’re just not having to have a huge capital expense every number of years. Whatever that might be. For some it’s 5, 6, 7 years. If you have an on-premise server, you’re going to want to upgrade that just to keep it current.

And so the total cost over time is going to be less because you’re not having to have someone actually do the services for you. The purchase of the equipment is one thing, but then you also have to have someone migrate it, work with all of your end users to make sure they’re getting all the new stuff and migrating data. All that stuff. But with the Azure system, you just kind of leave it there, you let it sit, it does its job. Microsoft is providing the updates in the background, doing all of the things that we typically would have to worry about, and they’re just handling it for us.

John: And like you said, one of the main factors is that rather than having that large capital expense every 5, 6, or 7 years, you can pay yearly for the Azure Cloud. And then you know what your fees are going to be, there’s no surprises. If something happens to that server and all of a sudden it goes down and then you have to replace it and you weren’t expecting to have to shell out all that money. That kind of thing doesn’t really happen with the cloud server. Is that right?

Roland: Right. And you can even break it down further, so we can do a yearly expense and we can do monthly expenses. And the thing about Azure is that it has this section where you can fine tune it. So you might think that you need this really big hard drive and a lot of memory, and the processor needs to be super fast. You can do that to begin with, if that’s what you think, or what we feel is going to be needed. But you have the opportunity to go in afterwards and actually see graphs and metrics for how much you actually use and fine tune back down, so you’re able to save the money.

The other piece of this is we’re not spending so much time, like you mentioned, on having to replace things when it goes bad. Typically we’d have to bring in a new server, get it all set up, it’s almost a full migration. Again, if you do have an issue where the system goes down in Azure, it’s just a matter of maybe up to an hour, depending on how bad things went. But usually we can get things back up and running really quick within a half hour to an hour. So the total time of having something down is a lot shorter.

Does Azure Require Periodic Upgrades?

John: Is there any kind of upgrade that I have to do periodically? You mentioned obviously with the server every 5, 6, or 7 years, you’d have to totally replace the server. Is there anything similar to that with Azure Cloud that you’d have to do?

Roland: So it’s a little bit different because we’re not having to worry about the hardware. We’re not looking at the warranty status. We’re not looking at hard drive failures and the system just getting old. We’re really just worried about the operating system at that point. Microsoft mandates how long we can hold onto an operating system. They’ll give an end of life time and we’ll usually have to upgrade the operating system at that point.

Microsoft has given us kind of a new avenue to go through with that, they’re doing subscription-based operating systems. So you’re basically just paying the subscription cost. And over the years, you’re able to get the newest version. So we’ve, we’ve gone through server 2012, 2016, 2019. And with the new subscription model, if you purchase in 2019, right now, you’re now getting the next version, the next time you need to upgrade. And this usually is a lot like upgrading your desktop right now. We went from Windows 7 to Windows 10, and now there’s all this talk of Windows 11. And you’ve been able to keep more or less the same machine. So it’s kind of in that same fashion.

John: Right. And they are kind of similar, like you said, to something like Microsoft 365, where you have that subscription-based service, and then you can always have the latest version of Word and Excel, just by having that subscription. And you’re not having to go out every few years and buy new software.

Roland: Yeah, exactly like that. Microsoft is pushing this out across their whole platform. Basically, they’re moving a lot of things to subscription models. So we’re working with them to make things better, and they’re providing us with really useful tools now.

Security in the Cloud

John: What about security? How is the cloud environment protected?

Roland: By default, when we first spin up a new server, that server is immediately protected by their backend security systems. But it also only allows who you say can get into the machine. And they do this by IP addresses. So when we create it, we have to immediately put in our IP address information so we can go ahead and connect to it. But it doesn’t allow anyone else in, so that’s kind of your first view into what security is like with these servers.

You still have to put the same antivirus on that you would put on a normal server. You still want to make sure you have all the same policies in place. And if it ends up having to put their own systems out onto the internet, if it’s hosting its own website or things like that, you still want to make sure you’re protecting properly. But you have the entire backend of Microsoft kind of making sure that system isn’t being attacked from any unknown sources. So it’s quite a bit different than what we’re used to with an on-premise server, where something might be just kind of hammering away on trying to get in through your firewall. Once they’re in, they’re able to get into whatever servers they want to. And in this case, Microsoft is just putting a blanket. No, no one can come in unless we specifically tell them to come.

How Do Remote Workers Connect to Azure Safely?

John: How does that work in the case of remote workers, every remote worker might have their own IP address from home or something like that. Do they all have to submit their IP address to be allowed in?

Roland: So we talked about this a little bit. We had to have some meetings to see how we really wanted to handle that. So there’s the case where maybe you only have a couple of people and the resources that you do want to share are safe enough to open up that way. But it’s really a VPN. We go the VPN method like we do when you do have a server in-house. You’re connecting to the firewall, you’re able to access your resources. And there’s a firewall that exists inside of Azure. We configure it just like any other firewall with all the same rules. We set up the VPN access, and then you log into that much like you would any other system. So if you are working remotely right now, chances are you use a VPN to connect back to the office, and it works just the same. I will say this, this system is a little bit more bulletproof because you don’t have to worry about an internet connection at the office. They do have that figured out on the back end.

Contact PCG  to Learn More

John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Roland. Thanks again for speaking with me today.

Roland: Definitely. Thank you for having me.

John: And for more information, you could visit the PCG website at pcgit.com or call 603-431-4121.