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Mason Prewett, Business Intelligence at Key2 Consulting
By: Mason Prewett


Helping businesses transition from on-premise solutions to Microsoft Azure cloud solutions is a typical client engagement here at Key2 Consulting. While moving to the cloud has serious benefits, doing so often entails overcoming and dealing with significant challenges.

Here are 5 must-know Microsoft Azure benefits and 5 must-know challenges.
 

5 Microsoft Azure Benefits

  1. Top-notch synergy between services
  2. No more hardware concerns
  3. Excellent stability
  4. Excellent security
  5. Seamless updates

5 Microsoft Azure Challenges

  1. Drastic infrastructure changes
  2. On-premise and Azure overlap
  3. Lack of options for every solution
  4. Understanding licensing
  5. Service feature differences


 

Microsoft Azure Benefits (in-depth)

Benefit #1: Top-notch Synergy Between Services

Microsoft Azure is truly an excellent platform to experience when everything is working together. I have been amazed many times at how easily all of the services synergize with each other. When creating a data source in Power BI, the amount of data connectors they support is impressive.

I recently worked on a client solution where we created a workflow process in Power Automate that was initiated by the creation of a SharePoint Online list item. The workflow sent an email to a large audience with a question in it. This email also contained two buttons that the recipient could click to answer the question. This action inserted a new record in a separate SharePoint Online list. We then used Power BI to analyze the results of the questions answered by our audience. This example includes the combination of three Azure technologies and may sound time-consuming, but it was all put together in half a day.
 

Benefit #2: No More Hardware Concerns

Maintaining hardware and virtual infrastructure is one of the most time-consuming and expensive operations that an organization is tasked with. Hardware has to undergo expensive upgrades regularly and can require coordination with manufacturer support when troubleshooting issues. Virtual infrastructure requires meticulous configuration and regular adjustments to adapt to an organization’s changing needs.

Imagine what efforts your organization could be focused on if these tasks were not required. This is an enormous Microsoft Azure benefit. No more coming in on Monday to outages due to hardware or virtual issues that occurred over the weekend. This is the perfect time to bring up the next Microsoft Azure benefit: stability.
 

Benefit #3: Excellent Stability

Microsoft’s concept of scaling out makes it possible to increase infrastructure resources to accommodate an organization’s growing needs. This can be done quickly with no downtime required and helps keep a solution’s resources up to date with growth and peak processing times. If a solution does require a restore to a previous state, all Azure content is backed up by Microsoft using their best practice standards and can be restored on demand.

Microsoft makes big claims about Azure’s uptime, and our experience has shown this to be very impressive. At the time of writing this article, their Service Level Agreement documentation states that any uptime that is less than 99.9% will result in a 10% service credit and less than 99% results in a 25% service credit. This demonstrates a confidence that Microsoft has in its own ability to deliver this level of service and we have not seen any occasions where this credit was owed.
 

Benefit #4: Excellent Security

Keeping up with security is a very time-consuming task with on-premise hardware and software. Not all organizations have a security team that constantly verifies the strength of their security measures.

Organizations that do have a team dedicated to scanning servers and solutions for vulnerabilities leave it up to the server or solution owners to put security measures in place that they are not familiar with. At the end of the day, most organizations are just going by hardware manufacturer’s or service owner’s recommended practices.

Microsoft Azure has dedicated teams that focus solely on ensuring their data centers, hardware, and services are protected using top tier security measures. Microsoft has a site dedicated to providing information on their security measures. Key2 Consulting is currently engaged with a U.S. federal government client that is storing very sensitive data and services in the cloud. The security of these solutions has been very impressive!
 

Benefit #5: Seamless Updates

Keeping an organization’s hardware and software up to date is another time-consuming and interruptive process for on-premise operations. Downtime has to be scheduled and team members usually have to complete updates after-hours or on the weekends.

It is also difficult to test the effects of updates on all solutions and services offered in an organization. This often results in unexpected outages or bugs existing in services.

Microsoft Azure requires no downtime when they update their products thanks to their infrastructure strategy. Services in Azure are always guaranteed to provide the latest release when it is accessed. There is no need to understand which version of SQL Server or SharePoint you are currently using.

There is no more SQL Server 2019 or SharePoint 2019, just Azure SQL Database and SharePoint Online. At Key2 Consulting, we have seen this as a large benefit to organizations that require approvals of service versions, as Azure service versions require approval less often.
 

Microsoft Azure Challenges (in-depth)

Challenge #1: Drastic Infrastructure Change

The world of Azure cloud computing is very different than anything experienced on-premise. On-premise typically has a mindset of scaling up and Azure has a mindset of scaling out.

  • Scaling Up – When you need more computing power, get more powerful processing hardware for your solution
  • Scaling Out – Spread your processing power across a cluster of hardware that can be increased or decreased based on your needs

Scaling out is definitely more flexible and cost-effective than scaling up, but this new concept is unlike previous endeavors an infrastructure team has likely undergone when moving to new hardware. Servers will not be moved into Azure, services will. Data warehouses built in SQL Server will be moved into Azure Synapse. Reporting solutions will be moved into Microsoft Power BI.

These are all separate migrations that have their own processes and will require an understanding of the Azure platform and likely assistance from Microsoft team members. It is unfortunately not something that X number of years as an IT professional has taught someone to do. This change is drastic!
 

Challenge #2: On-Premise and Azure Overlap

The migration process of a service into Azure can have certain time periods that are more challenging than others. One particularly challenging time is what I like to call the “On-premise and Azure Overlap”.

This is when you have your Azure service in place and have already migrated a portion of your content but not all of it. Some content lives on-premise and some lives in Azure. End users are confused, the solution teams are maintaining both systems and no cost benefit has presented itself yet. The best things that we have done during this period is to:

  • provide a large amount of documentation and help articles to the end users
  • restructuring our solution teams to be more focused on either Azure or on-premise

 

Challenge #3: Lack of Options for Every Solution

One thing that every organization should be aware of is this: not every solution will have a perfect match in Azure. A fantastic example is Reporting Services. There is no SaaS in Azure for Reporting Services and there aren’t many benefits for considering IaaS for this. Reporting Services functionality is slowly being migrated to Power BI, which means that organizations are now moving to the cloud and Power BI simultaneously.

We have experienced many of these scenarios where a solution will have to be recreated using a different technology because the existing technology has been replaced in the cloud.
 

Challenge #4: Understanding Licensing

The change in Microsoft’s licensing strategy for Azure is as drastic as the change in infrastructure. Running into licensing hurdles nearly every time progress is made has become a major challenge for IT teams.

As an example of this, there are different licenses for Power BI that control which users a report can be shared with. This means that you can see developer A’s reports but not developer B’s reports because they have different license types. These licensing strategies have created a situation where many people involved have to understand licensing. The admins have to understand licensing so they can distribute appropriate resources and the developers have to understand licensing so they can accurately distribute their reports.

Azure is a very different service than previously offered systems on-premise, so it is understandable that there will be some large differences in licensing. However, it would help organizations moving to the cloud if the licensing process was a bit more streamlined and didn’t require the involvement of so many teams.
 

Challenge #5: Service Feature Differences

Given that the Azure cloud infrastructure is so different than that of on-premise, there can be major differences in operations. Operations that have been used and seen as best practice for a long time do not necessarily apply in Azure.

One example of these differences is with Active Directory. One of Key2 Consulting’s clients did an AD sync into Azure. When operating in Power BI, we noticed that AD groups were not showing up due to them not being email-enabled. This was a major issue since service offerings on-premise had been designed to use non-mail enabled AD groups for sharing. This lead to an unanticipated effort to mail enable our AD group so they could be used in Azure, and it was difficult to determine the effects of doing so on existing, on-premise services.

It was also discovered that there was no equivalent group to “NT Authority\Authenticated Users”, which was used on-premise to grant all authenticated users access to services. Workarounds had to be designed to solve this issue, making it surprisingly time-consuming to accomplish such a seemingly simple operation.

As of the date of writing this article, these are some of the examples of differences in operations that we encountered. I would like to point out that Microsoft did inform us that these issues were already being worked on as features in Azure so they may be resolved soon. This information is meant to be used as examples of the types of unanticipated differences that caused us difficulties and delays.
 

Conclusion

As with any large change in an IT infrastructure, there can be major challenges when migrating from on-premise to Azure. Some challenges will not reveal themselves until well into the migration process, creating unanticipated efforts that can be time consuming. However, the benefits greatly outweigh the challenges. Azure is an excellent platform that brings new possibilities to data and reporting solutions while greatly reducing the cost of operations.
 

Questions?

Thanks for reading. We hope you found this blog post to be useful. Do let us know if you have any questions or topic ideas related to BI, analytics, the cloud, machine learning, SQL Server, Star Wars, or anything else of the like that you’d like us to write about. Simply leave us a comment below, and we’ll see what we can do!
 

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Key2 Consulting is a data warehousing and business intelligence company located in Atlanta, Georgia. We create and deliver custom data warehouse solutions, business intelligence solutions, and custom applications.

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