"How much do want to control?"
Windows Azure (or "Azure" for short) is all about answering this question. It's a hard question to answer, because there are a lot of pieces that make up Azure. This article will try to give a *very* high-level overview of what Azure is, and the type of things you can do with it – by way of cake. Windows Azure offers a host of features and benefits when it comes to cloud computing, cloud storage and flexibility. Because of the flexibility and scalability of the Azure pricing model, you only pay for what you use. It’s great – no longer are you paying the same price as an enterprise-level company when you might only use 1/5th of what they use. Nope – you only pay based on the amount of storage and hosting space that you require, and you can scale up or down at any time!
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Think of Windows Azure as a very large kitchen, with all the tools and ingredients needed to make cake. This cake can be any size, any flavor, any shape, and you can make as many as you can pay for. Depending on how good a cook you are - or how much time and money you have since Azure pricing is scalable to your needs - you can make the cake yourself or pay somebody else to do it.
The three big acronyms you'll hear when people talk about Azure (or cloud computing in general) are IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Intimidating, yes? Don't worry, we'll fold these bits of jargon into our metaphor until they start to make sense.
IaaS stands for
Infrastructure as a Service, and in terms of our cake-making metaphor, IaaS is the kitchen: the pantries, the refrigerators, the ovens, and the ingredients. Examples of the IaaS aspect of Azure would be its global data centers (the kitchens); Virtual Machines (the ovens); and Storage and backups (think refrigerators and pantries).
PaaS stands for
Platform as a Service, and those are closer to the pieces of the cake like baking pans, the cake mix, the icing, and decorations. They're not totally raw materials, but more pre-made pieces that you can put together with less work. Examples of PaaS in Azure would be Cloud Services, Media Services, and Azure Active Directory.
SaaS stands for
Software as a Service. You can look at Software as a Service in two ways - from a vendor's perspective or a customer's perspective. From the vendor's perspective, it’s the cake (or a cake-making service) that you sell to a customer. From the customer's perspective, SaaS is the cake you buy, already made, so that all you have to do is put it on a table and serve it. Examples of SaaS would be services like Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and SharePoint Online.
Serving a cake can be as simple as going out and buying one or as complex as renting out a kitchen and hiring professional bakers. Windows Azure gives you that same spectrum of options when it comes to IT services. The acronyms may be a little imposing, but in the end, they're all about answering one question: "How much do you want to control?"
Microsoft actually offers a free trial of Windows Azure that anyone can take advantage of. If you're ready to try it out, you can get started here! Scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the Azure banner for a free trial.