Microsoft Azure vs. Managed Private Cloud: Which is Better for Your Business?

Organisation, both commercial and non-commercial, need to be able to quickly and efficiently access and process data and have pressures to balance agility with security – talk about walking a tight-rope! So when it comes to where and how to process data, ‘Cloud’ has been seen to have many advantages. But should organisations choose Managed Private Cloud from a CSP or a Hyperscaler, such as Microsoft Azure?

Now, my first take on Azure is quite simple, Microsoft has been the de facto provider of software to businesses for decades, but they were caught napping when it came to cloud. They remind me of Nokia in 2008, blissfully unaware a new entrant was about to eat their lunch, well, Amazon did just that when they launched AWS. In fact, AWS is still the largest Cloud Service Provider and Microsoft are still playing catch-up. It probably doesn’t help that AWS was a start-up with a ton of cash, whilst Microsoft was (and still is) a monolithic giant corporate with its walled gardens and business unit silo’s.

Microsoft Azure has improved greatly over the years and for organisations with a large Microsoft estate of services, Azure is the more natural choice. Nowadays it’s easier to specify and migrate, and Azure has far more features and options that even a couple of years ago. It allows businesses to easily scale up or down their IT infrastructure as needed.

When it comes to deciding between Microsoft Azure and private cloud computing, there are several factors to consider. Here are some key differences between the two: 

1. Cost:

Working with a Managed Private Cloud provider, generally means you can pay a fixed monthly fee with few or no variables or usage fees. This allows you to budget and control the balance between quality and cost. You can also easily dispute an invoice, which is virtually impossible on Azure due to the complex charging structures. Azure CSP’s generally offer a cost dashboard with optimisation recommendations, but its very complex and costs can spiral out of control. Also, Azure can be very inflexible, for example, if you pay 3 years in advance for a virtual machine, you can get very high discounts, but then you are stuck with that machine, you can’t upgrade or downsize it; kind of defeats the idea of cloud in reality!

2. Scalability:

Scale is one of the main differences between the two options, Azure offers virtually unlimited scalability, as businesses can quickly and easily add or remove resources as needed. Private clouds, on the other hand, may be limited by the amount of physical hardware available. Both can dynamically change the contention ration for resources, this can lead to performance variation in a similar way to home broadband, they more users, the worse the performance.

3. Security:

Private clouds offer greater control and security, as they are not accessible to other organisations. Private Cloud is essentially more secure by the virtue it has to be made accessible in order to do anything. Whereas, Azure is the opposite, it is fully open by design and must be locked down. Azure does offers a range of security features and compliance certifications that can provide assistance is security the environments. The other thing to consider is, Microsoft is a target for hackers, a Private CSP is probably not. 

4. Maintenance:

With Azure, Microsoft takes care of all the maintenance and updates, they are responsible for running of all systems relating to the infrastructure. With private clouds, maintenance and updates are the responsibility of the CSP who will generally be flexible on testing, maintenance windows, support and resolution of issues and managing urgent security patches.

5. Support

Is it better to be a big fish in a small pond or a very small fish in an ocean? Thats the reality when it comes to Support. We have seen companies who spend over $1m a month on Azure, receive the same support information as those spending $10k a month, which is usually fairly limited and published on the Azure status page.. On Private Cloud, you will likely have direct access to the CSP’s Support engineers, they will offer an SLA on response, updates and fixes.

6. Business Continuity

This is a key difference, the attitude when it comes to Azure and DR or Business Continuity is; we don’t need DR/BC, we use Azure – well, good luck with that! Azure does have outages and issues and if your zone is affected, you’ll need a DR/BC plan. You can reserve capacity is another region / zone, but this can add up and its also worth balancing that if your DR plan is to restore services from UK1 to UK2, well, you won’t be the only one, thats probably the DR plan for most organisations in UK1, so your betting that Azure has 50% spare capacity in UK2, thats a lot of ‘spare’ capacity. Private Cloud is vastly different because you can design and test a load-balanced environment over multiple locations and have additional off-site back-up’s, the process is far easier to validate and gives far greater confidence in any DR scenario and outcome.

In conclusion, both Microsoft Azure and private cloud computing have their pros and cons. Azure offers more scalability, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use, while private clouds offer more control and security. Ultimately, the best choice will depend on the specific needs and priorities of your business.