How to optimise Azure to deliver maximum value

Why optimise Azure? Every IT manager in the land has the same challenge; balancing the value that IT delivers with the budget it consumes. Traditionally, with on-premise or locally-hosted environments, that balancing act was a three to five-yearly undertaking. Three to five years is broadly in-line with the life of the hardware. With Azure, that all changes.

how to optimise azure

The features with which you define the IT service to meet the demands of your business remain the same. Broadly, they include performance, resilience, flexibility, mobility and security. And, you will still need to make the same choices to optimise the balance between service and cost. But what Azure changes is how you optimise, how often you optimise and the tools available to help you with your task. That’s what this blog is about.

Service First, Infrastructure Second

Cloud computing has turned the way you optimise your IT service on its head. In the old days, you planned infrastructure first because servers come with pretty much fixed-limitations. You’d buy the biggest and best machine you could in case you needed to deliver more resource-hungry services in the future. Now, you plan your services first and commission just enough infrastructure to deliver them. How that infrastructure is made up can also change now – really as often as you need it to.

Cloud technology develops at a blistering pace and Microsoft introduces new services and new ways of doing things in Azure all the time. Basically, your cloud instance never stands still. So, while we’re not suggesting that you put yourself in a permanent optimising loop, you’ll want to review your service regularly to make sure you’re getting the best value from your Azure account.

As quite a few of Microsoft’s Azure services are free or at least have a free tier, it really does pay to keep on top of developments. That’s one of the things we help our clients with on their free monthly calls. We’re well placed to be able to advise on the latest developments and how to take advantage of them.

Here’s a good example. If you’re using Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) virtual machines (VM), you should review your existing VM spec against the range of VMs now available. When Microsoft launches a new VM family, it usual for it to be higher spec and lower cost than comparable existing ones.

You can find more detail about current VM families here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/virtual-machines/windows/

Right-size to Optimise

If you operate on-premise servers, you’re almost certainly over-specified because you will have future-proofed your purchase. Cloud hosting is much more efficient because you can change your infrastructure to suit your workload. But, many companies still over-specify when they first migrate to the cloud. Old habits die hard. You can optimise your IT service by right-sizing it.

Are you over-specifying your VM? It’s simple to resize a VM either within the same family or in a different family. Current VM families are detailed on the page linked above. To right-size your infrastructure, reduce your CPU and see if your workload still runs at an acceptable level. If it does, keep reducing until you find the optimal level. It’s that easy.

A word of warning… you’ll need to restart your server every time you change your specification, but it only takes a few minutes to do. You’ll also need to make sure that set up you want to try supports the number of disks and NICs you have attached. Plan accordingly before you make any changes and ideally, seek out an Azure Gold Partner to support you.

Plan Ahead Keeping Flexibility

Microsoft recently introduced what it calls ‘Reserved Instances’ which are pre-paid one or three-year contractual commitments. You may remember that the standard Azure consumption model is paying monthly in arrears with no contract and a simple pay-per-use model. Reserved Instances come with massive savings – up to approximately 70% over the normal pay-as-you-go price – but you do need to pay up front.

Reserved Instances make sense for servers running core workloads that will remain in place for at least one year. Should things change, there is flexibility built in too. You can exchange your Reserved Instance virtual machine for another one without penalty. Or, you can cancel and get a pro-rata refund with a 12 per cent termination fee.

You can also mix and match to lower your total cost of ownership. If you combine Azure Reserved Instances for predictable workload applications with pay-as-you-go service for variable workload applications, you’ll be optimising both service delivery and budget.

Reserved Instances come with a few terms and conditions and there’s a comprehensive Q&A on Microsoft’s site. Gold Partners add value to the process by helping you achieve the right balance. We know the T&C inside-out.

Azure Hybrid Benefit

If you already have Windows Server or SQL Server licenses with active Software Assurance for your on-premise environment, you can use them in Azure and make even bigger savings. Microsoft calls this offer Azure Hybrid Benefit. Transferring your existing licenses mean you only pay for the compute and could push your total savings up to the 80 per cent mark.

There is a lot of nitty-gritty with Azure Hybrid Benefit, but the savings are substantial. Your Azure Gold Partner will be able to help you navigate through the complexities.

Free tools!

Now, we would say this – because we’re an Azure Gold Partner – but it definitely pays to get a Partner on board. In many cases, you won’t need to pay for the advice you receive because it’s wrapped into our Partnership promise – it comes as part of the Microsoft package. But, if you do want to do it all yourself, Microsoft provides some great tools to help you manage and optimise. We’ve provided a brief summary below and links, so you can check them out. If you’d like us to cover these in more detail, please get in touch and we’ll put them into the blog plan.

Azure Advisor

azure advisor dashboard
This is an amazingly powerful tool and it’s completely free to use. It’s like having your own personal cloud consultant to guide your deployment and help you follow best practice. Specifically, it helps you optimise availability, performance, security and cost and it collates and stores your recommendations in the Azure portal. You can find out more here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/services/advisor/

Azure Monitor

As the name suggests, Azure Monitor provides metrics and logs for most of the services in Microsoft Azure. There are some services that don’t yet appear in Azure Monitor, but Microsoft has committed to it being the unified monitoring portal in the future. You can use parts of Azure Monitor for free, but others come with a small cost.

Azure Monitor is a very powerful optimising tool because it allows you to collect granular performance and utilisation data, activity and diagnostics logs, and notifications from your Azure resources in a consistent manner. It also integrates with other analytics and monitoring tools like OMS Insights & Analytics, Application Insights and other 3rd party tools.

Azure Security Centre

Azure security center
Again, the service name tells you exactly what it does. Azure Security Centre allows you to apply security policies across your services for both on-premise and cloud workloads. The service helps you limit your exposure to threats by finding and fixing vulnerabilities before that can be exploited and also enables you both to detect and respond to malicious attacks.

For Azure only resources, there is a free option which has powerful, but restricted functionality. For hybrid and more complicated resources, a more fully-featured option is priced on a pay as you go basis. Pricing is transparent and full details are published on Microsoft’s site.

Are you embracing the future?

Microsoft provides all the tools you need to optimise your Azure workloads to deliver maximum value to your business. We’re here to help both you and Microsoft make sure you make the most of Azure. It’s the more powerful business tool of our generation and is transforming business right around the globe. Are you embracing the future?

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