Over the past week, Microsoft announced several updates to its Azure cloud platform, previewing new services and making others available as full working versions after preview periods. Among the new enhancements is Premium Storage, which stores data on the latest SSDs and offers 32TB of storage for every virtual machine.
With Premium Storage, Azure offers the capability to put any service in the cloud. A preview of Azure SQL Database also brings a near-complete SQL Server compatibility and higher performance.
Other improvements include Azure Active Directory and the general availability of the Azure RemoteApp. Azure Active Directory (AD) offers employees access to corporate resources at all times. Azure RemoteApp delivers remote applications from the Azure cloud. Users can access those application through the remote desktop clients that are compatible with the devices they’re using.
Microsoft also announced features that could ease the process of moving on-premise systems to the cloud. To that end, Azure RemoteApp service, which runs Windows desktop applications that can be accessed from Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices, is now available.
We reached out to James Staten, vice president and principal analyst, Cloud Computing & Adaptive Intelligence, with Forrester Research Inc. He said Azure RemoteApp was announced earlier this year and has generated a lot of excitement.
"Azure RemoteApp is the most differentiating," said Staten. "[It] should prove very empowering for a lot of enterprises and midsize businesses who haven't had good options for modernizing older Windows apps but need to make them accessible from the range of new devices users are carrying."
For those who want to run the Azure SQL Database service instead of running SQL Server on Azure, many of the SQL Server 14 features are now available in preview. Among them is the in-memory column store that puts each column on its own set of disk pages. Designed for analytics and data warehouses, the feature saves the user from loading an entire table when loading information from just a few columns.
Active Directory Excitement
Also available are two Azure Active Directory features for connecting business infrastructure to the cloud. Azure AD Proxy enables remote access to Web applications such as Outlook Web Access and SharePoint that run on servers via Azure. They can run with a single sign on, with support for multifactor authentication, including for smartphones.
Azure AD Sync can be used to keep usernames and passwords in sync between AD and cloud services like Office 365. It can also ease the process of self-service password resets, removing the need to set up a password management service. With the new Password Write-Back option, users can change their passwords in the online portal and have them sync back to AD automatically.
"The AD stuff is more catch-up to what AWS (Amazon Web Services) can do -- more fine-grained admin and user roles within an Azure environment," said Staten. "But [it’s] also empowering for most AD customers as they continue to provide ways of hybridizing Active Directory and loosening up the licensing restrictions that have prevented some customers from using AD, ADFS (Active Directory Federation Services) or Azure AD as part of their security and authentication architecture."