Head in the Clouds

If you’re an administrator, developer or database administrator, chances are you are not new to cloud computing. It is equally unlikely you’ve never heard of Azure. But as I am none of the above, I knew nothing about Microsoft Azure until recently when a helpful friend tried to move my business – or at least the most essential parts of it – to the cloud.

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I had perhaps more catching up to do than most. I’m deeply suspicious of cloud computing. What happens when you cannot access the cloud? Can unwanted intruders wander about the stratosphere, nosing through my stuff? What about the NSA…?

When it comes to cyberspace, I need someone to hold my hand. I like sticking with one system and don’t care too much – certainly not as much as I should – about the relative strengths and weakness of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. I just want all my stuff to work and to work together. For that reason, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Microsoft fan. Nothing against Apple, Red Hat, or all the other great stuff out there, both proprietary and open source. I just need a one-stop shop to fix anything that might go wrong and prevent problems through seamless integration.

So naturally, because I’m expanding my mostly Microsoft stuff into the wild blue yonder, I needed to expand my understanding of Microsoft Azure. Here’s what I found:

Azure does integrated cloud services. Minus the sales pitch, their info blurb says this includes “analytics, computing, database, mobile, networking, storage, and web.” First on my mind was what do I have to know? For me, I mean. Not as a professional developer, just a consumer. This is where I first went wrong.

Approaching one platform – any platform – with the intention of just using it for what you already do is a mistake. It’s like trying to learn to play just one tune on the piano. Platforms like Azure are designed to improve what you are already doing (which is what I want) by introducing you to new and better capabilities (which is what I fear). I wanted to operate my database out of the cloud. I wasn’t too interested in virtual machines and web apps. But I hadn’t considered that Azure could also host my website and enhance certain business functions I was doing through other older platforms.

I looked into Microsoft Azure certification and found that perhaps this wouldn’t be so daunting after all. If fact, it looked quite manageable if I just spun myself up on a few basic skills. For the Fundamentals course for beginners, I could expect to come away with familiarity with the principles of cloud computing and how they relate to Azure. I would also be able to create web applications, configure virtual machines, create a virtual network, and use storage and databases. That’s the course for me, I decided.

Before taking the plunge, however, I looked ahead. Where might this lead?

More advanced courses held the promise of learning about hosting websites and mobile application back-end services. Since I already host a website and my mobile app fluency badly needs some work, I came to realize that this may be a useful avenue after I mastered the basics. To achieve certification, I would also need to know C#. That jarred my teeth, but since I don’t really care about certification, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

There is a developing Microsoft® Azure solutions certification training program for those who would advance to an enterprise-grade cloud platform. That is not my current goal, but the course includes demos and practical applications for designing, developing, and implementing cloud solutions on Azure. I learn best by doing, so this sounded potentially useful to me, even fun.

Microsoft can take you to the master’s level and, unlike other areas of IT specialization, this is one where certification matters. If you want to make a living working with Microsoft systems, you must be certified within the organization. I don’t, but I have to confess that looking into learning about Microsoft Azure has put my head in the cloud(s).

In a good way.

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