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Beginner's guide to Microsoft Azure

Oliver: If you visit news sites regularly, I am sure that you have heard about Microsoft Azure. It's a cloud computing service that's responsible for a large share of the company's profits, and is a direct competitor to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Azure give "cloud computing services" a true meaning. While most people think that cloud computing is limited to storing your data online, Microsoft uses its cloud service to give business owners of all sizes access to raw computing power.

According to the company, Azure is an ever-expanding set of cloud services that helps companies meet their business challenges. So, it is not a surprise that 90% of Fortune 500 companies utilize Microsoft's cloud-based service.

Traditionally, companies used to build or purchase their own servers. As a business grew, it needed more computing resources, so it had to purchase more hardware. Knowledgeable server admins were also required, and their salaries weren't small.

Cloud computing made it all much easier and less expensive.

Instead of purchasing your own hardware and paying people to patch servers and fight hackers on a daily basis, you can now get access to a pool of computer resources that are very reasonably priced and always kept up to date.

This way, companies can deploy and use virtual web servers, store and update their customer databases, use Microsoft's hardware to store their files and data, and so on. As their needs grow, businesses can simply request more CPU power, a bigger storage space, and so on.

It's an ideal business model for Microsoft, and it is also the perfect solution for small business owners, who won't have to invest a lot of money upfront. In fact, most small businesses will end up paying only a few dozens of dollars per month to host their websites in a high-quality environment.

Unlike traditional hosting models, where you'd have to pay hundreds of dollars per month to the company that hosts and patches your server, with cloud hosting you will only need to pay for the computer resources that you are actually using. So, if only a few thousands of people have visited your website this month, you will only have to pay a few dollars for your hosting account. On the other hand, if your site gets a surge of visitors for a month or so, you will have to pay more money that month, but you won't be locked into a much more expensive yearly contract, the way it happens with traditional hosting.

To get started with Microsoft Azure, simply sign up for a new account. Each trial account comes with a generous $200 in credits that can be used during the first month. This means that you can test Azure without risking anything and see if it is a good solution for your business' needs.

James: Non-techies won't probably use Microsoft Azure, because it has a steep learning curve. If you are a home user and all you need is to back up your data online, it is much better to use a dedicated cloud backup service, which comes with a companion desktop application and is user-friendly. I agree that companies which use Azure will save quite a bit of time and money, though.