The future of computing is pretty clear. We’re headed to the cloud and businesses both large and small are embracing new technologies in a bid to maintain competitive edge in an ever changing corporate world. To get ahead, businesses need to be future-proof. You need the ability to change tack fast, keeping up with industry changes and exceeding customer expectations. You need to keep a handle on technology with effective, cost-efficient and reliable solutions that offer flexibility, scalability and business control.

Which is exactly what the cloud brings. But as cloud adoption increases, how do you sustain that competitive advantage? There’s a big buzz around Microsoft Azure right now. But what exactly is it, and can it help you get ahead in the cloud?

Azure is a platform that lets businesses manage applications and services in the cloud through a global network of Microsoft data centres. It provides a framework for SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) – all on one platform, all hosted by Microsoft. It means you can put your entire IT network into Microsoft’s cloud – your software, your apps, backups, web hosting, emails, SQL databases, virtual machines, Active Directory – integrating on-premise apps and data with a virtual environment to provide hybrid cloud solutions.

You can provision Windows and Linux Virtual Machines and applications in minutes, and develop your infrastructure using a broad set of operating systems, frameworks and languages, bringing operational agility, business control and the flexibility to increase or decrease your infrastructure with minimal notice and without the need to purchase additional hardware. It lets you extend your on-premise investment into public cloud.

An entire IT infrastructure integrated into one managed platform, and the ability to customise to your heart’s content brings flexibility. It brings scalability. It brings that all important competitive advantage. So what about security? If you’re putting all your eggs in the Microsoft basket, what are the security risks?

Microsoft invested some 8 Billion dollars in its data centres, meaning Azure gives businesses of all sizes access to enterprise level IT, sharing the same platform as the likes of Skype, Xbox and Bing. Using geo-redundant data centres with a 99.95% availability SLA, Azure maintains three copies of all data and will failover to another geographic location in the event of an outage, assisting with disaster recovery plans and creating a secure remote data backup.

All licensing, patches, updates and upgrades are managed by Microsoft in a framework designed to meet regulatory compliance requirements while .NET Access Control works with web services and applications to integrate common identities. As with any cloud solution, Azure reduces or eliminates the need to buy hardware so is far more cost effective than running local servers. Based on a pay-as-you-go model with low capital investment, the overall cost of your IT admin decreases and becomes a running cost making for better budget management and cost efficiency.

So could Azure be the answer to your technological prayers? Whether we like it or not, the future is cloud. If you’re already well integrated into the Microsoft world, Azure lets you expand your operations without additional complexity. If you don’t innovate, you risk being left behind. So the question is, are you ready to get ahead in the cloud?