This is usually the best place for an organization to start dipping their toes into using cloud. It starts with picking a server, existing or planned, and deciding to host it on Azure instead of in your own data center. The security blanket of Microsoft System Center letting you pull it back home makes this a very low-risk place to start, provided you picked the server well.

Azure Websites represent the second mode in our list and a different way of leveraging Azure. Azure Websites are often the best way for an individual or smaller organization to get going. Azure Websites are a platform that, as the name indicates, allows you to roll out a website quickly and easily, even if it requires sophisticated packages. If you need a Content Management System or a blog or even an e-commerce site, but do not need the kinds of control and customization offered only by total control of the server as an OS-level admin, then this could be a solution for you.

Azure Websites do not fit nicely into the regular “as-a-Service” definitions. It is a gray area. Cloud Services are clearly Platform-as-a-Service, and some say Azure Websites are PaaS, but I prefer to describe them as more of a hybrid, “light” PaaS.

Finomial’s Wilder described Azure Websites as “scalable, flexible, and super-low friction.” In talking to Michele Bustamante, CIO of Solliance, Microsoft Regional Director and co-author of “Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions,” she said, “Azure Websites makes the cloud approachable by allowing you to focus on building applications and let Azure worry about prepping your virtual machines and load balancers (among other things).”

Azure Websites feel like Software-as-a-Service, but really they are more like a hybrid that takes away the hassles of supporting your own infrastructure, but still allowing for the kinds of deep customizations typically absent from SaaS offerings. Bustamante asserts that “No other cloud provider has an experience to match Azure; in fact, at this point I have seen so many successful migrations to Azure Websites that I rarely recommend a move to VMs unless there is a compelling business limitation. There is simply very little you can’t achieve with Azure Websites today.”

Cloud services
The third category in our explanation is currently called Cloud Services. Originally they were called Web and Worker Roles, and this was Microsoft’s first vision for what Azure would represent. It was, and remains, an ambitious vision because Cloud Services represent PaaS, which means that Microsoft abstracts the operating system and all of its care and feeding away, letting developers worry about their code and nothing else.

It did not work out as expected due to an overestimation of the level of trust Microsoft had achieved with their clients. It was a bridge too far, and as we are seeing now, people and organizations need interim steps such as hosting VMs or websites. Microsoft has been much more successful in growing adoption of Azure in general and Cloud Services in particular since they provided the interim steps and built out the offerings.

Microsoft also has many packages of functionality that do not fit neatly under the categories of hosted VMs, Websites or Cloud Services, and these make up the fourth mode. It is with these packages where the innovations are coming from in Azure. Microsoft’s Hadoop offering, HDInsights and the Machine Learning capabilities fit this category, and they seem to be best described as a way to get Software-as-a-Service from a centralized and experienced cloud vendor. Just in the last year Microsoft has brought out Orleans, which we will cover into more detail later.

Outside these categories there are also critical capabilities that make the rest of it work much better. Many of the network capabilities that do not easily fit into the aforementioned categories are just needed to make the rest of this stuff work. Duane Laflotte, CTO of CriticalSites considers the Virtual Network capabilities that allow you to bridge your on-premises systems with your Azure systems as a key enabler that does not fit neatly into any category.