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5 Microsoft Azure managed services to grow your channel business

Andy Syrewicze, a former MSP engineer and current Microsoft MVP, detailed five Azure solutions that service providers can offer their clients. The packages run from the simple to the visionary.

Microsoft Azure ranks in the top tier of public cloud providers, but a channel partner seeking to sell Microsoft Azure managed services may not know where to start.

The platform offers more than 100 services, ranging from AI to Web App for Containers. That's quite a cloud portfolio to get one's head around. However, Andy Syrewicze, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) and technical evangelist at Altaro Software, offered managed service providers (MSPs) attending the MSPWorld conference some insights into creating what he termed "cookie-cutter" Azure solutions.

Syrewicze worked for an MSP prior to his current role at Altaro, which makes backup software for Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware workloads. Here's his list of five Microsoft Azure managed services that MSPs can explore.

1. Run simple web apps

An MSP can run a web server virtual machine (VM) inside Azure's IaaS platform. Syrewicze said this offering addresses customers' low-hanging fruit, noting simple web apps are among the "easy things to move into the cloud."

He differentiated this approach from running a web server via PaaS versus running inside of a VM. While PaaS offers the ability to obtain a web server with a click, the VM approach provides more control. For example, a developer that needs access to the back end to integrate an API can do that with VMs running in Azure. Companies may also need to control the entire server stack, including the OS, from a regulatory compliance point of view, Syrewicze added.

2. Provide infrastructure for highly available VMs

To build highly available environments in the on-premises world requires a heavy hardware investment in redundant infrastructure, Syrewicze said. MSPs would also need to consider other elements, such as the Border Gateway Protocol. "This is where Azure fits really well," he said, noting that the necessary components are baked into the cloud platform.

MSPs can offer customers ascending levels of availability based on the spectrum of Azure options available. For example, Microsoft provides 99.9% uptime for a single VM in Azure when the solution uses Azure Premium Storage, Syrewicze said. Premium Storage, according to Microsoft, offers high-performance disk support for VMs.

Microsoft also offers a higher availability service-level agreement that protects against failures within a rack. A still higher level of availability offers protection in the case an entire data center fails. And, finally, Microsoft offers site recovery and regional pairs through Azure's availability zones, Syrewicze noted.

3. Provide off-site backup storage

Essentially, this is VDI inside of Azure.
Andy SyrewiczeTechnical evangelist, Altaro Software/Microsoft MVP

Off-site storage is another example of a Microsoft Azure managed service that qualifies as low-hanging fruit. In this area, the Azure cloud provides the advantage of geographic reach, and the task of supporting large enterprise storage area networks goes away. In addition, Azure makes blob storage easy to provision and use, according to Syrewicze. One caveat: MSPs offering this Azure solution should be aware of the separate fee for storage transactions. While not a major issue for average workloads, those costs, he said, can become a factor for customers in high-transaction environments -- an organization running a SQL database with 10,000 writes per minute, for example.

4. Offer distributed file storage with Azure Files

Syrewicze said Azure Files, file shares in the cloud, are a "fantastic solution" for MSP customers that have small network-attached storage systems, such as ReadyNAS or Synology. With Azure Files, MSPs can offer clients cloud-based storage that looks like a traditional file share. This approach lets "customers taste the cloud but more in a passive way," Syrewicze said.

In addition, Azure Files enables customers to experience cloud tiering, since they can sync their on-premises file servers to Azure cloud storage. Also, employees in the field who are not connected to the home office can connect directly to the cloud share.

5. Offer a virtual hosted office in Azure

While the first four Microsoft Azure managed services are "concrete," the virtual hosted office concept aims more to get MSPs thinking about the cloud platform's possibilities, Syrewicze explained. The idea of running a virtual office entirely in Azure would call for users to connect into a "landing zone" of sorts within Azure. That could be provided through Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services or through a newer offering: Windows Virtual Desktop. The latter provides a managed Windows 10 desktop within Azure.

"Essentially, this is VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] inside of Azure," Syrewicze said. Such a virtual office would be geared toward customers like SMBs, departments within large organizations and organizations with disjointed workforces, he added.

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