It's easy to get started with Windows Azure, but what difference will it make to your job? Given the rapid shift towards cloud systems, the short answer is: a lot.
The cloud is here to stay. While analysts disagree on the exact numbers - depending on who you ask the cloud business is worth anywhere between $50 billion and $150 billion per year and growing - it's clear that the introduction of cloud-based systems has already had am impact for IT professionals.
For IT managers, it means a quantum shift in how IT systems and infrastructure are designed, implemented and maintained. And that means a thirst for skilled IT practitioners that can look at how current systems work, look at how they could work in a virtualised, cloud environment and then provide advice to management on how to make the transition.
Just to be clear, what we're talking about is using hosted services that deploy virtual servers. Microsoft's solution, Azure, delivers the physical infrastructure, virtual infrastructure and development platform to support businesses that want to run key applications in the cloud.
You can easily try out Azure free for 90 days -- click here to get started.
Why should I be learning Azure skills?
The IT business doesn't stay still. Whether you're an infrastructure specialist or developer, it's important to continue to build new skills so that you're ready for the next course correction. Until the 80s, IT systems were centralised: it was all about mainframes and dumb terminals. The PC revolution put processing power on the desk with servers providing centralised storage. Today, we're in the middle of a shift that sees processing distributed across both centralised and decentralised systems.
So why do you need to learn Azure skills? After all, you could hit the books and do courses on other virtualisation and cloud solutions. Microsoft's Azure solution includes the data centres, virtualised environments and developer tools. That means it has the capacity to become a one-stop-shop for businesses rate than having to piece together hardware, hypervisor and development solutions form multiple vendors. To be able to capitalise on that opportunity, businesses will be looking for cloud-savvy staff. If you've got the skills, you'll be able to ride that wave rather than getting dumped because you weren't ready.
Let's not forget that Microsoft's global market share for operating systems is the largest and that Hyper-V is showing faster growth than other hypervisors: recent research suggests that Hyper-V penetration is growing at about three times the rate of VMware.
What online resources exist to help me train or retrain?
Microsoft offers the Windows Azure Platform Training Kit that provides labs, demos and presentations for using each part of the Azure platform including Windows Azure, SQL Azure and the Windows Azure AppFabric.
The kit is free and updated regularly. To work through the labs, set up a free Windows Azure Platform trial.
What certifications can I get to demonstrate my skills?
If you've worked through the Windows Azure Platform Training Kit you'll probably want to ensure that your new skills are recognised. Microsoft offers exams and certification for professionals that are Azure-savvy.
If you head over to the Windows Azure Training centre you can find a bunch of resources including online training, exams, learning plans and books.
Got additional questions about Azure?
Microsoft have promised to answer questions from readers, so if there’s something else you want to know about any aspect of the platform, pop it in the comments and we’ll have the answers in a future post.
Picture by Timothy Allena