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The Azure Periodic Table

Staying up-to-date with Azure – My personal challenge

As the Azure lead at Data#3, I have the impossible task of keeping up-to-date with everything Azure. I need to know and understand how each of the 293 discreet service offerings in Azure work from both a technical and business capability perspective. You can get a sense of the sheer scale of services available in Azure by looking at this list of Azure Products from Microsoft.

I use many technology resources to assist me with information and news to keep up to speed, including my Azure news bot that scrapes relevant RSS feeds and posts to our internal Microsoft Teams and Yammer sites for new and exciting Azure updates. My bot can frequently post up to 20 announcements (such as those below) a week, so there is literally an endless stream of Azure changes, innovations and news to stay across. I couldn’t imagine having to manage this rate of change if I wasn’t one hundred percent focused on Azure. It must be quite impossible for IT teams, also managing an entire technology environment, to adequately stay ‘in the know’ with Azure.

azure news bot

Our customer’s challenge

Needless to say, our customers are busy – they have a business to run and IT operations and project teams have a full-time day job helping the business deliver and innovate. Time to research and keep up with all things Azure is limited and this often leads to mistakes. What I see most often is organisations taking the easy path for Azure deployments using Virtual Machines (VM). This presents a twofold issue:

One, VM’s require maintenance. At a minimum to protect VM’s we need to be using the same protection methodologies as on-premises infrastructure, from an operations perspective the basic tasks include:

  • Operating system configuration
  • Operating system security
    • Patching
    • Anti-virus
    • Security baseline and hardening
    • Firewall
  • Private networking
  • Application configuration and servicing
  • Application and service security
  • Role-based permissions
  • Monitoring
  • High availability and load balancing

Two, there is massive potential for cost savings and operational efficiency by leveraging certain platform services that include some or all of the above protection methodologies. For more tips on Azure optimisation, cost saving and best practice, see our white paper 8 Best Practices for Cost Optimisation in Microsoft Azure.

Our solution – The making of the Azure Periodic Table

I’m sure by now I’ve made the point that it’s difficult to be (and stay) an Azure nerd. So, I’ve developed a resource that both customers and my colleagues can use to understand the latest on Azure, what’s available and how it works. Using SharePoint I’ve created an Azure Periodic Table, featuring 97 key and core services in Azure. I’ve also arranged the elements into a logical grouping of services based on their type, such as identity, security, AI and storage, if you note the colours and key along the top.

azure periodic table | Data<sup>#</sup>3

Once I had a shortlist of Azure services to focus on, I then started writing a description about each element and adding links to relevant Microsoft and Data#3 content such as product overviews, pricing and news to assist customer’s research into that service.

Azure firewall

I soon realised that I would never have enough time to author this content on my own whilst maintaining my day job. Also, the Microsoft cadence for service updates and new ‘things’ quickly rendered some of the content irrelevant or incomplete. I have seen other sites that present similar content and every single one of them lacked the up-to-date relevance that mapped to what is available today.

Maintaining relevance

I considered the challenge of how we keep this up-to-date, allow multiple collaborators and maintain relevant information. Data#3 is Microsoft’s most experienced cloud partner in Australia, our team is part of the Azure Elite Engineers program and we have the most team members certified in Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) of any Australian partner. However, how was I to collate all that knowledge and make it usable and valuable for others? Enter Office 365.

I built a list in SharePoint.

sharepoint list

By using a list, we enabled our own consultants to author, co-author and maintain the site content. By using SharePoint we were able to populate the 90 plus tiles in as little as three weeks. This format allows for multiple edits, content approval workflow and ultimately programmatic publishing to the dev, test, UAT and live versions of the table.

A bonus benefit was realised when we asked the Azure team to take ownership of one or a few tiles, to research, build and then author. As a national services company we have technical resources all over the country, but that also means our knowledge is geographically dispersed. By taking ownership of the Periodic Table elements, we have names against a tile that we can call on as champions for that service from a knowledge sharing, issue escalation or design perspective.

Once we had our SharePoint list populated with all the latest Azure intel, all I had to do was review and approve content. An awesome part of the project was building a flow to export the entire list and convert it to JSON before transferring the content to the test version of the site. By using an application service environment in Azure for the site hosting, I can check the content and layout privately before switching to production, and facilitate user acceptance training if we wish.

Essentially, we built a website that requires no coding to maintain content. All with the power of Office 365.

How to use the table

Browse to https://azureperiodic.data3.com and start exploring the tile content.

I coined a term a while ago – shift to the right – and this is wholly based on the layout of services in the table. Going back to the virtual machine scenario mentioned above, notice the VM tile is to the far left of the table. Surrounding it I have positioned other foundational features of Azure, such as Multi-Factor Authentication and Azure Active Directory. To the right I have grouped most of the exciting, innovative and business agility services, such as Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Bots and Power BI. By shifting our mindset to the right, we move away from monolithic and complex, in favour of services that provide significant technological and business benefits. These are the services that will be transformative for your business, but many customers have expressed the need for a map to get to this degree of cloud adoption – the Azure Periodic Table is that roadmap that help you plan your cloud journey.

Down the track we will be adding new features to the site such as chat bot integration and of course future core services as they are released.

If you’d like to learn more about Azure or Data#3’s cloud capabilities visit our Microsoft Azure page or connect with me on LinkedIn and let’s start a conversation on how you can ‘shift to the right’ and use Azure advanced services to transform your business.

Tags: Cloud, Cloud Solutions, Microsoft Azure, Cloud-based Disaster Recovery, Microsoft Azure StorSimple, Microsoft Azure Stack, Cloud Security, Enterprise Cloud, Cloud Management, Microsoft Azure App Service Environment (ASE), Microsoft Azure Identity Protection, Microsoft Azure Active Directory, Microsoft Azure Security Centre, Internet of Things (IoT)

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