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Discover the benefits of hosting Sitecore in Azure

  • 10 July 2020 / By Steven Shaw
  • Martech Modernisation Connect

As part of our ongoing support of the Sitecore 101 webinar series, we recently ran a session discussing Sitecore in Azure. We were joined by Matthew Biggs, Cloud Solution Architect from Microsoft and Charles Bell, Director of Sales Engineering from Sitecore.

Prefer to watch on-demand?

Watch the webinar here

What is Azure?

Azure is Microsoft's public cloud-computing platform and hosting services. It holds all the computing infrastructure that powers Office365, Dynamics, Teams and the Xbox network.

Azure services are available in 140 data centres across 60 regions globally where it is the most compliant cloud. Each year Microsoft invests £40 billion in infrastructure and security, with at least £1 billion of that investment focused on security.

The Azure platform aims to bring affordable enterprise grade computing services to a wide audience. With Azure, you only pay for what you consume, and there are various economies and scaling options to tailor the overall service to your requirements.

Whilst Sitecore is built upon the Microsoft technology stack (.NET and SQLServer), Azure is an open platform. This means its happy running Windows Virtual Machines with IIS and C# apps, and can also host any other technology including Node, Python and Kubernetes and other containerised systems.

Azure is a rich ecosystem of strategic partners and this can include advanced workloads and data services. Much of the very latest tech is being developed on Azure including machine learning and AI systems.

Now more than ever organisations need a strong digital presence, and engagement platform, that can scale with demand, and pivot quickly, when needed, for an evolving customer landscape.

Matthew Biggs - Microsoft

Sitecore and Azure

The Sitecore Digital Experience Platform has always been built on Microsoft technologies: primarily .NET and SQL Server. In version 7.5 it added MongoDB for the experience analytics database but this has since returned to SQL as the core database solution.

Sitecore has always followed Microsoft’s advances closely with each new release of the .NET framework and is currently re-architecting to the latest .NETCORE framework. The first part of this .NETCORE migration has been the fantastic addition of a stand-alone publishing service.

Sitecore developers know Microsoft tools inside out, making it natural to align closely with Mirosoft. As part of their hosting strategy, Sitecore has chosen Azure with a clear understanding that it’s better to be awesome on one provider than average on lots.

Azure is feature rich, including options for scaling, blue-green deployments and geo-replication. It provides the foundations that Sitecore partners and customers expect from an enterprise platform.

The combination of Sitecore and Azure, when implemented by a partner such as Kin + Carta, is truly a combination that is greater than the sum of its parts. Although Sitecore and Azure are both very well established in the marketplace it is exciting for me, as an engineer at heart, to see the progression we make with each new version of Sitecore and how our partners bring compelling experiences to life in the Azure Cloud

Charles Bell - Sitecore

Benefits of hosting in Azure

1. Flexibility is one of Azure’s key benefits. You can ‘scale up’ which means adding more resources to your instances, or ‘scale out and add more instances of servers or resources.

2. The ability to manage costs within Azure is also critical for finding the right balance between investing in more resources when needed (such as during a campaign) but also reducing costs during quiet times.

3. Azure offers role based access control (RBAC) across all the resources you create so you can be in complete control of who has access and when. This can be especially useful for enterprise organisations that need to lock out an employee who leaves the business or give access for a limited time period.

The flexibility of Azure is one of its key benefits, we can start small with a single virtual machine and as clients requirements or businesses grow, so can the infrastructure without needing to pay up front.

Steve Shaw - Kin + Carta

Start hosting Sitecore in Azure

Azure is very accessible. You can sign up with your own account and start spinning up new resources with a few clicks of the mouse. Sitecore even offers an Azure marketplace install for those that already have a licence. However, diving straight in and deploying your hardware without consideration is rarely the best approach.

This is where implementation partners like Kin + Carta shine. We can help you identify requirements and plan out how to deploy the core platform and get your custom code or layouts into the platform.

There are two main approaches to hosting Sitecore in Azure:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Platform Service (PaaS).

The option you choose depends on your overall requirements and level of management. If you need to make modifications at the operating level, then you need IaaS, if you aren’t doing anything particularly customised then PaaS takes away the overhead of patching your servers.

Sitecore is continually developing and providing users with ARM templates known as ‘Infrastructure as Code'. ARM templates contain all the information to automate a deployment of Sitecore into Azure by creating the relevant services.

If existing Sitecore customers are planning on moving to Azure then they need a discussion about their current licence agreement. Azure works best when Sitecore is under the subscription licence model, allowing customers to take full advantage of scalable resources without limits on the number of servers roles permitted.

Foundations of an awesome experience

In terms of IT hosting, most businesses are moving from either on-premise or IaaS infrastructure to PaaS. This brings flexibility and reduced management costs. Microsoft also helps this transition for those with Software assurance by allowing licences to be transferred to Azure, reducing the costs further.

Azure lets you build the best experience for all users of the Sitecore platform, authors and visitors.

If you are considering a move to Azure then being on the latest version of Sitecore will ensure you are set up to take full advantage of all the features available. The latest version also offers an easier upgrade path to newer versions that will likely unlock new features such as AI and machine learning.