A Moneysaving Guide to Azure Storage

If your business is running in Microsoft Azure, you are paying Microsoft to store your data. Although there’s a range of storage options at different price points, the Azure storage model is complex. But for the storage-savvy few, there are big savings to be had when you know which data to store where. This simple guide to Azure storage summarises the principles of Microsoft’s storage model so that you can re-evaluate your choices and reclaim some cloud computing costs.

It takes time, attention and know-how to evaluate the Azure storage options properly with a view to saving money. Often, the easiest option is to buy premium. (After all, if it costs the most it can’t be wrong, can it?) Choosing storage options for data is like choosing horses for courses. First, we need to understand what type of data we use and how often we use it.

 What are the different types of business data?

Most businesses have more than one type of data. There will be the usual documents created in Word or Excel, then there is data associated with other applications including databases. Some data might need to be readily available (transactions with that data are frequent) while other data might be needed once in a blue moon. By identifying the various data types and the access requirements (e.g., who, how and from where), you can create a data migration strategy that utilises the most cost-effective and suitable storage options Microsoft offers in Azure. This is when you can begin to classify your data and put it into different storage areas.

 

There are tools in Microsoft Azure that allow you to automate the process of monitoring and migrating data from one storage possibility to another. You set the criteria or rules, and the tools do the rest. Let’s look at some scenarios as a guide to azure storage options.

 The Key Storage Options in Azure

Some storage already comes included as part of your 365 business licence. We’re referring to SharePoint Online. Unless you’ve exceeded your free quota or have third party cloud applications that can’t access SharePoint, look no further.

 The Benefits of SharePoint Online

General files and folders like Word, Excel or PDF documents are perfect for storing in SharePoint Online because it acts as a cloud fileserver. SharePoint is the right choice for data that is often shared, accessed remotely or accessed offline, or for files in which teams work collaboratively. It’s also a good choice when many people need access to the files or folders.

 So why not use SharePoint Online for all my data storage?

SharePoint uses premium storage to give the best user experience, so it’s relatively expensive when you exceed your limit. Therefore, you should store or move only “active” data to SharePoint.

 What is the difference between Azure Files and Blob storage?

Azure File Storage and Azure Blob Storage are alternative options to SharePoint Online.

They both offer tiering systems (at different prices) however the tiers are not the same in both. The Azure Blob Storage has hot, cool, cold and archive tiers, while the Azure File Storage has a premium, transaction optimised, hot, and cool tiers. Importantly, there is no archive ability in Azure Files.

 What is Azure File Storage Used For?

If the data isn’t shared with many people and if there is no need for offline access, Azure Files could be the answer. In Azure Files, data that you rarely access might sit in cool storage; files used more often might sit in the transaction optimised tier. Users could access the data via mapped drives, just like a fileserver. This storage option takes a little more effort to define and set up but it is cheaper than SharePoint.

Data associated to third-party applications like a CRM or accounting software can’t usually utilise SharePoint so you might use the Premium tier of Azure Files, which is a comparable price to SharePoint storage. Alternatively, if the data needs to reside on an application server, Azure Managed Disks attached to the server could be a good choice.

 Blob Storage: Guide to Azure Storage Costs and Lifecycle Management

For other data not in SharePoint and utilising Azure Blob storage, you can configure lifecycle management rules to check relevant criteria (e.g., file type or location) of a file or folder and move the data from the hot storage tier to the cheaper cool tier, or to the even cheaper cold tier. At the time of writing, the cold tier storage costs roughly 2.5 times less than the cool tier, and the cool roughly 1.5 times less than the hot. In other words, hot tier storage costs over four times more than cold tier storage.

There are other factors to consider, like the cost to read and write to the storage. Microsoft calls these Transactional Costs. But for storage alone, with no transactions, what would cost you £100 per month in the hot tier would cost you around £24 in the cold tier and £9.50 in the archive tier.

 Archiving in Azure Blob Storage

Company data that’s infrequently accessed but needs to be retained could be stored in the Archive tier, which is more than 10 times cheaper than the hot tier and an unbelievable 100 times cheaper than premium storage, including SharePoint.

However, as the archive tier uses offline tape storage, the data isn’t directly accessible. ‘Rehydrating’ the data for accessibility takes several hours, making data retrieval significantly more expensive. We recommend you use this tier for storing data that won’t need to be accessed for a minimum of 180 days after its transfer.

If you’d like to know more than we’ve summarised in our simplified guide to Azure storage, you can get in touch with one of our Azure specialists here [email protected] . We’re always happy to help.

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