Microsoft remains the most popular cloud service for many businesses, including those in the financial services sector.
Why? Because Microsoft Azure services offer high grade security, scalability and innovation. What’s more, it enables a smooth move to the cloud by adhering to important data FCA regulations, making it the perfect match for any financial firm or other sensitive business.
But, let’s dig deeper into Azure and the benefits it could offer your firm.
What is Microsoft Azure?
Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform that launched in February 2010. A comprehensive collection of interoperable cloud computing services, Microsoft Azure includes open-source versions of Microsoft technologies that are managed and remotely hosted. The cloud computing platform is often referred to as a ‘hyperscale cloud’.
Naturally, being a Microsoft product, Azure does not stagnate and become outdated. In fact, new services, solutions and regional data centres are added continually. Azure encompasses traditional cloud offerings, along with significant transformational benefits.
What is Microsoft Azure used for and how will it benefit you?
In the rest of this blog post, we'll dive into what Microsoft Azure is specifically used for and outline nine of its fantastic benefits for financial firms.
1. AZURE VIRTUAL MACHINES (VM)
An on-demand, scalable and extended data centre. Azure VMs offer your firm flexible virtualisation without having to invest in the costly physical hardware that runs it.
Although tasks such as configuring, patching and installing software are still required, this can be performed by outsourced experts. Businesses use Azure Virtual Machines to develop and test applications, as an extended datacentre or to provide them with extra capacity when needed.
2. MICROSOFT BLOB STORAGE
Most financial firms carry a lot of client and trend-based data. But, without a place to store all of those files, you could end up with documents scattered across your office or on-premise systems.
Azure Blob storage is object storage for the cloud; it’s optimised for storing large amounts of your unstructured data, while also supporting big data analytics solutions.
Blob storage is commonly used for streaming video and audio files, serving images and documents directly to a browser, writing log files, storing data for back-up and disaster recovery, or for archiving and analysing purposes. This tool provides a smooth storage system which is easily utilised by everyone in your firm.
3. AZURE CONTENT DELIVERY NETWORKS
Your employees and clients deserve a responsive team as well as tools.
Microsoft Azure Content Delivery Network, or Azure CDN, is a global solution for delivering content that requires a high-bandwidth. User experience is improved with reduced load times and increased responsiveness, making Azure CDN ideal for websites, mobile applications, and streaming media.
Microsoft Azure also offers bespoke services that leverage Microsoft technologies along with offering access to Microsoft enterprise solutions such as SQL Server and Active Directory. This enables the financial sector to implement and use business intelligence tools effectively, driving growth and improving security through role-based access.
4. IAAS AND PAAS
95 per cent of Fortune 500 companies use Microsoft Azure, relying on its cloud services to build and deploy multiple applications in a responsive and agile way. For clarification, we have added some further information on both IaaS and PaaS below:
IaaS, or Infrastructure-as-a-Service, is a form of cloud computing that is provisioned and managed online.
IaaS provides your financial business with components such as servers and storage, often located in dedicated data centres, and cybersecurity protection in the form of networking firewalls and more. With IaaS, your firm can easily scale the services you require, only paying for what you use and allowing you to respond to shifting business conditions.
PaaS, also known as Platform-as-a-Service, encompasses the infrastructure components of IaaS along with operating systems, business analytics, development tools and database management. Using these services and platforms, businesses can build, test, deploy, manage and update web applications in the cloud.
As more small to medium-sized businesses move to the cloud, the uptake of IaaS and PaaS is also increasing and is set to overtake SaaS – Software-as-a-Service eventually. Azure is a platform that supports this, offering several IaaS and PaaS solutions for your business.
The IaaS offering allows businesses to use the Azure infrastructure with a ‘usage-based’ billing model, rather than reserved capacity. This lack of upfront costs makes it an affordable option for financial businesses of any size. It also makes it a popular choice for you if you are migrating to the cloud from on-premise servers that may have previously required a significant investment.
PaaS means your firm can build and deploy bespoke applications and solutions using a fully-managed platform. This offers developers a pathway to implement OS patching, load balancing and capacity provisioning. Research shows that, currently, 42 per cent of small businesses have a mobile app and a further 30 per cent say that having a mobile app is part of their plans.
Experts consider cost to be a barrier to many businesses embarking on creating their own app, but with the aforementioned usage-based billing, Microsoft Azure provides a solution for your business. Microsoft’s acquisition of Github last year also means that source code integration, live debugging and one-click publication from Microsoft Visual Studio is available. All in all, the process of building web apps has been made far simpler and more efficient.
The finance industry experiences 35 per cent of all data breaches. As such, security is a top concern for financial businesses when considering a move to the cloud.
Handing over all your sensitive company data, along with your client data, can be anxiety-inducing – especially as the spotlight remains on topics such as GDPR and data hacks.
As one of, if not the world’s leading technology firm, Microsoft comes with some compelling evidence that they will keep your financial firm’s data secure. Over 85 per cent of Fortune 100 companies - that’s some of the largest and most successful companies based in America - trust Microsoft as their cloud provider because of their comprehensive security, privacy, compliance and IP protection.
It’s not just corporations that place their trust in Microsoft Azure: governments and tech-native start-ups have also chosen Microsoft over other vendors because of its platform security.
Not to mention the fact that Microsoft has the most inclusive compliance portfolio of any cloud service provider. Microsoft Azure offers state-of-the-art, multi-layered security across data centres, infrastructure and operations. Security controls are integrated into the hardware, firmware and services offered.
Azure’s real-time cybersecurity intelligence uses machine-learning behavioural analytics and application-based intelligence and of course, Microsoft data scientists. This approach to proactive security means that threats can be detected much faster. In-built security provides you with peace of mind that the data your financial business holds will be incredibly secure.
6. ACCESS MANAGEMENT
Who has access to your sensitive business and client data? Security is not only achieved by rectifying external vulnerabilities – businesses must look internally, too.
In Microsoft Azure, the focus has shifted from network security. Now, identity is treated as a primary security perimeter; because of the shift in working trends, such as remote working and BYOD (bring your own device), perimeter defence is becoming less effective.
As mentioned, Azure Active Directory is Microsoft’s solution for identity and access management – merging application access management, directory services and identity protection into one solution. Using Azure AD reduces the security risk from human error and, as well as using it for your employees, you can also configure it for guest users and external partners with permissions and access granted accordingly.
While security access is a concern, it should not hinder your productivity and efficiency. Features such as single sign-on (SSO) are critical in this mobile-first world. When there is a large volume of identity solutions to manage, it can be an issue for those looking after your IT.
It can also be a challenge for your employees to remember multiple sign-in details. By automatically provisioning access based on roles and organisation groups, you can control access but also prevent the use of weak passwords multiple times.
Further to this, multi-factor authentication (MFA), or two-step authentication, provides an additional layer of security. There are several ways that this can be implemented:
- The traditional two-step verification with every sign-in
- Enabling it to work with conditional access policies, whereby specific conditions are defined rather than asking users every time they sign in.
7. HYBRID CLOUD
Some firms opt for a hybrid cloud solution. This is often down to the nature of the data they handle or the complicated legacy software they use, which doesn’t sit natively in the cloud.
A hybrid cloud solution provides you with more control and peace of mind. Using Microsoft Azure within a hybrid infrastructure you can seamlessly manage data, leverage high-level security solutions and deliver application consistency.
When it comes to elements like access management, using a hybrid infrastructure doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. Hybrid cloud users can centralise their identity management by integrating on-premise and cloud directories using Azure Active Directory Connect.
Azure Stack is an extension of Azure that lets your business run cloud services and applications in an on-premise infrastructure. In some instances, cloud-based applications delivered in this way are inhibited by connectivity and latency; Azure Stack resolves these issues by processing the data locally before aggregating it in the cloud.
8. DATA ANALYSIS
Data is the lifeblood of businesses of all sizes and statures. By analysing your financial company’s data, you can understand and improve your processes and service offerings, deliver personalised experiences to your clients and even develop new products based on your findings.
Successful financial businesses are constantly reviewing and acting on data. Those who are most successful rely on modern, intelligent solutions and tools to help them do so.
The comprehensive set of Microsoft Azure technologies, as well as their suite of tools (such as Power Bi), enable businesses to collect, manage and store data across complex environments, multiple applications and across departments. This, in turn, makes your business more cohesive and unified.
Whether you want a service to integrate and automate data movement (such as investment trend data), real-time data processes from multiple sources, an efficient and scalable data exploration service or scalable data storage - there is a solution within Azure to facilitate this.
9. SUITE OF TOOLS
Microsoft 365 offers a comprehensive, cloud-based suite of tools that your firm can use to enhance productivity and provide a better service to your clients.
Here are just a few tools we'd like to highlight:
Say goodbye to sending emails back and forth, playing phone tag and reminding people to show up to appointments. Thanks to Microsoft Bookings, scheduling an appointment has never been simpler.
There are 3 primary components to Microsoft Booking System:
- A booking page where your clients can schedule appointments with the staff member who should provide the service.
- A set of web-based, business-facing pages where you can record customer preferences, manage staff lists and schedules, define services and pricing and set business hours.
- A business-facing mobile app where you can see all your bookings, access customer lists and contact information, and make manual bookings.
With Microsoft Bookings, you really can manage everything on the go, so there is no longer a need to be tied to your desk. Bookings is a service which is available 24/7 so if you need to contact a client or customer, you have full access to your customer, staff, and calendar info—wherever and whenever you need it.
FindTime is an intelligent application that allows you to send a collection of dates and times through to a group of recipients.
As you can see from the screenshots, there are three recipients within the invite. A green person means they are available (using their Outlook calendar data, if available). In this case, there are always 2 out of the 3 recipients free at the selected times.
Once everyone has voted (shown on the screenshot), the organiser will receive an email with a breakdown of who can attend each meeting. Hit the schedule button, which will then automatically send a meeting invite through to the guests.
Next steps for your Financial firm
Despite this being a lengthy blog, we have only scratched the surface when it comes to the capabilities of Microsoft Azure. From its high-grade security, to its flexibility and innovative data capabilities, it’s clear that Azure is a multifaceted, complex product that could revolutionise your business.
In 2020, adapting and keeping up to date with the latest technology is crucial for financial firms. Microsoft Azure can provide your company with a competitive advantage by giving you access to the latest technologies and updates in cloud-based services.
To learn more about how Microsoft Azure could take your financial firm to the next level, discuss your requirements with one of our experts today.
As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we are well equipped to facilitate a cloud migration to an innovative and bespoke cloud computing infrastructure that harnesses all Azure has to offer.
[Editor's note: This blog has been edited as of August 2020 to offer more insightful content.]