I started using Azure around a year and a half ago. It was used to throw up small projects and micro sites, a way of testing it out before migrating everything over. Using it in this way meant comes with many advantages, one of which was price. For a while we used the free package to create small projects and embedded them into other sites using iframes and objects.
When we first starting playing around with azure, it was a pretty simple solution, AWS seemed miles ahead with services on offer and googles cloud platform was cheaper (When comparing the paid packages at the time), however Microsoft definitely had ease of use down. The portal has always been a please to use. People that don’t use visual studio don’t see the benefits of using azure over other competitors, it just seems to work.
I now go straight to azure as soon as I start projects, I can even create environments from within VisualStudio. For me, infrastructure is moving sliders up and down and ticking boxes, it is probably the biggest improvements to a web developer’s project life cycle.
I do think that azure still has some way to go until I can say it has everything I need, but I'm willing to stick with them and use a few work abounds until that time.
I think the biggest annoyance for me was SQL on Azure does not support Full-text-search, I found this one of the biggest downfalls of using Azure and have worked with a few companies that will not switch over to their service because of this. Luckily it wasn’t hard to find a work around and Leon Cullens has a very good blog piece of how to use Lucene search with azure.
Microsoft has recently announced the launch of their own search service, it looks great. Really simple and quick to use, however with hints of a full SDK coming available soon, I think I may keep my lucene solution for another couple of months (One for the Trello board).
At the momment everything you see here is using the Azure cloud service. For SiliconPanda we use the following
Cloud service (Lucene search)
Visual studio Online (Used with my cloud service)
Mobile service (Retired now, but a simple service to ping the sites to keep them warm, before Azure introduced 'always on')
With a few add-ons:
I do have one major annoyance at the moment with azure, and that’s their CDN, and the lack of a purge service. It has stopped me using it for the time being until I can find a suitable solution.
I currently do not add an expiration onto the blobs in storage, therefore once the CDN picks up my files I am left with a 72hour refresh time period, this is great for speed and I can just forget about it, I point my images to cdn.siliconpanda.com and it picks them up from storage.siliconpanda.com. However I do some image manipulation (cropping and resizing mostly) on the sites, When I do this I don’t want to wait 3 days to see the results. A purge service for individual files is exactly what I need to make this solution work for me.
It seems that I am not alone, and this has been on a to-do list for the last 3 years. I'm sure there are some slight work around, but they don’t seem to work particularly well. Luckily, at the time of writing this, the traffic on my sites is pretty low and my costs are still small so I don’t mind using the azure storage service in place of their CDN service, I’ll just keep waiting for the announcement.
So overall my Azure experience has been mainly positive, with the exception of a few bits missing. This is really just a general opinion piece of my experience with azure. I'll write something more in depth and informative about azure soon enough, stay tuned.