Azure provides many avenues toward performance optimisation - they are of course invested in their users’ success. As we’ve discussed before on this blog, Azure goes well beyond hosting and charts its own path in terms of service provision, which is always evolving. Its suite of digital services offers web platforms the opportunity to explore new technologies and leverage power that they wouldn’t be able to access on their own.
When we talk about performance, we are talking specifically about speed and efficiency: how fast your website loads. How quickly a query returns a result. The most important services Azure provide that most profoundly affect website performance are:
- Traffic Manager and Auto-scaling
- Redis Cache
- Content Delivery Network (CDN)
- Azure Advisor
These services continuously work together and separately to identify areas requiring attention and in some cases to automatically adjust how a website delivers its content. The result is the potential for faster, more reliable, worldwide delivery.
Traffic Manager and Auto-scaling
Azure’s Traffic Manager is a domain name server (DNS) load balancer that handles incoming requests to a web platform most efficiently. It can be configured to direct users according to an efficiency that makes the most sense to your business:
That may mean sending them to the nearest geographically placed server, for instance, which reduces load times. Or it may mean sending them to the least busy server at the moment to even out response times. Or you could set up a combination of these and other options by creating nested traffic manager profiles.
Geographic traffic routing lets you set a specific endpoint for users coming from a given geographical location. It assists with compliance with local data sovereignty regulations. This means all traffic originating in, for example, Dubai, could be immediately directed to the endpoint that handles Middle East sales inquiries or that offers an Arabic language option.
A related tool is geographic scaling, which dedicates a regional server to handle traffic from that area. This keeps the entire web platform local and locally relevant, capable of managing all visitors from a specific region, which is useful if one region proves to be a hotspot of activity. It also frees up the home server to deal with other regions.
Auto-scaling keeps tabs on how many visitors are coming to the site, and then Azure adjusts capacity to accommodate them. Auto-scaling is useful in handling increases in traffic, but also in scaling back down when an event is over. Additionally, Auto-scaling can manage huge influxes of malicious traffic, allowing a web platform to continue operations until the attack is over.
Redis is an in-memory e-database. What this means is that it caches data that is accessed most often so that frequently repeated queries don’t have to travel all the way to the database or disk every time. What sets Redis apart from other cache technology is that it is non-relational. In other words, the data doesn’t have to be arranged in traditional data tables. They can pull data from documents, for example.
So, for example, imagine a hospital that uses a document type form to gather patient information at A&E admissions, which contains lots of different types of data. It could include date of birth, phone number, a list of medications and dosages, and a description of symptoms. Storing that form in Redis Cache would mean that other hospital users could quickly access that information from the inpatient ward or radiology or the pharmacy without having to query the centralised health service database, which could be massive - and slow.
It’s useful for when the durability of the data isn’t necessary in the short term. Eventually that hospital record should go to that patient’s long-term medical file. But in the immediate future, lots of people need to see it right now. And even temporary use of Azure Redis Cache can make a big impact on performance, which is useful for businesses that are experiencing a rush on a particular service or product.
In Azure, cache types have tiered capabilities, some of which are proprietary to Redis Labs and some of which are open-source, but all of which are managed through Azure. When you choose the cache type, all the configuration is done for you.
A content delivery network (CDN) is a system of connected proxy servers that are strategically geographically located to ensure that web content can be delivered to a local audience, wherever they are in the world. CDNs cache assets, or even whole websites, in the proxy server to save call time to the home server, making web pages load faster. And they add a layer of security by stopping malicious traffic from overwhelming the main site.
Azure CDN is integrated into Azure services. They work with multiple reputable providers to ensure reliable service wherever their servers are located. Taking advantage of Azure CDN makes for faster content delivery to wherever your market is. In the current climate where so much of business is conducted remotely, it means reaching global clientele faster, even if there’s an influx in traffic.
All of our hosted clients are on Azure CDN, and making use of a CDN is good performance advice in general.
Azure Advisor is a notification dashboard that monitors usage and configuration across your platform to make best practice recommendations for security, reliability, cost and operational excellence as well as performance. For performance, Advisor offers opportunities to optimise speed and efficiency by examining:
- Database server memory capacity
- Deployment locations
- Storage accounts
- Areas approaching the full extent of their current scalability, and more.
Advisor looks a bit like an anti-virus software dashboard. Potential concern areas are colour-coded, with solutions offered based on a points system. The advice is free, though some of the services that add efficiency may not be. For example, scaling something up may make use of resources at a higher price tier.
Azure’s performance offer is necessarily enmeshed in all of its other services. If your web platform is working well for your users, then Azure is working well for you. If you’d like to explore whether Azure might be a good fit for your business, contact our Technical Team.