Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing platform that enables individuals and companies to deploy web applications, virtual servers and entire IT platforms, as well as host databases, perform analytics and store data. Although Microsoft goes out of its way to help technologists and sales personnel get to know Azure inside and out, third parties do a bang-up job too.
Microsoft provides ample free sources of training for Azure, mainly through its Microsoft Virtual Academy (MVA). When you visit the main page, click the Developers, IT Pros, Data Pros or Students links, and then the Azure or cloud tiles for courses. Or just search for Azure on the main page. There's plenty of beginner, intermediate and advanced courses for people who use the technology or who design and sell Azure-inclusive solutions for customers.
Newbies may do best to start with the highly rated Microsoft Azure for IT Pros Content Series: Introduction to Microsoft Azure, which is the first of a six-part series taught by MVP Corey Hynes. Other top-rated MVA Azure courses are Azure Active Directory Core Skills Jump Start, Introduction to Azure IoT and Hands-On with Azure Machine Learning.
In addition, Microsoft has a few other resources worth checking out:
- Microsoft Azure Training page: You'll find another batch of free online Azure courses here, hosted by Pluralsight, as well as information on hands-on labs and certifications.
- Microsoft Learning: This site gives you the scoop on both free training (the same courses you take through MVA) and paid training. You also get links to related certification exams.
- Channel 9: Since 2004, Channel 9 has been a go-to place for Microsoft customers to view videos and webcasts, discuss issues, problems and emerging technology in the forums and generally learn about Microsoft technologies. While you're on the site, consider subscribing to the Tuesdays with Corey and Azure Friday shows.
- Azure Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): This site offers links to more than 35 MOOCs designed for IT pros and developers who work with Azure. Each course is self-paced and runs for 8 to 16 hours.
For hands-on practice and general noodling within the Azure environment, Microsoft grants you a 30-day free trial (to use up to $200 in subscription fees). During the trial, you can provision up to 14 virtual machines or 40 SQL databases, build web, mobile and application programming interface (API) apps (through the App Service Web Apps), play with big data analytics and lots more. You need a credit card and a Microsoft Account username to create a free Microsoft Azure account.
The concept driving edX is that students can take free courses offered by leading colleges, universities and training organizations, without the benefit of receiving credits. However, students taking current courses (those that are not archived) may receive a certificate of completion. To simply learn a skill or technology, and improve your standing in the workplace, that's just fine. Searching the edX course catalog for "azure" results in just fewer than 20 current and archived courses based on Azure, as well as courses that should be available soon.
Microsoft moved code and project repositories from CodePlex to GitHub in 2015. Now you can find APIs, software development kits (SDKs) and open source projects for Azure there as well. Be sure to browse the Azure Readiness portion of GitHub for even more opportunities for practice and access to developer camps. There's also Microsoft Azure training materials available for researchers and data scientists.
Troy Hunt is a software developer and Microsoft MVP who created an Azure video on what he calls "making real stuff happen." He named it the World's Greatest Azure Demo, which became wildly popular with folks wanting to learn about practical applications of Azure. The video is actually a series of demos on websites, virtual machines and SQL Azure, and was eventually incorporated into the Pluralsight course entitled Modernizing Your Websites with Azure Platform as a Service, taught by Troy himself.
Catapult Virtual Azure Bootcamp
Catapult Systems bills itself as a "digital solutions and services firm" with a Microsoft-centric focus, and among its long list of supported Microsoft technologies is Azure. To help inform its customer base about Azure — and anyone who signs up — Catapult offers its Virtual Azure Bootcamp, a series of 20 short videos that they meter out every Thursday over seven weeks. You'll learn about application development in Azure, as well as Azure IaaS and PaaS.
Cloud Ranger Network
If you're interested in sitting for Microsoft certification exam 70-533, Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solution, Cloud Ranger Network has nearly 50 free training videos to help you prepare. The same series is available on the Cloud Ranger YouTube channel.
If podcasts are your thing, two that are worth your time are the Azure Podcast and Microsoft Cloud Show. Azure Podcast is hosted weekly by Cale Teeter, Evan Basalik, Russell Young and Sujit D'Mello, all of whom are either an Microsoft engineer, consultant or architect. Microsoft Cloud Show hosts are SharePoint experts Andrew Connell and Chris Johnson, who cover both Azure and Microsoft Office 365.
The YouTube Microsoft Azure Channel
Like most well-known tech products and services, Azure has its own YouTube channel. Because everything is free, you may notice some overlap with MVA, but it's still worth your time to browse these offerings. Each set of videos is composed of bite-size chunks of information on specific Azure topics, presented in an appealing format and designed to retain viewer interest. The demo videos tend to contain the most material and run the longest, but are super helpful to prospective customers, and current customers who need to understand little or never used product features.
E-book lovers will find lots of great Microsoft Press Azure titles, free for the viewing. Just go to the Microsoft Press portion of MVA, open the menu on the left and select Microsoft Azure, and then download any of the e-books that you want. The following are a few examples of the Azure titles you'll find on the site:
- Microsoft Azure Essentials: Fundamentals of Azure, Second Edition, September 2016
- Microsoft Azure Essentials: Migrating SQL Server Databases to Azure, Carl Raebler, June 2016
- Enterprise Cloud Strategy, Barry Briggs and Eduardo Kassner, January 2016
- Microsoft Azure Essentials: Azure Web Apps for Developers, Rich Rainey, June 2015
The Microsoft Azure blog is a terrific source for both historical and cutting-edge information on Azure. Find out when new features are being released, or pick up tips and step-by-step how-tos for using various Azure features and services. Be sure to check out the Red Gate Software Cloud blog as well, which covers Azure topics in great technical detail.
Organizations that aren't yet using Azure but would like to know how to get started should visit the Azure Virtual Machine Readiness Assessment website. The tool provides a checklist and report tailored to your environment, which are valuable sources of learning in and of themselves.