I’ve explained before that Windows Azure is a Platform as a Service - at its simplest, that means that you write software and Azure runs it for you. But what if you are a shop that normally buys “off the shelf” software, and the only software you write is an internal utility here and there - can you still use Windows Azure?

Absolutely. Windows Azure is made up of several components, such as computing, storage and other objects you can call in code. And as such, some companies have extended software and hardware you can use that is backed by Windows Azure. In some cases that’s simply software you can use like you would any other - making Azure a “Software as a Service”, which I’ll write about later.

But in other cases the software a vendor provides a utility you can use for your infrastructure. For instance - “BlobShare”, a free codeplex offering, allows you to create a place where you can upload and download files securely. It allows you to hook in your local Windows accounts (without sending names and passwords over the Internet) or even Google, LiveID or Yahoo logins to access the files. You can think of it as a “corporate DropBox”. Download it and read more about it here: http://blobshare.codeplex.com/ and learn how to hook in Active Directory here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/vbertocci/archive/2011/10/31/blobshare-sample-acs-protected-file-sharing.aspx

Another option along these lines is using a hardware appliance to store data in Azure. This has a particular attraction, since some of these appliances (such as the offerings from StorSimple) do more than just act as a storage target. The device plugs into the network as storage, moves the data to Windows Azure, de-duplicates (thus saving storage costs), encrypts, acts as a backup device, works with SharePoint and more. No coding is required to use their solution, and it can even act as a Disaster Recovery site.

Storage isn’t the only way to use Windows Azure in place of infrastructure. Using the Application Fabric Service Bus, you can perform some functions of data access and transfer between companies that used to take a VPN setup - which is no longer required. the caching function in the Service Bus can even relieve the need to upgrade a server for performance. And of course SQL Azure allows you to access a SQL Server database without any server at all.

So if you’re thinking that Windows and SQL Azure aren’t for you, think again. Start with the problem you have, and see what options you have for solving it.