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The free eBook is now in our wiki doc of free admin books. Before I say a few words about this new Azure book (and about learning cloud computing in general), let me mention that I added another free Microsoft Press book to our list a few weeks ago: Configuring Microsoft SharePoint Hybrid Capabilities by Jeremy Taylor, Neil Hodgkinson, and Manas Biswas. If you don't follow the 4sysops activity stream, you might have missed that.
No doubt, Microsoft is pushing Azure and Office 365 further and is, more and more, transforming itself from the Windows maker into a cloud company. If you are still not familiar with cloud computing because your organization continues to rely on old-fashioned on-premises IT, you should at least prepare yourself for the future by reading this new book.
Fundamentals of Azure mostly targets cloud beginners. All you need is an understanding of basic IT concepts such as virtualization and networking. Knowing a little PowerShell won't hurt, but I think you will get through the book without programming skills. You'll learn about all the Azure core services, such as Web Apps, Virtual Machines, Storage, Virtual Networks, Databases, and Azure Active Directory.
If you've read the first edition of Fundamentals of Azure, you definitely should look at the new release. You probably noticed that Microsoft is moving from the classic deployment model to Azure Resource Manager. This is not just the introduction of a new management interface—it is a paradigm shift.
The classical model very much resembles on-premises IT, where each resource exists independently. In the cloud, this doesn't make sense anymore. The cloud is all about scalability, which is why resources have to be grouped to make the individual resource (a virtual machine, for instance) dispensable (pet vs. cattle computing).
Thus, I am not exaggerating when I say that Azure is transforming into a real cloud with the introduction of Azure Resource Manager. With the classical model, Azure was essentially an online service where you could rent a bunch of virtual machines by the hour. Therefore, if you read the first edition of Fundamentals of Azure, you missed the most exciting part of the cloud, which is why you have to update your brain with the second edition.
However, be aware that reading a book or passing some fancy exams is not enough. You really need to get your hands dirty and immediately try what you have learned. This is one reason why I like the book. It not only introduces important concepts, but it also demonstrates how to get the job done with step-by-step guides and lots of screenshots.
One of the nice things about the cloud is that you don't need to invest a lot of money just because you want to get acquainted with a new high-end technology. All the sophisticated tools and resources you need can be rented without buying a single piece of hardware or software.
With on-premises technology, it was much harder to learn and become an expert. Say, for some reason, you've decided to become a vSphere expert. To get started, you need plenty of expensive hardware and software. If your company does not already work with VMware, as an individual, you need quite a bit of upfront investment to dive deeply into this technology.
Not so with the cloud. Because you are usually charged by the hour, you can easily afford to play with the most sophisticated technologies without diving deeply into your wallet. You just have to make sure to shut down everything that consumes computing resources (VMs, for instance) after your lesson. Because storage doesn't cost much in the cloud, you can maintain your test environment without worrying about expenses until you have time for your next session. What's more, you can study conveniently on your couch at home or at a nice beach (my preferred work place). Never before has it been this easy to become an expert in a new enterprise technology.
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Best of all, after you read the book, you will finally be able to understand what our Azure experts write here on 4sysops about the new IT paradigm. You've probably noticed that we have published a lot about Azure lately. Even though I am a big cloud computing fan, I didn't really push 4sysops in that direction. It just happened because more and more IT experts feel that the cloud will dominate IT. And once you get started with Azure, you'll realize that the cloud is not just the future of IT, but it is also the most fascinating technology since the invention of the microchip.