Microsoft Azure Backup, cloud-based data backup, is well-suited for both small and large companies. It can be integrated with System Center Data Protection Manager.
The easiest way to get started with Azure, or “the Microsoft cloud”, is to use it to backup one or more Windows servers. Although the process is more complicated than you might think, it can be done quickly if you have a guide (such as this whitepaper, I hope!). The service was tested for me by my company. The screenshots and examples here are from “real life”.
Azure backup is affordable (costs have fallen since its introduction), and you get a month free to test it. If you like the experience, you may expand your Azure usage to include Active Directory, Web hosting, cloud-based virtual machine, and so forth. Even if you don’t explore Microsoft Azure (note the recent rebranding to “Windows Azure”) you might find that the online backup part fills a need for your disaster recovery strategy.
(Also, to pass the 70-412 exam, Server 2012 MCSA certified candidates will need to be familiar with Azure Backup.
Clients and Workloads
Microsoft upgraded Azure Backup in early 2015. Its capabilities include backing up Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 or newer, System Center 2012 data protection manager workloads (including HyperV, SQL Server and Sharepoint as long as DPM Update Rollup 5 is installed), 64-bit Windows 8.x and Windows 7 SP1, as well as Windows Server Essentials 2012 and newer (which requires an additional agent).
Azure Backup is only supported for file-and folder backups if Data Protection Manager is not installed. Azure Backup cannot be used to backup the system or create a Bare-Metal-Restore(BMR) backup. Network shares cannot be backed up. Volumes that must be backed-up must be NTFS. BitLocker must be disabled before you backup.
The 2015 size limit for backups is 1.65 TB. Backup policies allow for the retention of backups up to 99 years.
Data Handling
You may not want to back up over your network for the initial “seeding” cloud backup. In this case, Microsoft offers an “offline backup” option which integrates with the Azure import/export. To create your first backup copy, you simply send a disk to your local Azure datacenter.
Encryption is key to overcoming institutional concerns regarding security in the cloud. Azure Backup requires a passphrase to encrypt data being backed up. The agent performs encryption before transmission to Azure and decryption following a restore operation to the local system. Microsoft advises that it doesn’t keep a copy the passphrase. Servers must be registered to an Azure vault using verified credentials for additional security. The passphrase is not required to restore data to the same server that it was backed-up from, but you must provide it when restoring to another server. Microsoft can create a passphrase for your computer or you can make your own. You can modify it later in the console’s Properties.
Azure Backup uses compression to reduce storage and transmission times. As you might expect the effectiveness of its compression is dependent on the compressibility content. In my test backup of 76GB worth ISO images, which are not very compressible and were very close to 1:1, the compression ratio was very close.
Azure Backup also uses block level incremental backup methods to ensure that only modified blocks are backed-up in subsequent backups of the exact same folders and files. Azure Backup’s efficiency is questionable. Azure Backup’s next backup took 21MB when I added a 13KB file to my backup folder. This seems like a waste of time.