Q

The Windows Azure Backup basics all Windows Server admins should know

Azure can offer convenience and flexibility for enterprise data centers, but it's important to know the situations that may prevent its use.

Are there any issues or limitations when using Windows Azure Backup?

Windows Azure is Microsoft's answer to public cloud computing – it provides a wide range of computing services across the Internet. One of these computing services is Windows Azure Backup, which is designed to provide off-site "cloud-based" backup using Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 Essentials or System Center 2012 Data Protection Manager. Azure backups can later be restored from Azure to local servers.

Although Azure promises flexibility and convenience for many enterprise data centers, there are some situations that may prevent Azure use. Current iterations of Windows Azure Backup impose strict limitations on the volume being backed up. For example, backup volumes must use NTFS (FAT32 or other file systems won't work) and must be configured to read-write, so read-only volumes cannot be backed up. Volumes must be offline and on a local disk rather than a network share. Finally, Azure cannot support volumes encrypted with BitLocker. Encrypted volumes must first be unencrypted before backing up to Azure. Security-conscious organizations may have serious concerns with transmitting unencrypted data across the Internet for remote storage in the cloud.

Beyond these Azure limitations, the choice to use cloud services also requires a business to depend on the cloud provider (Microsoft in this case) and the network of Internet providers working between your data center and cloud provider. Any Azure service or WAN disruptions may render your backups temporarily inaccessible and potentially cause serious business disruptions. All of these factors must be considered before adopting a remote service like Azure.

Backups remain an essential element of any enterprise data protection strategy. Windows Server provides a variety of tools designed to handle backups and restorations, and the tools allow every major attribute of the backup process to be automated; this saves administrators time, reduces the potential for errors and allows backup processes to be batched with other repeatable IT tasks as needed. Remote backup services such as Windows Azure Backup are increasingly important for data center operations, but off-site services carry limitations and dependencies that must be considered before engaging remote services or cloud providers.

This was first published in January 2014

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