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A beginner's guide to Microsoft Azure Backup

Microsoft Azure Backup, which automatically sends encrypted backups to the cloud, is easy to set up. But is it cost-effective for large enterprises?

Microsoft Azure Backup first became available for preview in March. Now that it is generally available and fully...

supported, some shops may consider a cloud element to their "backup in depth" policy.

The Azure Backup service uses the existing Azure storage service to store compressed, encrypted copies of clients and servers in the cloud -- where you can then restore single files and folders right from Azure. It does not support full image backups, so you cannot dump existing backup schemes and expect to get the same protection from Azure. Think of it as cheap insurance and a disaster recovery option -- if your office burns down and your server is three days away from being replaced, you can grab the working files and at least be somewhat productive from a coffee shop.

How to get started with Azure Backup

Azure Backup is fairly simple to set up; you need to initialize the service in Azure and then register (think of this step as pairing) each server or client you want to back up against the service in the cloud. Then, establish a schedule and you are set.

To get down to business with Azure Backup and begin storing Windows Server Backup images within the cloud service, sign in to the Azure Management Portal. Then follow these steps:

  1. From the New menu, go to Data Services, then Recovery Services, then Backup Vault. Click on Quick Create on the right side of the menu.
  2. Give the vault a friendly name in the Name field. In the region, choose the Azure data center nearest to you geographically for the best transfer speeds.
  3. Click Create Vault near the checkmark in the bottom right hand corner of the window. The vault-creation process will take a little time. In my test, it took about 10 minutes for a vault to generate and become ready for use. A small pop-up in the bottom area of the portal notified me when it was done. If you would like to be notified immediately, click under Recovery Services in the main window of the Azure portal and look for the Active status in the entry for your vault.
  4. Next, download your credentials from the portal. From Recovery Services, choose your vault, and then click Download vault credentials and choose a location on your local system where you can store the credentials.
  5. Download the agent software. You can choose either the agent that works on Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 Data Protection Manager, or if you are running Windows Server 2012 Essentials or Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, you can choose the agent that will integrate right into the Essentials management console.
  6. Install the agent. Choose the installation folder and cache location and then enter any Internet authenticated proxy information your system requires to get out to the cloud. Click Proceed to Registration and point the agent to the credentials you downloaded from the portal. Enter a passphrase for encryption in transit and at rest in the Azure storage service. Keep in mind this passphrase is never transmitted to Microsoft and they have no way of knowing what your key is, so it is totally secure.
  7. Perform your first backup. After your server is registered against the service and the agent is running, load the Microsoft Azure Backup console. In the app, select items to be backed up and specify the frequency of these backups by clicking the Schedule Backup button. Work through the wizard to establish your first backup policy. The backup will kick off on schedule, or you can trigger it manually right from within the console.
  8. Perform a test restore. Click Recover data to launch the Recover Data Wizard, where you can browse or search for files, select the volume that was backed up and the date, the specific items to restore, where to put the restored files, and whether to keep the existing files there or replace the existing file with the file you are restoring from Azure.

Azure Backup pricing details

Pricing for Azure Backup consists of two elements: the backup service itself and storage costs for housing the data in an Azure storage blob. The backup service costs $5 for a protected server up to 50 GB of data, plus the actual storage cost per month. For 50 to 500 GB of protected data, the cost is $10 per month plus the actual storage; instances greater than 500 GB cost $10 per 500 GB, plus the actual storage costs. You can also add technical support for $29 per month, and availability is guaranteed at 99.9%. So it is not exactly a cheap service, but for a couple of servers it will not break the bank and could prove very useful in a time of need.

For a couple of servers or home-based workers, Azure Backup could make a lot of sense. It may not be priced effectively for enterprises that want to back up more than a handful of servers at a time.

Next Steps

Bring order to the Azure cloud with Operations Management Suite

Windows Azure Backup basics every admin should know

What you should know about SQL Azure automatic backup

Dig Deeper on Windows Server storage management