Backup and DR in the cloud: How Azure is changing the game pennies at a time

 In Azure, Cloud

Businesses have come to expect and rely on the real- or near-real-time availability of applications and data to make business-driven decisions sooner and faster. “Always on” is the new normal for most systems.

As a result, infrastructure and operations teams are being pushed harder to find ways to leverage the cloud. For many, the sheer economies of scale that the cloud provides makes cloud storage (and its mere pennies per gig) an attractive solution. It has opened options from replacing tape with cloud storage to real-time replication for disaster recovery (DR) scenarios.

Microsoft Azure is looking to change the perception of DR protection. By democratizing disaster recovery, Microsoft wants to allow the customer to protect 100 percent of their infrastructure with full DR capabilities and Azure storage at a fraction of the cost of other solutions in the marketplace.

In a three-post series, I’ll focus on three Microsoft technologies that leverage Azure storage for backup and DR efficiencies: Azure Backup, Azure Connectors, and finally, Azure Site Recovery (my favorite!). First up is Azure Backup.

Getting started: Understanding the fundamentals

Before deciding on a solution to support backup and DR in the cloud, we ask customers to focus on three critical areas:

  1. Identify your applications and define the protection-level needs. What’s critical and what’s not?
  2. What is the business impact if those application are not online? How long before that impact is felt?
  3. Determine your Recovery Point Objectives (RPOs) — the point in time prior to the disaster that you want to revert to — and Recovery Time Objectives (RTOs) — the maximum downtime the business can afford to lose for an application. As you move away from near-zero RTO and RPO, the cost and complexity decrease, leading to greater usage in the market as shown in the graph below.

What is Azure Backup?

In its purest form, Azure Backup is an agent-based (file and folder) backup for Windows workloads (as well as for Azure VMs and Azure Stack, but that’s out of scope for this conversation). With the addition of Azure Backup Server, you can create application aware backups for more sophisticated workloads like Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint workloads running on Hyper-V or VMware.

Azure Backup is part of the broad package presented to clients through an Azure Recovery Services vault, and it’s often offered as part of Operations Management Suite (OMS), which packs in other Azure services for one integrated offering for monitoring, configuration management, and protection of your devices and services. At its core, Azure Backup provides native backup and restore for many types of workloads supported by the platform, enabling secure backing up of data and self-service management. Microsoft’s approach to using zero infrastructure solutions helps customers by delivering lower, predictable TCO for backup to the cloud.

Some other benefits include:

  • Limitless scaling by leveraging cloud infrastructure
  • Data storage redundancy options (multiple copies in the same region or multi-region)
  • Data encryption to protect and meet compliance
  • Long-term retention
  • Limitless data transfers (unique in the Azure model as other downloads have cost associated)

Buyer beware: Do your due diligence

While the promise of cloud backup is compelling, I want to encourage some level of caution and highlight a few things to consider.

1. The cost of resources. Yes, while cloud storage may be cheap and practically unlimited, it’s not free. How much will it cost? The answer is directly tied to the number of times you copy workloads to Azure, as well as how many historical copies you want to keep through retention policies. This is an important point to highlight since Microsoft will charge customers for storage space in addition to the fixed price for protecting data.

2. Bandwidth needs. There’s no definitive answer to how much bandwidth is required to back up your organization’s data to Azure. Laws of physics apply. There are a handful of online calculators to help you estimate transfer speed over the wire. Ask yourself, is the data pipe 100 percent available for my transfer?

Azure will move over the initial copy of data and then will attempt to synchronize only delta changes, providing efficiencies on time and connection usage. Are you experiencing slow link speed? You can configure throttling or even ship your Azure Data Box offline to the nearest Azure data center.

3. The importance of practice and tests. You can use Azure Portal to monitor your backups and configure simple reporting, alerts, and diagnostic logging so you can act quickly if something unforeseen happens, and more importantly, to ensure you have consistent backups in place at all times. The next step is to assure your backup works properly by testing it periodically. Just because it’s Microsoft and it’s on Azure doesn’t mean nothing will ever go wrong.

Azure Backup can help your organization prepare for a disaster using the efficiencies and economics of the cloud. But keep costs and bandwidth in mind and don’t just set it and forget it – simulate a disaster so you know everything will work the way you want it to when a true disaster strikes.

Stay tuned for my next post where we will look at the Azure connectors built into third-party solutions that leverage Azure storage.

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