Protecting VMs in Azure using Azure Backup

There are many ways of backing up virtual machines running on-premises in an enterprise environment. For example, you can utilize the Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) of the Windows Server platform to backup and restore virtual machines running on Hyper-V hosts. Or you can use a quality third-party backup solution such as Veeam Backup Free Edition from Veeam, a powerful but easy-to-use tool that lets you clone, copy, export or manage your virtual machines and even look inside them to restore individual items. Veeam Backup Free Edition lets you back up virtual machines hosted in both VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V, so if you’re in a mixed environment where both virtualization platforms are being used this tool can simplify your backup methodology considerably.

But what if your organizations virtual machines are running in an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) cloud environment instead of upon on-premises hosts? Until recently if you wanted to backup a virtual machine running in the cloud, you had to install backup agent software in the guest operating system of the virtual machine and then use a product like System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager (DPM) to back up the virtual machine from within its guest operating system. Unfortunately this approach can incur additional licensing costs and the overhead of more complexity to your virtual machine backup solution.

Fortunately, last year Microsoft enhanced their Microsoft Azure service called Azure Backup to provide a single simple, reliable cloud integrated backup as a service both for virtual machines running in Azure IaaS cloud environments as well as on-premises server and client systems. Azure Backup thus enables organizations to save money on their cloud backup solutions while ensuring critical assets are protected regardless of where they reside (on-premises or in the cloud). Azure Backup is also available as part of Operations Management Suite, Microsoft’s cloud-based management solution.

Azure Backup was originally released in early 2014 in the form of a Backup Vault that could be easily connected to the Windows Server Backup (WSB) feature on Windows Server systems by installing a cloud backup agent. This initial release allowed enterprises to back up their on-premises Windows Server systems to the Microsoft Azure Cloud. Then early in 2015 Microsoft announced support for backup of Azure IaaS virtual machines and provided a preview of the new service which was described in detail here and which later last summer was enhanced with some additional services described here. Then in October 2015 Azure Backup was once again enhanced to enable organizations to back up Microsoft SQL Server, Hyper-V VMs, SharePoint Server, Microsoft Exchange and Windows Client workloads in Microsoft Azure Backup Server codenamed “Venus”. A video-based overview of Microsoft Azure Backup Server can be found here on the Microsoft Azure blog.

So like most cloud-based solutions we can see that Azure Backup is being continually enhanced with new features customers may find useful for environments. Let’s step back now however and focus in one key capability of Azure Backup which is the ability to back up virtual machines running in Microsoft Azure IaaS cloud environments. To help us understand how Azure Backup works in this kind of scenario, I’ve asked Trinadh Kotturu, a Program Manager in Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise division, to provide us with more details concerning this Azure service. Tinadh’s primary focus is on backup of cloud born assets and during his tenure at Microsoft he has delivered backup of IaaS Virtual machines and replication features of next generation Windows Server. Trinadh graduated from BITS Pilani with Masters in Information Systems, and holds a management degree from IIM Bangalore in marketing and technology. You can follow Trinadh on Twitter at @f2003629 for the latest news on Azure Backup. Let’s now hear from Trinadh.

Protect virtual machines running in Azure natively using Azure Backup

Azure Backup announced the general availability of IaaS VM backup capability a couple of months ago. This announcement makes Microsoft Azure the first public cloud platform offering backup natively. Azure Backup offers following advantages over conventional approaches such as taking snapshots and exporting them:

  • Customers need not to shut down the VM for a consistent snapshot
  • Each snapshot transfers only changes from previous snapshot optimizing data transfer as well as total consumed storage for backup
  • Industry standard GFS based retention policies can be set on backup copies
  • VMs can be restored in couple of clicks

Azure backup is a reliable and scalable service built on top of VSS framework to provide consistent backups – VMs running Windows OSes can be protected at application level consistency while those running Linux OSes can be protected at file-system level consistency.

Customers can use policy-driven VM-level backup management capabilities to protect their Azure IaaS VMs against accidental deletion, data corruption scenarios and for long term retention:

Figure 1: Example Backup Policy with daily backup frequency and retention of 10 years.

Once customers have desired backup policies in place, they can configure backup of multiple VMs using a simple backup wizard. In addition to scheduled backups, customers can also take advantage of on-demand backups at critical points in time, such as before applying a patch or performing a test operation:

Figure 2: Configuring protection for multiple VMs using a single policy.

Customers can restore their backed up VMs to a new instance of a VM. They have the choice of creating a VM in a different cloud service, in a different storage account and attach it to a choice of Virtual network. This not only allows customers to restore a deleted VM to desired configuration but also enables scenarios like test backup VMs and A/B testing:

Figure 3: Restore experience that allows recovery to a VM with desired configuration

All jobs that were triggered as part of backup management can be tracked in portal and can be exported to Excel for reporting.

All backup management operations carried out in portal are scriptable using PowerShell based cmdlets to automate at scale. The following sample cmdlets will help in getting started with Azure Backup and backup a VM using the default policy that comes as built-in with every vault created.

Step 1: Create a backup vault. Make sure that you have an existing resource group to create a backup vault.

PS C:\> $backupVault = New-AzureRmBackupVault -ResourceGroupName “contosorg” -Name “contosovault” -Region “central us” -Storage LocallyRedundant

Name                    ResourceGroupName                    Region                  Storage

—-                                 —————–                           ——                      ——-

contosovault                     contosorg                             centralus             LocallyRedundant

Step 2: Register the Virtual machine to backup vault using its name and cloud service name.

PS C:\> Register-AzureRmBackupContainer -Name “contosovm” -ServiceName “contosovmservice” -Vault $backupvault

WorkloadName                Operation           Status                    StartTime                           EndTime

————                            ———                  ——                      ———                                ——-

contosovm                         Register                 InProgress          23-Nov-15 9:45:41 AM

Step 3: Enable backup on the virtual machine using the default policy that is built-in with the vault.

PS C:\> $defaultpolicy = Get-AzureRmBackupProtectionPolicy -Vault $vault -Name “DefaultPolicy”

PS C:\> Get-AzureRmBackupContainer -Vault $vault -Name “contosovm” -Type AzureVM | Get-AzureRmBackupItem | Enable-AzureRmBackupProtection -Policy $defaultpolicy

WorkloadName    Operation                       Status                   StartTime                             EndTime

————                      ———      ——                       ———                 ——-

contosovm           ConfigureBackup           Completed           23-Nov-15 9:50:32 AM   23-Nov-15 9:50:40 AM

Learn More

Getting started with this new capability in Azure Backup is easy. Start by creating a backup vault in Recovery services, create a backup policy and start backing up your IaaS VMs. Checkout the Azure IaaS VM backup documentation for a detailed step by step guide on enabling backup for virtual machines.

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