Some have noticed that my posts over the last few months have a focus on Windows Server 2012 storage features. (In case you're new to the Ask PFE Platforms blog, I'll include links to those at the end of this post.) On a typical day I'm not obsessed with storage. However, I just couldn’t help but blog about something new I saw and used over the holidays: Windows Azure Online Backup. This great new online backup tool and service is a cool example of how easy it is to leverage cloud storage with Windows Server 2012. Cloud based storage isn't just for your phone, your tablet, or your desktop...it is useful for servers, too. As of this writing, there is a free six month preview of Windows Azure Online Backup available that provides you with 300GB of available secure online storage space for backups. This little gem came in quite handy when I needed to do a quick backup of data on my main server in my basement lab prior to a significant reconfiguration.
With this service you can perform secure file and folder backups of Windows Server 2012. You do need a broadband connection, to register for the trial, and to download and install the agent. The allocated space may be used for more than one server. You can even establish a backup schedule. Coupled with Data Protection Manager in System Center 2012, you can backup datacenter servers to the cloud. Using this method it’s not just for files and folders, it’s also for virtual machine backups as well. DPM local backups remain quicker and faster, but Azure Online Backup is attractive as offsite secure storage. And right now during the trial, free is cheap.
This tool was incredibly easy to configure, uses block based incremental backups for efficiency, compresses what it backs up and uploads. The data uploaded is encrypted…and get this: all without saturating the network. How long is the data retained? That’s up to you because it is user configurable.
The answer to that is not only simple, I’ll walk you through it with the steps below.
1. Use the following link to create an Azure online account ID if you don’t already have one.
2. Once signed into the Windows Azure Online Backup portal, you may download the agent or even watch a video tutorial. The account you create using your company name will be something like yourcompany.onmicrosoft.com. Behind the scenes, so to speak, is a mini-active directory structure for your account and any others you may wish to create. Notice on the overview page of the portal in the lower left there is a link for a Windows Azure Active Directory portal. That is where you can setup additional accounts affiliated with your backup portal for other users that may be performing or accessing these backups. There you will find an additional option to sync with an external Active Directory. Be certain you fully understand what that entails. My guess is that you won’t need that at all for the purposes of doing a quick backup or evaluating this backup service. You can also examine the health of the online backup solution by viewing worldwide backup services by region in case you would like to know about any current outages, stability history, or upcoming maintenance.
Figure 1: The Windows Azure Online Backup Portal
Figure 2: Service Health
3. Once you install the backup agent, it should prompt you to install KB 2779569 to obtain updates to the backup agent.
4. When you’ve installed the update and run the backup agent, you will be prompted for proxy information and optional credentials if needed for accessing the Internet.
Figure 3: Register Server Wizard
5. This next step is very important. You must specify a passphrase for encryption to protect the confidentiality of the backup. You may save a local copy of this passphrase…which I encourage you to do. Why? Because you can’t call Microsoft later to get access to your data if you forget or lose this passphrase. You will need this passphrase later in order to restore data.
Figure 4: Encryption Settings
6. Once you’ve provided the passphrase successfully, you must enter the credentials for the Windows Azure Online ID you created earlier. This will be something like firstname.lastname@example.org.
Figure 5: Account Credentials
7. To perform a backup, you must first walk through the scheduling wizard to choose what will be backed up. This agent backs up data and is not a direct replacement for system state or Bare Metal Restore (BMR) type backups. I suppose one could backup a volume that contained some of these backup files though. :)
Figure 6: Backup Scheduling Wizard
Figure 7: Item Selection
Figure 8: Backup Time Schedule
Figure 9: Setting Retention Policy
Figure 10: Review Your Choices!
8. At this point, you can make changes to the backup schedule, initiate a backup now, or wait for the backup to start based on the schedule chosen. To delete a backup schedule, use the option to change backup schedule and you’ll find the option there to delete. The example below is of a running backup. You can double click on a completed backup or a backup in progress to see details. Notice that 17GB of data compressed down to approximately 6GB.
Figure 11: Completed Backup in Online Backup Agent Tool
Figure 12: Backup Status
9. Login to the online portal and see how much space was used.
Figure 13a: Backup Status In Online Portal
After installing the Windows Azure Online Backup Agent, you may also notice that the next time you launch Windows Server Backup in Windows Server 2012, it now contains an option for online backups.
Figure 13b: Online Backup Option in Windows Server Backup
Windows Azure Online Backup leverages VSS, so after taking the snapshot of the filesystem, there was no interruption of applications required for the backup to complete. Further, during my testing there was no adverse impact to my internet connection due to the ability to adjust how much bandwidth the agent consumed. Once the snapshot was taken, for the agent it was just a matter of encrypting the data in to a data bundle and uploading to the secure space within the Windows Azure cloud. Just remember, you’ll need the created passphrase in order to restore the data. Protect the passphrase just like the key to your car, boat, or anything else you don’t want others to have. Incidentally, for those of you that love using PowerShell, the Windows Azure Online Backup Agent comes with cmdlets. Check out all of these below that say MSOnlineBackup. Quite a few!
Figure 14: PowerShell Cmdlet List for Windows Azure Online Backup Agent
Windows Azure Online Backup
Command Line Installation Instructions
Resilient File System (ReFS)
How to Import a Storage Pool
Windows Server 2012 Built-in iSCSI Target