With the recently disclosed general availability of SQL Server 2014, Microsoft brings to market new hybrid scenarios, enabling customers to take advantage of Microsoft Azure in conjunction with on-premises SQL Server.

SQL Server 2014 helps customers to protect their data and make it more highly availably using Azure. SQL Server Backup to Microsoft Azure builds on functionality first introduced in SQL Server 2012, introducing a UI for easily configuring backup to Azure from SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). Backups are encrypted and compressed, enabling fast and secure cloud backup storage. Set up requires only Azure credentials and an Azure storage account. For help getting started, this step-by-step guide will get you going with the easy, three-step process.

Storing backup data in Azure is cost-effective, secure, and inherently offsite, making it a useful component in business continuity planning. A March 2014 commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on Microsoft's behalf about Cloud Backup and Disaster Recovery found that saving money on storage is the top benefit of cloud database backup, cited by 61%, followed closely by 50% who said savings on administrative cost was a top reason for backing up to the cloud. Backups stored in Azure also benefit from Azure built-in geo-redundancy and high services levels, and can be restored to a Azure VM for fast recovery from onsite outages.

In addition to the SQL Server 2014 functionality for backing up to Azure, we have now made generally available a free standalone SQL Server Backup to Microsoft Azure Tool that can encrypt and compress backup files for all supported versions of SQL Server, and store them in Azure—enabling a consistent backup to cloud strategy across your SQL Server environments. This fast, easy to configure tool enables you to quickly create rules that direct a set of backups to Azure rather than local storage as well as select encryption and compression settings.

Another new business continuity planning scenario enabled by SQL Server 2014 is disaster recovery (DR) in the cloud. Customers are now able to setup an asynchronous replica in Azure as part of an AlwaysOn high availability solution. A new SSMS wizard enables you to simplify the deployment of replicas on-premises and to Azure. As soon as a transaction is committed on-premises it is sent asynchronously to the cloud replica. We still recommend you keep your synchronous replica on-premises, but by having the additional replicas in Azure you gain improved DR and can reduce the CAPEX and OPEX costs of physically maintaining additional hardware in additional data centers.

Another benefit of keeping an asynchronous replica in Azure is that the replica can be efficiently utilized for read functionality like BI reporting or utilized for doing backups, speeding up the backup to Azure process as the secondary is in Azure already.

But the greatest value to customers of an AlwaysOn replica in Azure is the speed to recovery. Customers are finding that their recovery point objectives (RPO) can be reduced to limit data loss, and their recovery time objectives (RTO) can be measured in seconds:

  • Lufthansa Systems is a full-spectrum IT consulting and services organization that serves airlines, financial services firms, healthcare systems, and many more businesses. To better anticipate customer needs for high-availability and disaster-recovery solutions, Lufthansa Systems piloted a solution on SQL Server 2014 and Azure that led to faster and more robust data recovery, reduced costs, and the potential for a vastly increased focus on customer service and solutions. They expect to deploy the solution on a rolling basis starting in 2014.
  • Amway is a global direct seller. Amway conducted a pilot test of AlwaysOn Availability Groups for high availability and disaster recovery. With multisite data clustering with failover to databases hosted both on-premises and in Azure, Amway found that the test of SQL Server AlwaysOn with Azure replicas delivered 100 percent uptime and failover took place in 10 seconds or less. The company is now planning how best to deploy the solution.

Finally, SQL Server 2014 enables you to move your database files to Azure while keeping your applications on-premises for bottomless storage in the cloud and greater availability. The SQL Server Data Files in Microsoft Azure configuration also provides an alternative storage location for archival data, with cost effective storage and easy access.

If you're ready to evaluate how SQL Server 2014 can benefit your database environment, download a trial here. For greater flexibility deploying SQL Server on-premises and in the cloud, sign up for a free Azure evaluation. And, to get started backing up older versions of SQL Server to Azure, try our free standalone backup tool. Also, don't forget to save the date for the live stream of our April 15 Accelerate Your Insights event to hear more about our data platform strategy from CEO Satya Nadella, COO Kevin Turner and CVP of Data Platform Quentin Clark.