A number of people view the cloud in all or nothing terms – you move everything to the cloud or you leave everything where it is.  The reality is that a lot of cloud adoption is going to follow the hybrid approach using both on-premises and cloud services.  An example of this hybrid approach is Windows Server “8” which gets better when you connect it to the cloud.  Today’s blog by Gaurav illustrates that by describing the Microsoft Online Backup Service, a new cloud based service for Windows Server “8”, which backs up your server’s data to the cloud so that it is safe and secure.  That means that you no longer have to figure out where to store your backups so that they are safe.  The cloud does that for you.  This is an extensible model so it provides a great opportunity for partners to provide cloud backup solutions as well.  

Gaurav Gupta, a Senior Program Manager on our Cloud Backup team, authored this blog

--Cheers!   Jeffrey


The Microsoft Online Backup Service is a cloud based backup solution for Windows Server “8” which allows files and folders to be backed up and recovered from the cloud in order to provide off-site protection against data loss due to disasters. The service provides IT administrators with the option to back up and protect critical data in an easily recoverable way from any location with no upfront hardware cost or resources other than an Internet connection. This service is built on the Windows Azure platform and uses Windows Azure blob storage for storing customer data. Windows Server “8” uses the downloadable Microsoft Online Backup Agent to transfer file and folder data securely and efficiently to the Microsoft Online Backup Service. Once installed, the Microsoft Online Backup Agent exposes its functionality through the familiar Windows Server Backup interface.

Getting started

Getting started with Microsoft Online Backup service on Windows Server “8” Beta is a simple two-step process:

    1. Get a free beta Online Backup Service account (with 10 GB of cloud storage). In order to request access, please sign up to get an invitation to the service at http://connect.microsoft.com/onlinebackup. Please note that there are a limited number of customers that we can support during the beta and we will grow our capacity over time. We have available slots right now so if you are willing to give us feedback, sign up now to try this great new service.
    2. Download and install the Microsoft Online Backup Agent. The agent installer download is located on the Microsoft Connect Site indicated above.

Key features

Below are some of the key features we’re delivering in Windows Server “8” using Microsoft Online Backup service:

    • Simple configuration and management. Microsoft Online Backup Service integrates with the familiar Windows Server Backup utility in order to provide a seamless backup and recovery experience to a local disk, or to the cloud.
      • Simple user interface to configure and monitor the backups.
      • Integrated recovery experience to transparently recover files and folders from local disk or from cloud.
      • Easily recover any data that was backed up onto any server of your choice.
      • Windows PowerShell command-line interface scripting capability.

Figure 1: Microsoft Online Backup User Interface

  • Block level incremental backups. The Microsoft Online Backup Agent performs incremental backups by tracking file and block level changes and only transferring the changed blocks, hence reducing the storage and bandwidth utilization. Different point-in-time versions of the backups use storage efficiently by only storing the changes blocks between these versions.
  • Data compression, encryption and throttling. The Microsoft Online Backup Agent ensures that data is compressed and encrypted on the server before being sent to the Microsoft Online Backup Service over the network. As a result, the Microsoft Online Backup Service only stores encrypted data in the cloud storage. The encryption passphrase is not available to the Microsoft Online Backup Service, and as a result the data is never decrypted in the service. Also, users can setup throttling and configure how the Microsoft Online Backup service utilizes the network bandwidth when backing up or restoring information.
  • Data integrity is verified in the cloud. In addition to the secure backups, the backed up data is also automatically checked for integrity once the backup is done. As a result, any corruptions which may arise due to data transfer can be easily identified and they are fixed in next backup automatically.
  • Configurable retention policies for storing data in the cloud. The Microsoft Online Backup Service accepts and implements retention policies to recycle backups that exceed the desired retention range, thereby meeting business policies and managing backup costs.

The Microsoft Online Backup Service only supports the Windows Server “8” operating system. It does not support Windows 8 Consumer Preview client operating systems or any Windows operating systems released prior to Windows Server “8”.

Detailed steps

In this section, I am sharing some of the actions you would need to take for setting up your Windows Server “8” to backup or recover data from Microsoft Online Backup Service. To learn more technical concepts, functionality, and troubleshooting methods for Microsoft Online Backup Service, you can download the Understand and Troubleshoot Guide (UTG) from http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=29005

Registering to Microsoft Online Backup Service

You can choose the Register Server action in the Microsoft Online Backup MMC snap-in to start the registration wizard, and sign in using a pre-provisioned Microsoft Online Services ID. You also need to set the passphrase to encrypt the backups from the server.

Figure 2: Register Server Wizard Account Credentials page

Figure 3: Encryption Settings

Using Windows PowerShell:

The following code sample illustrates how you can use Windows PowerShell to register a server with Microsoft Online Backup Service after establishing variables to use to supply your credentials.

$pwd = ConvertTo-SecureString -String <password> -AsPlainText –Force

$cred = New-Object –TypeName System.Management.Automation.PsCredential –ArgumentList <username>, $pwd

Start-OBRegistration -Credential $cred

(As a side note, there is a very good blog post on how to import/export credentials into powershell scripts)

Once the server is registered you then need to use the Set-OBMachineSetting cmdlet to specify the encryption passphrase.

$pass = ConvertTo-SecureString -String <password> -AsPlainText –Force

Set-OBMachineSetting -EncryptionPassphrase $pass

Setup backup schedule

You can choose the Schedule Backup action to start the Backup Schedule Wizard to set the backup schedule in which you specify what files and folders you want to backup, how frequently you want to backup and how long you want to retain the backups in the cloud.

Figure 4: Schedule Backup Wizard: Item selection

Figure 5: Schedule Backup Wizard: Schedule time configuration

Figure 6: Schedule Backup Wizard: Retention Settings

Using Windows PowerShell:

To start a new backup from within Windows PowerShell, administrators need to define a backup policy, the data locations, the schedule for the backup job and the data retention policy for the backup policy. The following commands will setup variables for a basic backup job within Windows PowerShell.

$policy = New-OBPolicy

$filespec = New-OBFileSpec -FileSpec C:\Windows\Logs

$sched = New-OBSchedule -DaysofWeek Wednesday -TimesofDay 09:30

$ret = New-OBRetentionPolicy

The Windows PowerShell script will create a new Microsoft Online Backup Service policy named $policy that will back up all of the files and folders in the C:\Windows\Logs directory. The backup policy runs on Wednesdays at 9:30 AM and will keep the data in the backup for a period of 30 days.

To create the policy so that it runs the next time it encounters the scheduled task, do the following:

Add-OBFileSpec -Policy $policy -FileSpec $filespec

Set-OBSchedule -policy $policy -schedule $sched

Set-OBRetentionPolicy -policy $policy -retentionpolicy $ret

These commands put all of the previous variables into the $policy Microsoft Online Backup Service policy object so that it can be run at the next scheduled time.

If this is the first backup on the server after registration, the encryption passphrase must be set.

$passphrase = ConvertTo-SecureString <passphrase> -asplaintext -Force

Set-OBMachineSetting -EncryptionPassphrase $passphrase

Finally, save the Online Backup policy for it to be scheduled. Do this by running:

Set-OBPolicy -policy $policy

Start backup

After configuration of the backup schedule is completed, backups will occur as per the configured schedule. You can choose to invoke manual backup using the Backup Now actions in Microsoft Online Backup MMC snap-in. Backup Now runs the schedule immediately and the backups include only currently selected items. If you want to backup additional files or folders not included in the original schedule, you will need to modify the backup schedule before using Backup Now.

Figure 7: Backup Now option in Actions page

Using Windows PowerShell:

You can use the Start-OBBackup command to start the backup immediately using the value held in the backup policy:


Recovering data

To recover data using the Microsoft Online Backup Service feature, click the Recover Data action in the Microsoft Online Backup MMC snap-in. As part of the Recover Data Wizard, you can choose the volume from where data needs to be restored and the date and time of the data to be restored. After selecting the date and time, you are presented an explorer view of the data which is backed up from where you can then select the items that you want to restore.

Figure 8: Recover Data Wizard: Select Volume and Date

Figure 9: Recover Data Wizard: Select Items to Recover

Using Windows PowerShell:

To recover data using Windows PowerShell, you can use the following commands to select the data which needs to be recovered:

$source = Get-OBRecoverableSource

$item = Get-OBRecoverableItem -Source $source[0]

$FinalItem = Get-OBRecoverableItem -ParentItem $item[0]

To run a recovery operation, use:

$recover_option = New-OBRecoveryOption

Start-OBRecovery -RecoverableItem $FinalItem -RecoveryOption $recover_option

Extensibility for partners

Partners who want to offer their own cloud backup solution by integrating with Windows Server Backup, please refer to our Cloud Backup Provider API Reference at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh437322(v=vs.85).aspx


The Microsoft Online Backup Service gives IT administrators a powerful but simple option for off-site data protection of their critical file and folder data on Windows Server “8”.