Microsoft announced Project Venus at the Worldwide Partner Conference earlier this year. Venus is a plan to gradually improve Microsoft Azure Backup, a cloud backup service that’s based on low-cost block blob storage. Microsoft recently released the first phase of Venus, the Microsoft Azure Backup Server (MABS), which will expand what Azure Backup can protect from your on-premises infrastructure and offer an on-premises local backup repository. I’ll explain what this product is in this article.
A Look at Azure Backup’s History
I like the potential of Azure Backup, but like Azure Site Recovery (ASR) when it was launched, Microsoft’s cloud backup service wasn’t suitable for the market that’s most likely to use it — the small-to-medium enterprise (SME). I was one of many that gave Microsoft feedback on these kinds of services, and I wanted an integrated solution that works best with my on-premises infrastructure and fits in with my plans for the cloud. Azure Site Recovery started to evolve late in 2014, and it’s a superb solution both for SMEs and large enterprises, whether they have vSphere, Hyper-V, or physical machines running Windows or Linux. A similar change has started to happen to Azure Backup, too.
What has been missing from Azure Backup up to now?
- Support for SME: The focus of Azure Backup hybrid backup services for on-premises solutions was on customers with System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM). Unfortunately, DPM is licensed via the System Center Server Management License (SML), which is unaffordable for SMEs, as the sales of System Center to SMEs flat-lined in early 2012. And of those customers buying System Center, most choose an alternative backup product, most of which do not offer good or any hybrid backup solution with Azure.
- Service Support: Azure Backup without DPM can only backup files and folders; the MARS agent is very limited at this time.
- There is no cloud portal: Hybrid backup is managed on each machine that the agent is installed in if you do not have DPM.
Project Venus aims to solve all of these problems. But this is a big project, so improvement will be gradual. Microsoft wanted to solve a big issue, where they wanted to allow SMEs to back up more than just files and folders.
Microsoft Azure Backup Server
Microsoft quietly released Microsoft Azure Backup Server on October 5th and modified how the Azure Backup cloud service will work for on-premises customers. You can download MABS directly or using a link from an Azure backup vault. What is Microsoft Azure Backup Server? When you install, you’ll get:
- SQL Server 2014: A free license of MABS that you can only use for MABS.
- The MABS: A customized version of System Center Data Protection Manager 2012 R2.
Microsoft Azure Backup Server can only be used by Azure customers, and the setup requires you to provide backup vault credentials. Although the Microsoft Azure Backup Server licensing is free, you’ll need a Windows Server license to run it on.
Microsoft Azure Backup Server offers:
- On-premises backup: The ability to backup services on-premises and store data locally on disk. There is no support for tape drives, so you’ll need the full DPM license for that.
- Online Backup: You can select a subset or all of the backup data in your local repository and forward that, up to twice per day with throttling controls, to an Azure backup vault. This offers up to 99 years of retention.
- New service support: You can protect anything that DPM can, such as clients, Hyper-V, SQL Server, Exchange and SharePoint. And didn’t Microsoft announce that vSphere support will be coming to DPM in the future?
So what you get with Microsoft Azure Backup Server is disk-disk-cloud backup with centralized local management and economic cloud-based off-site storage. All you need is an Azure subscription to back up to, some hardware and virtual capacity to install Microsoft Azure Backup Server, and a Windows Server license.
Below are the system requirements for Microsoft Azure Backup Server:
- Windows Server: Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2012 R2
- Processor: Minimum: 1 GHz, dual-core CPU, Recommended: 2.33 GHz quad-core CPU
- RAM: Minimum: 4GB, Recommended: 8GB
- Hard Drive Space: Minimum: 3GB Recommended: 3GB
- Disks for backup storage pool: 1.5 times size of data to be protected
Also note that DPM and MABS require space for a scratch space; this is a folder that has enough capacity to temporarily store the largest restore from the cloud.
My Thoughts on Microsoft Azure Backup Server
Microsoft Azure Backup Server is a great start to Project Venus. SMEs that have the capacity to install Microsoft Azure Backup Server will now have the ability to backup all of their valuable Microsoft services to Azure. I know it’s not perfect yet, as there’s no cloud-based portal, and it does require Microsoft Azure Backup Server to be installed locally. But we should keep in mind that this is just the start of Microsoft Azure Backup Server, and, based on my conversations, the Azure Backup team now has a great understanding of the potential of the SME market and what the requirements are to displace incumbent competitors.