In this review of Microsoft Online Backup, I show some screenshots, and share some of my experiences using it.
At the end of March, Microsoft started offering beta access to their new Microsoft Online Backup Service at Microsoft Connect to users in the United States. The Azure-based service is very similar to many consumer cloud-based backup solutions: install the software, select the files and folders for backup, and wait for the software to upload them to servers in the cloud hosted by Microsoft.
Pricing and storage
The Beta initially offered 10GB of storage, but Microsoft recently increased that to 100GB in response to feedback from users testing the service. As the service is still in Beta, Microsoft is making it available to a small group for testing in the United States before opening the service to the general public. Microsoft Connect seems to imply that there will be an open Beta at some point. The Beta is currently free for users testing the service and Microsoft has not announced any kind of pricing as of the writing of this article.
Microsoft Online Backup requires Windows Server 8 Beta and is not supported on earlier releases of Windows Server. Considering that other backup vendors (both traditional and cloud-only) already have online backup solutions that work with older Windows Server versions, one would hope that Microsoft would support older versions of Windows Server. However, for the Beta, the older versions are not supported. In addition to running Window Server 8, you’ll also need PowerShell, the Windows Identity Framework, Windows Live ID Client Authentication, and 1GB (required) or 1.5GB (recommended) of free storage space. As this is a cloud-based backup service, you’ll need a network connection that has access to the Internet.
The installation for Microsoft Online Backup is fairly straightforward. The required software prerequisites are included as part of the install process.
Microsoft Online Backup Service Agent Setup Wizard
The installer does require Administrative rights and can be installed on multiple servers. The installer can be pushed through standard tools like SCCM.
The OBS client can be accessed through an icon created on the Desktop during installation, a tile on the Start screen, or by accessing Windows Server Backup in Computer Management.
Microsoft Online Backup – Windows Server 2012 tile
When you run the OBS client for the first time, you’ll have to connect your server to the online service by clicking on Register Server.
Microsoft Online Backup – Register Server
As part of this process, you’ll be asked to sign in with an assigned Microsoft Online Services ID and set proxy settings (if necessary). The important part of this process is the setting of the passphrase for encryption purposes.
Microsoft Online Backup – Enter passphrase
This passphrase is used for recovering backups for this server. I can’t underscore enough how important it is to keep a copy of this passphrase separate from your serve, possibly even stored offsite on paper or physical media. Microsoft makes it very clear in their documentation that if you lose this passphrase, you lose access to your backups and that their customer support will be unable to assist you.
Clicking Schedule a Backup in the OBS client will take you through a fairly typical initial backup configuration process. I think backup has reached a point that there are really only so many ways you can put the options on the screen. Like other backup software, select the files to backup and set any exclusions for files you don’t want backed up.
Microsoft Online Backup – Exclusion settings
OBS allows you to select which days of the week you want the backup to run and up to three times for the backup to start. Since this is a cloud-based backup solution, remember that running backups will take a portion of your upstream bandwidth.
Microsoft Online Backup – Retention setting
It should be noted that the OBS service is intended for backing up files and folders. Backing up system state is not supported. It also should be noted that many Internet Service Providers, especially in the SME/SMB market space, limit upload speeds. If you’re already using an onsite backup solution, this is probably going to be a lot slower, especially for the initial backup.
Much like scheduling a backup, you can restore data by clicking on Recover Data in the OBS client. If you’ve used OBS for backing up multiple servers, you can choose the local server or any other server you’ve backed up.
Microsoft Online Backup – Recover data
Select the data you want to recover, the destination for the recovered files, how to handle duplicates, and whether you want ACL’s restored.
Microsoft Online Backup – Select items to recover
Microsoft Online Backup – Recovery options
By clicking Change Properties, you can manage the settings for the encryption passphrase, proxy settings, and bandwidth throttling. In the event you do want to schedule backups during business hours, the Bandwidth tab gives you the ability to throttle the OBS software so that it doesn’t slow down users trying to work.
Microsoft Online Backup – Service properties
Microsoft Online Backup – Throttling
It would be nice to see a few of the options in the Service Properties available in Group Policy for pushing the settings to more than one server. However, OBS does fully support PowerShell. So, anything you can do in the GUI can be performed locally or remotely with PowerShell.
The cloud-based backup market for the Enterprise is wide open; there are established vendors in the market space, but there’s always room for more competition. I don’t know if I see this service appealing to Enterprise data centers, but I can see where it definitely has value for small and medium businesses that have a small number of servers. I can also see where this could be very valuable for Enterprises that have remote offices or storefronts where servers are placed for local data storage.
Taking into consideration that Microsoft Online Backup Service is still in beta, I think Microsoft has a good start with OBS so far. I don’t feel that cloud-based backups are a complete replacement for traditional backups like tape. If you have a server failure and need to restore several hundred gigabytes of data, a local backup is going to be faster every time. However, having that data offsite in the event of a fire or other natural disaster could be the difference between your organization being operational or out of business.