Azure Backup Center: Azure virtual machine backups at scale

Managing backups at scale on-premises and in the Azure cloud can be difficult. Microsoft recently released Azure Backup Center, which allows backing up mission-critical Azure virtual machines and even works across multiple Azure subscriptions.

What is Azure Backup Center? ^

Before we look at Azure Backup Center, let's get a quick overview of the service that it helps to manage—Azure Backup. Azure Backup is an Azure service available to organizations in Azure to protect various Infrastructure-as-a-Service resources. It is a fully managed service built into Azure that allows backing up cloud or on-premises workloads and provides many advantages to customers:

  • It doesn't require any server infrastructure for housing your backups.
  • It provides support for many backup workloads, including Azure VMs, SQL Server, Azure Files, SAP HANA, and others.
  • It provides data security in-flight and at-rest.
  • It is simple to manage and cost-effective to operate as it targets Azure Blob storage.
  • Azure Blob storage provides various protections against accidental deletes and other operations.
  • It manages old recovery points automatically.
  • It scales with your use.
  • It provides various automation mechanisms, including PowerShell, CLI, ARM templates, and others.
  • It allows transitioning backups to a service model that shifts from CapEx to OpEx.
  • New features and supported backup sources are added regularly; Azure PostgreSQL was recently added in public preview.
  • You can create a long-term backup for up to 10 years.
  • You can restore DBs across different versions of products.
  • Backups are stored in different fault domains.

As is the case with many cloud services, these can begin to "sprawl" and grow exponentially, so that they become difficult to manage. Many organizations may have many different Azure subscriptions and hundreds or even thousands of Azure VM backup resources to manage. Even with many backup resources to manage, the need to provide governance, monitoring, and operational support and the ability to gather insight via analytics remains the same.

Microsoft is vying to solve this problem with Azure Backup Center. Azure Backup Center provides a single-pane-of-glass management interface that allows you to monitor backup inventory and jobs daily. You can use Backup Center to manage backups spanning multiple workload types, vaults, subscriptions, regions, and even Azure Lighthouse tenants. Backup Center can also be used to respond to and set up ad hoc requests, recover data, and perform governance tasks such as creating backup policies. So, Backup Center is not just a passive console for monitoring.

It provides context from a data source point of view. In other words, you don't have to find a particular Azure Backup vault the resource is backed up to in order to monitor or operate backups on the resource. With this being said, in Azure Backup Center, IT admins can filter their view based on the data source-specific properties. These properties may include the subscription, resource group, or any data source tags that have been defined.

With Azure Backup Center, you have access to integrations with the rest of your Azure services. Azure Backup Center uses Azure Policy for backup governance, and Azure workbooks and Azure Monitor Logs for detailed backup reporting. The beauty is you don't have to individually navigate to these services to tie everything together, as Backup Center does this for you.

From a security perspective, no credentials are stored. The Azure Backup Center processes also check permissions to ensure they are configured correctly to interact with the various backup sources along the way. Another important topic that organizations are dealing with today is governance. Backups are included as part of the resources that must be considered when applying governance across the organization.

Governance at scale for your backups is much easier with Azure Backup Center. You can use Azure policies and apply them using Azure Backup Center to perform various actions, such as auditing resources through the policy or deploying policies to back up operations. Once you have applied policies using Azure Backup Center, you can use the backup compliance view to see how well you are doing aligning with your compliance policies.

Using Azure Backup Center, your organization can also take advantage of the new app consistent backups as part of Azure Backup. These are readily configurable and understood by the Azure Backup Center solution and make backing up workloads in an application-consistent manner much easier across your entire environment.

What about backup usage? Azure Backup Center provides an Optimize tab that allows optimizing backups across your entire backup landscape. You can also optimize your policy usage as well. The Azure Backup Center optimize process analyzes and suggests enhancements and tweaks for your backups in terms of managing, optimizing, governing, and enforcing backup policies at scale.

Currently, the Azure Backup Center solution is supported for use with Azure VM backup and Azure Database for PostgreSQL Server backup. Microsoft will no doubt be adding additional support products for use with Backup Center when the solution is out of Preview.

Using Azure Backup Center ^

Let's take a quick look at how you can find and use Azure Backup Center and a few of the solutions' highlights. Search for "azure backup center" in the Azure search box when logged into the Azure portal.

Launching the Azure Backup Center blade

Launching the Azure Backup Center blade

As you can see below, the Azure Backup Center provides a large amount of information regarding your backup services in a single view. However, I found the view to be intuitive and easy to navigate and consume information. Let's dissect the dashboard a bit.

  1. At the top of the dashboard, you see the active operational tasks that you can perform, such as adding a new backup, restoring, adding a policy, vault, or refreshing the dashboard view.
  2. The dashboard view shows pertinent Azure Backup jobs that have run in the past 24 hours, along with those that have failed, in progress, or completed.
  3. Resources can easily be filtered using the various filters available for subscription, resource group, data source location, and type.
  4. Full monitoring and reporting can be explored with the Monitoring + reporting menu.
  5. Policy and compliance tools are available to enable viewing or creating Azure policies for backup.
Azure Backup Center dashboard

Azure Backup Center dashboard

Concluding thoughts ^

Azure Backup Center is a welcome new tool that allows IT administrators to control all Azure backups from a single-pane-of-glass management view. Using Backup Center, all backup activities can be managed, monitored, and configured from the same management interface. This takes the heavy lifting out of managing backup resources across environments that may have multiple subscriptions, vaults, and other Azure infrastructure.

The Azure Backup Center dashboard is intuitive and provides a large amount of information in a single view. However, the view doesn't give the impression of being cluttered or difficult to decipher. All actions are easily found in the Azure Backup Center blade. Currently, Azure Backup Center is supported only with Azure VM Backup and Azure Database for PostgreSQL Server backup. This may be limiting for some who use other Azure services; however, it should be suitable for organizations that want to try out the new service.

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