Although Microsoft Azure as a whole presents a dizzying array of services, the Azure Backup service is much more straightforward and intuitive for the on-premises Windows systems administrator.
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Let's imagine your company plans to embrace the Microsoft Azure public cloud. As a gentle first step, you want to use Azure Backup to back up files and folders on the Windows Server virtual machines in your on-premises datacenter to Azure. Where do you begin?

Well, I'll assume you already have an Azure subscription, and you have basic Azure portal navigational skills. Follow my lead!

Examine our options

The approach we'll use today is the simplest. We will create a Recovery vault in Azure and use the Microsoft Azure Recovery Services (MARS) agent to link our on-premises VMs to that Recovery vault. From then on, we can perform on-demand or scheduled backups to Azure and make file recoveries.

Note that the MARS Agent approach limits our backup scope to files and folders. To perform bare-metal server restores, you will need to deploy Azure Backup Server (ABS). ABS is a free, stripped-down version of System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM). In this method, you download the Recovery Services vault credentials and add them to ABS to create the necessary "umbilical cord" between your local servers and Azure.

Let's proceed!

Deploy a Recovery Services vault

In Azure Portal, open the Recovery Services vaults configuration blade and click Add. Creating the vault itself is simple because it is little more than an initially empty container object. I show you the setup choices in the next figure.

Creating a Recovery Services vault

Creating a Recovery Services vault

Make sure you create the vault in the same Azure region as your existing or future Azure cloud resources.

Install the agent

Open your newly created Recovery Services vault and click Backup from the Settings bar. In the Where is your workload running? drop-down list, select On-Premises. In the What do you want to backup? setting, select Files and Folders.

If you select another option from this list, Azure will state you have to download Azure Backup Server. That's fine, but in today's tutorial we're concerned only with file and folder backup. By the way, Azure Backup Server can back up and restore not only "bare-metal" physical and virtual machines (Hyper-V or VMware), but application workloads, including SQL Server, SharePoint Server, and Exchange Server.

In the Prepare Infrastructure blade, you can download both the MARS agent as well as the Recovery Services vault credentials. Note that the credentials expire after two days. Here, I'll show you a screenshot of this workflow:

Preparing our infrastructure

Preparing our infrastructure

Next, go ahead and install the MARS Agent on your chosen on-premises Windows Server VMs. The installer is a small .msi package you can deploy automatically via Group Policy or another configuration management solution. However, you will need to register the local server with the Recovery Services vault.

First, you need to browse to the Recovery Services vault credential you just downloaded from the Azure portal.

Associating the vault credentials

Associating the vault credentials

Next, you need to specify an encryption passphrase. Note that you hold the key to your backups—Microsoft does not have a copy.

Specifying an encryption passphrase

Specifying an encryption passphrase

You are now ready to schedule your backup.

Schedule your first backup

The approach we're using today requires that you configure backup separately on each of your on-premises servers. If you need centralized disaster recovery, you should use the Azure Backup Server/System Center DPM method (perhaps I'll cover that in a future 4sysops blog post).

Fire up the Microsoft Azure Backup Microsoft Management Console (MMC) tool and click Schedule Backup.

The Microsoft Azure Backup console

The Microsoft Azure Backup console

We don't have the "white space" to cover every step in the Schedule Backup Wizard; if you have used Windows Server Backup, you'll recognize the options. In the next screenshot, you see backup retention policy; the defaults here come from the policy set in Azure.

Selecting a retention policy

Selecting a retention policy

To customize retention policy on the Azure side in the Azure Portal, open your Recovery Services vault and browse to Backup policies. The following is a relevant screenshot.

Configuring retention policy in Azure

Configuring retention policy in Azure

The following screenshot shows the Microsoft Azure Backup console after my first backup job has completed. Note in the Action pane that you can always click Backup Now to perform on-demand backups.

Backup completed

Backup completed

Next steps

Azure Recovery Services keeps your backups to itself; that is, you won't find them in the blob storage service in one of your Azure storage accounts. That's part of the abstraction behind "as a service" product offerings!

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The other side of the Azure backup equation is recovery. To that point, we can recover an entire virtual machine, or individual files. Perhaps I'll cover the restore scenario in a future 4sysops blog post.


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