Understanding Microsoft Azure Backup solutions

A topic that seems to come up over and over again recently, is Microsoft Azure Backup. The customers I work with are very interested in it, primarily because of prices, and they’ve heard from Microsoft sales people that it’s “just €0,0203 per GB!”. Who can resist that?

Below I’ll go through the different types, pros and cons and limitations. And we’ll finish off talking about pricing.

Azure Backup agent

This is a very simple backup solutions. I usually compare it to Windows Server Backup – it will let you schedule a backup, and select the files and folders you want. But that’s it. There is no central management, no SQL backup, no Exchange backup, no intelligent stuff at all. It is free however.

Installation is very easy, download agent, import certificate from your Azure Backup Vault, and select the data you want to backup and pick a schedule. You can be up and running in 5 minutes basically.

Unless you have a very small environment (probably <10 servers) I wouldn’t recommend using this, since management and monitoring of these backups will be a lot of work without a central console. I for one wouldn’t want to manage backups indivually like that.

The data you backup, can be on-premises or in the cloud. The agent is running from inside Windows, so doesn’t really matter.


System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM)

If you know about System Center, you probably also know that part of the suite is DPM. DPM is Microsofts backup product for enterprises. It comes with the price of a System Center license, but will als oget you a ton of features. We can do backups of VMs, SQL, Exchange, Sharepoint etc etc etc. We can do more complex scheduling than Azure Backup Agent allows us to, and finally, we get a central console to manage all our backups.

Installing DPM requires you to have a SQL server. This can be on the same or a different server. License for SQL is included in your System Center license, as long as you use the Standard version, and do not use it for other products. From there you’ll have to configure DPM which I won’t go into details about in this post, and configure it to use Azure as the target for long-term backups. It’s important to remember that data will be backed up to disk before Azure! You shold have free space for at least 1 backup of your data.
On a sidenote, DPM supports SQL 2014 from UR6.

Like with Azure Backup Agent, you can do backups of data from where you want. On-premises, cloud, hosted somewhere, or in your basement.


Microsoft Azure Backup Server

Azure Backup Server (or MABS) was released a few months back. It’s basically just a DPM, but without the option to use Tape as the target for long-term backups.

The difference from DPM, is that no license is required for MABS. Not even for the SQL server. Also MABS requires SQL 2014 unlike DPM, but is included with the installer you donwload.


Azure IaaS VM Backup

This is an interesting one. If you’re running VMs in Microsoft Azure, you will be able to do snapshot based backups of them. These snapshots are application-consistent and uses VSS to ensure data is not corrupted. The snapshots are also incremental backup, meaning that only changed data is backed up.

You can configure schedules to do backups at a specific time, but you are limited to 1 backup per day.

No software is required to be installed manually to do this type of backup. When you register a VM for backup, Azure will install an Azure Backup extension to the VM, which is responsible for the backup.

Note: This option is currently not available for Azure Resource Manager VMs. It will be very soon though, so stay tuned!



Azure Backup pricing depends on 2 parameters:


Amount of data

Instances is the amount of servers you backup, in portions of 500 GB (unless it’s less than 50 GBs – yes, I know, no reason it should be easy). This means, if you have a 600 GB VM, (and that is actual data used, not the size of your disks) it will count as 2 instances.

At the time of writing, an instance using less than 50 GB is €4,2165, and if larger than 50 GB (and up to 500 GB), it’s €8,433 per month.

The amount of data you are using is billed as normal block blob storage, and depending on the storage account type (LRS or GRS) it will be as cheap as €0,0203 per GB.

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