While a lot of businesses are hesitant to jump into the cloud with their production workloads because of trust, security, performance, and availability concerns, there are some places where using the cloud can make a lot of sense. Two of them are in the area of backup and disaster recovery. First, let’s have a look at some of the Windows Azure options for backup and recovery and second, we’ll look into some of the available options for business continuity and disaster recovery.

Windows Azure Backup & Recovery Options

One enticing feature for cloud backup is that cloud storage is relatively inexpensive and for backup storage it can make a lot of sense—in the right scenario. Microsoft’sWindows Azure Backup is a backup service that’s included in Azure that enables you to back up your Windows Server data to Windows Azure. It requires Windows Server 2008 R2 or higher and it uses an agent to schedule file and folder backups to Windows Azure.

One point about cloud backup that I would make is that if you’re considering backing up to the cloud, I'd recommend using the cloud as a replacement for you archived or offsite backups, but I would also be sure to maintain an on-premise backup. If you’re in the situation where you need to restore an on-premise server that means you need it now and you need it fast.

The restoration process itself is already long enough. I wouldn’t want to be in the position of telling my boss we have four hours more to wait while the backups or image files are downloaded before we can begin the restore process. That said, offsite and archival backups are a different story. For offsite and archival backups, you want ready access to them but (hopefully) don’t normally need them for emergency recovery. Windows Azure Backup can also be used to System Center Data Protection Manager.

Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery Option

Microsoft has definitely been giving a lot of thought into using Azure as a business continuity and disaster recovery platform for on-premise solutions. Windows Server 2012 R2 Hyper-V Replica offers the ability to replicate virtual machines (VMs) both to on-premise locations for high availability as well as simultaneously replicating them to cloud providers like Windows Azure IaaS for disaster recovery.

Microsoft also offers their Hyper-V Recovery Manager to helps protect your business critical services by managing the replication and recovery of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 SP1 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 R2 private clouds at a secondary location. And of course Windows Server 2012 Network Virtualization is designed to work with Azure to give you seamless connectivity from your on-premise network and Azure. For more information about Microsoft SDN and Network Virtualization check out my interview with Brad Anderson Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President Cloud and Enterprise Division.

Windows Server 2012 isn’t the only Microsoft offering with built-in Azure integration.SQL Server 2014 can backup up directly to Azure. An Azure option is integrated directly into SSMS. In addition, SQL Server 2014’s  AlwaysOn Availability Groupshave also been integrated with Windows Azure. AlwaysOn Availability Groups provide high availability for a group of databases through redundant replicas hosted by up to five SQL Server instances. SQL Server 2014 supports two different availability scenarios using Azure:

  • High Availability for SQL Server instance hosted in Windows Azure - Synchronous replication can be configured for automatic failover to secondary replica running as a VM on Windows Azure.
  • Disaster Recovery for on-premise SQL Server databases using Windows Azure - Asynchronous replication can be configured for disaster recovery of your on-premise databases to SQL Server instances hosted in Windows Azure for disaster recovery.

Even if you may not be looking into using the cloud for running your production workloads, the cloud can be a cost effective option for backup and disaster recovery.