Ever since I started taking backups, one source of frustration has been offsite data rotation. You know: the necessity of ensuring that you have at least one recent copy of your protected data in a separate location. That way, if a disaster wipes out a site, you still have all your important data.

Offsite backups used to mean physically hauling around backup tapes. I once had a system in which one member of our team took home a set of tapes on Friday and brought them back the next Friday, at which time another member of the team took home a newer set of tapes. This sometimes meant that tapes were forgotten at someone’s home or never taken home in the first place. Later, “automating” offsite backup meant taking the backup tapes down to reception so that they could be picked up and delivered by courier to an offsite storage facility.

Thankfully, times have changed. Now, Windows Azure Backup provides a straightforward solution to the problem of getting protected data offsite. And Windows Azure Backup works in conjunction with Windows Server Backup and System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager to provide even more functionality.

Windows Azure Backup is a client that you can install on individual servers, similar to Windows Server Backup. Windows Azure Backup allows you to back up data to storage in Windows Azure, in a location called a recovery vault. Each Windows Azure Backup agent can back up only data that resides on the server on which it is installed. However, you can configure backup agents on multiple servers and have them all back up to one or more recovery vaults hosted in the same Windows Azure subscription. The backup data is encrypted, and you can recover it only if you have the password that you used when you configured the backup.

When you use Windows Azure with Data Protection Manager, you can store up to 120 days of protected data. Windows Azure Backup allows you to store data for up to 30 days. It’s a great solution for smaller organizations that have only a couple servers and need to move protected data offsite. Such organizations should continue to use Windows Server Backup as their primary backup and recovery solution. If a problem occurs with local backups, then they can recover from Windows Azure.

Larger organizations can integrate Windows Azure Backup into System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager. The advantage of Data Protection Manager is that it allows you to back up numerous servers and clients from a single console. You need to install the Windows Azure Backup agent on the Data Protection Manager server only when used in this configuration. When you integrate Windows Azure Backup with Data Protection Manager, you add an additional location for recovery data storage. You continue to write backup data to the local storage devices, but you configure an additional process so that replica data is also transferred to Windows Azure.

When integrated with Data Protection Manager, the data retention period depends on the number of synchronizations to Windows Azure that occur each day. If you perform one synchronization to Windows Azure each day, then you can store 120 days of recovery data. If you perform two synchronizations per day, you can store 60 days of recovery data. Note that the number of synchronizations to Windows Azure doesn’t influence the number of synchronizations that Data Protection Manager performs on protected clients and servers. You can still perform synchronizations every 15 minutes from protected servers running workloads such as SQL Server and Exchange Server, as well as performing a single daily synchronization of protected data from the Data Protection Manager server to Windows Azure.

Also note that although Windows Azure Backup allows you to get data offsite, you’ll still need a separate solution to ensure that you properly store and catalog data to meet your organization’s long-term compliance responsibilities. But Windows Azure Backup gives you a good location from which to store data offsite for short- and mid- term recovery. It’s a great data-protection solution, especially if you don’t have a need for long-term archiving.

Windows Azure Backup simplifies the process of getting data out of the building. It’s much easier than backup tapes, couriers, and storage facilities. To find out more about Windows Azure Backup and Microsoft cloud storage solutions, visit the Enterprise Storage page at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/server-cloud/solutions/storage.aspx?code=witp#fbid=LaAUjM8aHUE.