Technology has radically altered the way we do business. Paper has been replaced with pixels; filing cabinets with server rooms. With so much of your organization’s data now stored digitally, new strategies are needed to protect it.
Whether it’s a natural disaster, a power surge, or a cyber attack, terabytes of information can disappear in the blink of an eye.
In fact, a downtime event can cost your business thousands of dollars per minute; by some estimates, this means as much as $500,000 per hour. But you can minimize losses by regularly backing up mission-critical data. In this article, we explore the fundamental concepts behind a successful Microsoft Azure backup strategy.
What Is Microsoft Azure?
First released in 2010, Microsoft Azure is a leading public cloud computing platform hosted on Microsoft data centers. It boasts a comprehensive feature set with over 200 cloud-based services and products. Broadly speaking, this includes:
- Platform as a service (PaaS)
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
- Software as a service (SaaS)
- Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)
- Application management
- Managed database service capabilities
- Serverless functions
- and much more
Microsoft Azure empowers organizations to execute a diverse range of tasks, from compute and storage to analytics and networking. With so much at stake, it’s little wonder that Azure data should be protected with a comprehensive backup strategy.
Azure Backup Solutions: What Is Azure Backup Service?
Backup strategies are fundamental to any serious disaster recovery plan (DRP). The goal is to create copies of all your mission-critical business data; these redundancies are then stored in separate locations, acting as a failsafe in the wake of a primary data failure.
When it comes to Azure, data can be reliably backed up using Microsoft’s built-in backup option, aptly called Azure Backup. It offers comprehensive protection for all of your important cloud data, applications, and workloads.
What makes Windows Azure backups so appealing is that it requires no additional infrastructure, making it affordable, secure, and scalable. Best of all, your backups are always accessible when you need them for recovery. Let’s look at some of Backup’s most important features.
Storage Replication Type
There are three main storage options for replicated data. Each storage option has its own specific use case. You can learn more about their applications here.
- Locally Redundant Storage (LRS)
In the LRS redundancy model, all of your data is replicated three times and sits on a single server within the primary region. LRS is the most rudimentary storage replication type. As a result, it is considered the least durable but the most cost-efficient.
- Zone-Redundant Storage (ZRS)
In contrast to LRS, the ZRS model synchronously replicates and stores your data in three data centers within the primary region. Importantly, each data center features its own independent connectivity and power sources. This means that ZRS can withstand node failure on three distinct levels (storage cluster, data center, and availability zone).
|Learn more about backup and recovery with Azure:|
- Geo-Redundant Storage (GRS)
GRS takes LRS to a whole other level. Like LRS, the GRS model initially replicates data three times to the primary region. But, unlike LRS, GRS then asynchronously replicates this storage cluster to the paired, secondary region. As a result, a total of six copies are generated.
- Read-Access Geo-Redundant Storage (RA GRS)
RA GRS is a subtype of GRS. The difference between them is actually quite simple: GRS permits read-access of data stored in the secondary region if and only if a failover in the primary region occurs.
- Object Replication for Block Blob Storage
Compared to the four previous methods discussed, the Object Replication for Block Blob Storage is a special case. This method works asynchronously to replicate blob content, version, and metadata. These objects are stored in the source/target Azure containers and accounts outlined in your replication policy.
Access control features let you govern authorization privileges at a user-level. This can be managed through your Azure Recovery Services Vault (ARSV), which is accessible through the Backup Center, Azure portal, and other Microsoft dashboards.
Retention and Schedule
While retention and schedule are intimately related, they represent distinct concepts. Retention refers to the duration of time in which backed-up data will be saved; schedule refers to the frequency in which the data is backed up. Your Azure Backup storage will be influenced by both factors.
In terms of retention, the Azure Backup retention policy outlines three options. The policy you choose should reflect your organizational needs and will vary depending on the type of backup data in question. These policies include:
- Short-Term Retention
Backups are only stored for “minutes” or “daily”. This is recommended for data that is neither subject to compliance regulations nor essential to operations.
- Long-Term Retention
There are two varieties of long-term retention: Planned (compliance requirement) and Unplanned (on-demand requirement).
In either case, the retention period is defined in “weeks”, “months”, and even “years”. This approach is useful for data that is necessary for compliance or operational purposes.
- On-Demand Backup with Custom Retention
On-demand backup services with custom retention lets you backup data that falls outside the constraints of your schedule policy. This option is perfect for impromptu backups or backups that are needed more than once per day.
Depending on the data type, you’ll often find yourself combining policies. For instance, since a scheduled Azure Backup policy allows for just a single daily backup, you can use on-demand backup with a custom retention period to make additional or granular backups. This could be the case if you want to run multiple IaaS VM backups per day or if you are about to undertake a major change to your system and want a pre-change backup.
Snapshots and Recovery Points
When it comes to backup jobs, it’s important to understand the relationship between snapshots and recovery points. Like a camera, a snapshot “takes a photo” of a virtual machine’s current state. This snapshot then acts as a recovery point for restore procedures.
In the first phase, a snapshot is stored in what’s called the Snapshot tier. A recovery from this tier is referred to as Instant Restore because it offers much faster restore capabilities than Vault tier backup storage. Nevertheless, in the second phase, the snapshot is passed to the Vault tier which adheres to stricter security protocols.
Azure Backup Best Practices
What Data Should You Back Up?
Now that we understand how to backup Azure data, let’s touch on what Azure data we want to back-up. The nature of Azure’s far-reaching features means that abundant data and data types are being generated across many different sources, some of which include:
- Files, folders, and system state
- Storage accounts
- Azure VMs
- Azure SQL machines
- Azure Database for PostgreSQL servers
- Azure SAP HANA databases
- On-prem SQL databases
- VMware VMs
- Hyper-V VMs
- Azure Blobs
As a result, your backup strategy will vary depending on the complexity of the data in question. Thankfully, Azure supports all of it—from your run-of-the-mill file to a highly sophisticated workload.
|Learn more about virtual desktops with Azure:|
As data moves through its lifecycle it will often pass from one storage tier to another. For example, Azure blobs may pass from the Hot Access tier to the Cool Access tier to the Archive tier. You should also speak to your IT team or MSP to learn about any constraints or limitations.
Backup Time and Performance
No two DRPs are identical. Every organization must decide what is acceptable in terms of backup schedule, restore time frames, and downtime tolerance. As much as possible, your expectations should guide (and align with) your backup strategy. This will vary from workload to workload, depending on its complexity and centrality to your primary operations.
In concrete terms, your organization must determine how long it can tolerate an absence of mission-critical data. This figure is known as the Recovery Point Objective (RPO). You should also assess the maximum length of time you can invest in restoring operations, called Recovery Time Objective (RTO).
As much as we’d like to get back up-and-running instantaneously, restoration is naturally hindered by factors such as data transfer and queue times. Disasters and downtime aside, it’s worth noting that backups themselves can also take time for several reasons. This includes:
- How long it takes to create snapshots;
- How long your data remains in queue with other Azure client data (worse during peak hours);
- How long it takes for the actual data transfer to complete.
Despite the fact that Azure Backup has many methods of streamlining these processes, you should always schedule your backup frequency to account for inherent delays. Understanding these factors, and calculating their effect, is key to assessing the viability of your DRP.
Build Your Custom Azure Backup Strategy, With Atmosera
You can’t always prevent disaster, but you can certainly prepare for it. Your organization’s ability to recover from a primary data failure can literally mean the difference between business-as-usual and sayonara.
Looking for an Azure backup solution for your business? You need a trusted expert. As a Microsoft Gold Certified partner, we’ve got nearly three decades of experience with Microsoft products and services, including Azure backup as a service.
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