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Azure Backup

Azure Backup: 5 Things to Think About Before You Backup on Azure

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Many cloud vendors offer some kind of backup service as it is a simple but important use case for every business. Azure Backup is a cloud-based backup service that can be used on a pay-as-you-go basis to protect your workloads deployed in Azure, multicloud, and hybrid cloud deployments.

In this post we’ll take a closer look at Azure Backup and the key considerations to take into account when using it as your cloud backup solution. We’ll also see how Cloud Volumes ONTAP can be used as an alternative solution for backing up Azure deployments.

This is part of an extensive series of guides about data breaches.

Jump down to the following sections:

What Is Azure Backup?

What is Azure backup? Consider it Azure failsafe in the cloud. It’s a cloud-based backup solution, part of a broad package presented to clients through the Azure Recovery Services vault. Though cloud-native, it is also possible to use Azure Backup on-premises as well as in the cloud. Azure Backup is simple to configure and use, offering consistent copies with security features and management controls via the Azure portal.

While VMs and the workloads hosted in those VMs are backed up using a backup extension, on-premises workloads can be protected using Microsoft Azure Recovery Services (MARS) agent, Azure backup server (MABS) or through integration with system center Data protection manager (DPM). Through these integrations, Azure backup takes point-in-time backups of your data from different sources: Azure VMs, SQL machines in Azure, SAP HANA databases in Azure, Files , folders, system state, SQL databases from on-premises, VMware VMs, Hyper-V VMs, and much more.

Are Azure Servers Backed Up?

So, Azure backup backs up your data, but are Azure servers backed up? The answer to that question is yes, they can be. Servers that are hosted in Azure in IaaS can be protected using Azure backup. It is simple to enable this backup directly from the Azure portal with minimal configuration overhead. The service can be enabled for both Windows and Linux VMs in Azure. For Windows VMs, the service integrates with VSS service for app-consistent backup and for Linux VMs file consistent backup is taken. Architecture of Azure VM backup is shown below:

Azure Virtual Machine and Azure Backup Service - Architecture
Image courtesy: Microsoft

Where Are Azure Backups Stored?

So, now that it’s clear servers on Azure are secure, you might be asking where are Azure backups stored? Azure Backups are stored in Azure storage, which is automatically created by the backup service. As Azure storage is billed on a pay-as-you-go basis, this serves as a very inexpensive backup solution for your data estate in the cloud. Azure storage is resilient by design and there will be a minimum of three copies of your data available in the cloud in Azure storage when using locally-redundant storage (LRS) replication. Additional resiliency for the storage is available through geo-redundant storage (GRS) and zone-redundant storage (ZRS) replication options

How Much Does Azure Backup Cost?

Azure backup cost includes two components: the cost per backup instance (source) plus the cost of the storage used to house the backup. This is applicable for backups taken from Azure as well as with on-premises environments. A sample cost calculation is covered later on in this blog post.

Using Azure Backup

1. Assess Your Requirements

Figuring out your company’s requirements when it comes to backup is the first step. All the following steps on this list will be based on what you need in the first place from your backups.

But that can be easier said than done: Most companies are confused when it comes to their recovery plans. They may not have plans that align well with recovery goals or know what to expect in a recovery situation. Some companies are bound by laws and regulations or market trends to ensure the high availability and disaster recovery of their service. They need to be ready to recover data and applications in an orchestrated manner if a critical outage takes place at a primary location.

For companies that need an Azure disaster recovery solution, Azure Site Recovery offers an easy-to-use service for replicating physical, VMWare, or Hyper-V environments to Azure Virtual Machines. Azure Site Recovery adds orchestration and different failover options in case of disaster. On the other hand, if you need to keep copies of your data or virtual machines, either on-premises or in Azure, you should consider Azure Backup. This data can be restored to the original location or to an alternate location from the backup copies directly from the Azure portal or using MARS /MABS /DPM interface. 

As the backup data is stored in Azure cloud storage, it is safe from any incidents that could impact your local data centers. Backup on Azure can serve as your primary backup location or as an extension to a different backup solution in which you have already invested.

2. What Do You Need to Back Up?

Your backup strategy will differ depending on the workload you need to protect, and Azure Backup can assist you with a wide variety of backup types.

You can simply backup and restore your files and folders, which can be great for storing application configuration changes or other business materials. However, if you plan to backup complex workloads, Azure offers you support for different scenarios.

Azure offers backup support that ranges from “typical” Windows or Linux machines to fine-grained protection for Exchange, SQL, or SharePoint services. You can backup Hyper-V, VMWare or even capture system state and do a bare-metal recovery if needed. Azure backup can also be used to create backups of your Azure VMs directly from the portal.

Azure backup can also detect SQL DBs and SAP HANA DB deployments in your Azure virtual machines and enable protection from them from the Azure portal. Note that the same feature is now available in preview for PostgreSQL on Azure. This helps in protecting your mission-critical DB and SAP workloads in Azure

To be aware of all the possibilities and constraints, you should refer to Azure Backup server protection matrix for details on each service.

3. Resources and Azure Backup Pricing

Some of the biggest concerns companies have when planning for recovery relate to how a Azure Backup will affect their environments during backup or recovery procedures. What resources are required in Azure in order to make this work and, of course, how much is Azure backup and storage going to cost?

From a resources point of view, Microsoft’s cloud-based backup service has a pretty simple topology: you create a recovery services vault, define an Azure storage account redundancy for storing backup data and configure a schedule for items to be backed up. The question then arises: how much bandwidth would be required to back up your company’s data to Azure? There is no straight answer to that question. Once Azure moves over the initial copy of your data, it will attempt to synchronize only delta changes, saving you time and internet connection charges. If you have slow links, you can configure throttling or even ship your data offline to the nearest Azure data center. You can either use Azure import/export service for this or Azure Data box for initial transfer of data to Azure data centers. Workflow for offline backup is shown below. You can refer this document to understand more about this process:

Offline Backup workflow overview
Image courtesy: Microsoft

The next question that might come up is how much storage space will be needed to store your backups. The answer directly depends on how often you copy your workload to Azure, as well as how many historical copies you want to keep through retention policies. This is an important point for discussion since Microsoft will charge customers for storage space in addition to the fixed Azure Backup pricing for protecting data.

Azure Backup has two cost components: a flat charge for backup based on protected instance size and the cost for storage used. Protected instances are VMs, application servers, SQL servers, etc. which are included in a backup policy. The backup charges for Azure VMs and on-premises servers can be summarized as follows:

Size of each instance Azure backup price per month
Instance < or = 50 GB $5 + storage consumed
Instance is > 50 but < or = 500 GB $10 + storage consumed
Instance > 500 GB $10 for each 500 GB increment + storage consumed

Let’s consider an example where an application server with 1.2 TB data is being backed up.  We also need to consider the percentage at which data changes every month. In this example, we will assume data increases 10% per month. Azure Backup applies compression on the data, which reduces the backup size by 30-40%, hence the storage consumed will be less. The first backup will be a full backup and subsequent backups will be incremental. An approximate calculation of monthly backup charges for this scenario in East US region is shown below:

Component Unit Unit Charges Total Cost
Backup Instance charges Instance > 500 GB $10 for each 500 GB increment $30
Storage consumed 840 GB for full backup + 84 GB for incremental $0.0224 per GB (LRS) $20.70
  Total $50.7

* Storage size after 30% compression

4. Backup Performance and Backup Time

Every company’s recovery plan should contain crucial parameters for every tidy backup set, the acceptable timeframe for backup-related tasks, and performance expectations.

These parameters should be specific for every individual workload. Decide how big a chunk of time you can tolerate lost data, otherwise known as your Recovery Point Objective (RPO), and the maximum time you can afford to fix or restore service, which is your Recovery Time Objective (RTO).

While the frequency of backup creation can be scheduled flexibly, the total time to backup to Azure varies depending on a number of factors:

  • The time it takes to create snapshots.
  • The time spent queued for backup service with other Azure customers.
  • The data transfer time itself.

Note that Azure backup optimizes the backup time by taking parallel backups of disks in the VM. Snapshots taken for the backups may not be immediately transferred and this process might take longer during peak hours.

Similar to backup time, restoring takes queue time and data transfer time. You can conclude by now that the total time these operations will take is not so short. You’ll need to consider backup time carefully, as this point may be the most reliable indicator of your recovery plan’s viability.

5. How Will You Recover?

Once everything is in place and you are successfully creating backups, the best possible scenario is that you will never need them: no one ever wants a data loss that could trigger a recovery procedure. However, due to human mistakes or software crashes, you will probably have to do it someday. The best thing you can do is be prepared for it.

On Azure, you can easily recover your Windows and Linux virtual machines, specific workloads, system state or even files and folders from VM backup. By running a test on a separate Azure Virtual Network or on-premises infrastructure you can create an isolated environment and run tests on your production data replica without interfering with your actual production environment.

You can use Azure portal to monitor your backups and configure simple reporting, alerts, and diagnostic logging so you can act quickly if something bad happens and, more importantly, ensure that you have consistent backups in place at all times. Monitoring for Azure backup through Azure monitor is enabled  by default. You can also leverage log analytics work space and create query based alerts for your backup jobs. The next step is to assure your backup works properly by testing it periodically.

Another solution is to use NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP to help keep your Azure storage system backed up and up-to-date. Cloud Volumes ONTAP is a cloud-based version of NetApp’s trusted ONTAP data management software that brings all of the features and resources of the on-premises data center storage solution into Azure storage.

By utilizing powerful storage-efficiencies, Azure users who run Cloud Volumes ONTAP are able to save as much as 70% on Azure storage costs. To see how some of this might work in your deployment, have some fun with the Azure calculator to see how much you can save.


From establishing a foundation and placing building blocks separated by protection goals to deciding on the type of backup you’ll use and the frequency of creating them, it is essential to plan out all of the steps to backing up with Azure storage.

You should consider all the time you’ll need to backup and restore and align your strategy to match that time as closely as possible. Review all the features and Azure Backup limitations and see if it is a viable solution for you. If you have already invested in another backup solution but find Azure Backup interesting, check to see if it can use Azure Backup as an off-site location. Start small:

  • Extend your backup set over time.
  • Test as much as you can.
  • Discover points where you can improve your plan.

By considering all the key points of using Azure Backup, you will eliminate the administrative overhead of maintaining on-premises solutions, buying additional storage space and licenses, and correct the mistakes of bad backup strategies.

You’ll also be gaining an infrastructure platform that can provide you with a place to test and restore easily and give you better insights for your backup sets though its reporting and automation tools. With Cloud Volumes ONTAP, those benefits can be even greater.

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Learn more about Azure Backup

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See Additional Guides on Key Data Breach Topics

Together with our content partners, we have authored in-depth guides on several other topics that can also be useful as you explore the world of data breach.

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