Save the Photographs!

My wife takes digital photos and downloads them onto her laptop.  Then she deletes them from the camera.  If you have ever taken a hard-drive apart, on those rainy days to avoid doing dull IT tasks, you’ll know how fragile they are.  Lots of memories on those small platters of film.  No matter how many external hard drives I buy, or funny-shaped USB sticks to persuade her to back up her files, she never does.  So it’s with great anticipation that Microsoft Azure Backup Vaults now support Windows client OS (Windows 7 and Windows 8) as well as Windows Server.

Windows Client backup to Azure

 

If you’re a techie, you might be thinking why didn’t I set up a home active directory domain on an HP Microserver, back-up the client devices that log-on, including my wife’s laptop, and then back the server and thus the client files up to Azure?  Well, I did but the big blue light on the front on the Microserver started to annoy me at night because it was really bright so I keep turning it off and that’s not really a good infrastructure decision.

Let’s walk through how to set your home pc to back-up to the Azure cloudy goodness.  A couple of basics first; you will need an Azure subscription and this back-up solution will cost you money.  However, backups are compressed, encrypted, triple-replicated inside Microsoft’s datacenters and once you’ve set up your back-up schedule, it’s automatic.  And think of your photographic memories safe and sound (although of course you should periodically test your recovery processes as well).

Log onto www.azure.com and go to the Azure portal.  Select Recovery Services and create a new Backup Vault.  Once you have your vault, the dashboard will show you the next steps to take.

Azure backup vault dashboard

 

The client machine needs to register with the Azure Backup Vault.  A few months ago this required creating a certificate but now Azure simply provides a credentials file to download and save onto your local machine.  Next, download the Microsoft Azure Recovery Services (MARS) agent onto the local pc and run it.  The Azure portal provides two options for the backup agent; pick the first option (Windows Server or System Center Data Protection Manager or Windows Client).  The setup wizard is going to ask about proxy settings and will also download the pre-requisites but typically on a home network, you’ll be able to breeze through accepting the defaults.

Azure backup agent installation

 

Azure backup agent installation

 

Azure backup agent installation

 

The final step allows you to Proceed to Registration (or you can Close the setup but if you’re ready to schedule the backup, you may as well proceed to register your pc with the backup vault).  The backup agent will ask for the vault credentials file that you downloaded and then you’ll need to specify a passphrase.  This will be used for encrypting the data before transfer to Azure.  Note the data is encrypted on the client device and stored in Azure encrypted.  Microsoft do not hold the passphrase so it’s vital this is kept safe and secure otherwise you’ll only be able to restore encrypted data.  In fact, the agent will not let you proceed to the next step until the passphrase is saved to another location.

Azure backup agent

Once you’ve registered the server (the agent still refers to your client pc as a server; can’t change everything overnight), the Azure Backup app will be started and you can set your backup schedule.

Azure backup app

The wizard is pretty straight-forward to navigate; you select the items from you local pc to backup (note that Azure will only backup the data that changes after the initial backup).

Azure backup app

The next step is to set up the frequency of the backup, i.e. when it will run, and how long Azure will retain the backups for.  A recent change was the increase of the maximum retention period to 3,360 days; essentially about 9 years so this is an archiving solution as well as a disaster recovery.  However, remember your costs.  Even though Azure backup will compress the data before storage, the more backups you keep, the more storage you’ll use and the higher the monthly cost.  There’s also a limit of 120 recovery points so you may need to balance the frequency with the retention range or you’ll get an error message when you hit the Next button.  For example, the screenshot below is trying to backup once a week and keep these recovery points for 9 years which would easily exceed 120 points.  However, if I set the frequency to monthly (4 weekly to be exact), I’d be fine.

Azure backup app

There’s also a size limit of 1700GB per volume to each backup operation (so if you’re backing up files from multiple drives, you have around 1.7TB from each).  You can stop the backup or change the items to backup and then schedule by clicking Schedule Backup in the main Azure Backup application window.

Recovering items is also straightforward; you can specify the recovery point (date) to restore from and which items you want to restore.  You can also restore these items to the original location or a new location.

Back in the Azure portal, you can see the registered server (or in this case client pc) and also view the protected items and the recovery points.  You can register up to 50 machines against each backup vault and as of December 2014, you can have up to 25 backup vaults per Azure subscription.

Azure backup protected items

And just as a final part to this blog, we have to thanks one of our trainers, Thomas Lee who scored this coup by asking nicely for it!