Blog Archive

Reimaging Windows 10

Confused people

A question on Microsoft’s UK TechNet blog: “Do Reimaging Rights also apply to Windows 10 Professional?  I’ve a customer using desktops licensed with both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.  Can I upgrade these machine and reimage them at a later time?”

The short answer is possibly.  As you can tell, we like to keep our advice helpful and in no way ambiguous.

So as I understand it, the scenario is that you have some devices licenced with Windows 7 and some with Windows 8.1.  You want to upgrade these machines to Windows 10 via the free upgrade offer.  In the future you may want to reimage these machines, for example to repurpose them or provide them to another employee.

There are some assumptions we need to make in order to answer this correctly as these subtleties make a difference to the rights and upgrade paths.  Firstly, which edition of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 are currently installed?  We’ll assume they are Windows Pro.  We also need to know where you’re getting the Windows 10 media that you will use to reimage these machines.  Will it come from a Volume Licence (VL) agreement or will it be the media supplied via the Windows 10 upgrade offer?

 

Windows 10 reimage paths

 

Upgrading the Existing Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 Desktops to Windows 10

As we’ve discussed in How to Upgrade to Windows 10, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 (Home and Pro editions) are eligible to benefit from the 1-year free upgrade offer.  If your desktop machines are upgraded within that year they have a perpetual (but not transferable) licence for Windows 10 and they are able to be reimaged or reinstalled with Windows 10.

Using Windows 10 Media as the Initial Upgrade Image

The Windows 10 free upgrade offer is aimed at consumers and most people will initiate the upgrade from their own pc.  However organisations with Windows Pro are eligible to take advantage of the offer and are unlikely to want to sit in front of each pc to upgrade it so upgrade media will be provided as part of the free upgrade offer.  This media can be used on a machine (or multiple machines) to initiate the upgrade process.  The media image can be customised like any other Windows image, for example via DISM (Deployment Image Servicing and Management) to include drivers, applications, etc..  During the upgrade process, a Windows 10 licence will be obtained from the Windows Store for the specific device.  The upgrade media is intended to be used to initiate the upgrade process from within a currently-activated, eligible Windows OS.  It shouldn’t be used as bootable media because the upgrade process validates the currently running OS to ensure it is eligible to be upgraded.

Using Windows 10 Free Upgrade Media to Reinstall or Reimage

As long as the specific device has been upgraded within the free offer year, Windows 10 can be reinstalled or reimaged on that device because the licence is tied to the motherboard, so even a hard drive upgrade is fine.  So in theory, reimaging using the Windows 10 upgrade offer media will be allowed but as stated earlier, the advice from Microsoft is that it can’t be used as bootable so that makes reimaging tricky.  Allowed: yes.  Technically possible: it’s not clear because the upgrade media isn’t available yet.

Using Windows 10 VL Media to Reimage

One key benefit of licensing Microsoft software under a Microsoft Volume Licensing program is the right for customers to use VL media to deploy a standard image of software across multiple licenced devices.  It doesn’t matter whether those devices are licenced under that particular VL program, an OEM or retail so long as certain eligibility rules are followed.  The main rule is VL media may be used to reimage devices as long those devices are already licensed for the edition and version being reimaged onto them.

As long as your devices have upgraded to Windows 10 Pro within the free upgrade period, you will be allowed to use VL media to reimage them.  If your VL licence is for Windows 10 Enterprise you must down-edition to Windows 10 Pro.

Get Proof

The Microsoft Product Terms document (a new document from July 2015 combining the Product List and Product Use Rights document) states “If a third party intends to re-image Windows on Customer’s separately licensed devices, Customer must first provide that third party with written documentation proving it has licenses for the software the third party will install.”  So to cover your backs in case of an audit, ensure you have proof that the current installations of Windows are valid.  With OEM, that should be easy as there’ll normally be a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) sticker on the device.

What if the Current Editions are Windows Home?

The Product Terms document states that down edition rights for Windows through Volume Licensing are from Enterprise edition to Pro (see the image below).  You cannot down-edition Windows in volume licensing to Home edition because they are different products and that’s against reimaging rules.  Therefore you won’t be able to use Windows 10 VL media to reimage devices if they are only licenced for Windows 10 Home (hence the big red block in the top right of our flowchart above).  Licensing is full of exception though and it is possible that rights to reimage by using a different version or edition may be granted in the EULA that came with your OEM version of Windows.

Windows Down Editon rights

One Last Point

The main points in this article are taken from the Product Terms document which hasn’t yet been updated for Windows 10 but as far as we’re aware the Windows 8.1 rules will apply, and the Licensing brief: Reimaging rights document from February 2015.  We’ve also included some information from Microsoft sources in the case of unreleased bits such as the Windows 10 media and as such, they must be viewed as unconfirmed.

We hope that’s clear but feel free to Tweet us or contact us if you have any questions.


Windows 10 FAQ and Licensing Video

Windows 10 screenshotThere’s lots of chatter about Windows 10 so we’ve posted a licensing call that we recorded for Microsoft which sets out the fundamentals of how Windows as a service will work, the editions of Windows 10, licensing Windows per-user instead of per-device and how customers can get the Windows 10 upgrade.

You can also read our earlier blog posts on Never Pay for Windows Again and How to Upgrade to Windows 10.

Some important highlights:

1 – Windows will be an evergreen service and devices on Windows Home and Pro will have Windows updated at no ongoing cost.

2 – Windows Home will be on what’s known as Current Branch which means those machines will get feature updates as soon as they’re released.

3 – Windows Pro and Windows Enterprise with Software Assurance (SA) will default to Current Branch but can be set to Current Branch for Business which allows them to defer feature updates for up to eight months.  If updates are not deployed within that time, the OS will become unsupported.

4 – Windows Enterprise is the only edition where customers can fix on a specific release (known as a Long Term Servicing Branch).

5 – Windows Enterprise without Software Assurance (SA) will NOT BE UPDATED.  The update facility (Current Branch or Current Branch for Business) is a Software Assurance benefit for Enterprise edition, not part of the Windows licence.  So Windows will only be kept up to date for Enterprise edition customers if they maintain their SA annuity.

6 – Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 devices can be upgraded at no cost for 1 year after the release of Windows 10.  Windows Enterprise is not eligible for this free upgrade.

7 – The upgrade licence is tied to the specific device and is not transferable.  For example if you bought Windows 8 retail, that can be transferred to another pc but the Windows 10 upgrade cannot be transferred.  Within the first year, you would need to transfer the Windows 8 licence to the new machine and then kick off the free upgrade again.  After the first year, if the new machine didn’t come with an OEM Window 10 then you would need to buy Windows 10 in order to install it on that device.

8- There will be downgrade rights so if you buy a device with Windows 10 you will be able to deploy Windows 8 or 7 in its place.  This varies according to the channel you purchase through.

9- We’d love to get some more questions so please contact us if you have any that you’d like us to answer.

 

 


How to Coexist A and D VMs in Azure

Microsoft Azure LogoMicrosoft Azure virtual machines are not the same as on-premises VMs.  Steve Plank’s excellent blog post on the difference between Azure Cloud Services and Azure VMs goes some way to explaining the reason why.  Bearing this in mind there are some common questions which only make sense when you think about how Azure services work.

Many customers have mentioned that they can’t change between an A series VM and a D series, or they can’t mix A and D series within the same cloud service.  However, it’s entirely possible to do both of those.

Firstly, why would you need to?  Let’s take a customer who has moved an on-premises line-of-business server application onto Microsoft Azure to take advantage of the cost-efficiency, super-reliable data centres and the ability to scale.  The customer has started with a Standard-tier A2 compute unit (11p per hour for 2 cores and 3.5GB RAM) but after their data volumes increase they find the IOPS from hard disk drives are becoming a bottleneck so they’d like to move the workload onto a D series to enjoy increased throughput from solid-state drives.

Having created the VM as an A2 in a new Azure virtual network or cloud service, they find that when they log on to the Azure portal and try to scale the VM up, D series machines aren’t available.

Scale Azure VMs

 

If the customer tried to create a new D series VM in the same VNet or cloud service, they will also receive the following warning message telling them the cloud service doesn’t support those compute units.

Warning for Azure A Series Cloud service

 

If you create an A series VM in a new cloud services, Azure’s cloud fabric will host that VM in a cluster that currently may only support A series.  That’s why you’ll see the behaviour that our customer has experienced.

It is not possible to move a VM between cloud services either so even if you had a service currently hosting D series VMs, the customer would need to delete their VM (but choosing the option to keep the attached disks) and recreate the VM from the attached disks in the other cloud service.

So our little trick would be for this customer to create the VM as a D series initially and as soon as it’s created, scale the VM down to an A2.  That way Azure will host the VM in a cluster capable of supporting both A and D series compute units.  The customer can scale up, down and mix VMs of A and D series to their heart’s content (with the exception of the A8-A11 compute sizes).  The image below shows a cloud service with both A and D series compute units.

Azure mixed VMs in a single cloud service

 

This doesn’t work with G series currently but at present they can only be hosted in the West US and East US 2 data centres anyway.  Of course the feature release cadence of Azure is rapid so it’s likely this will be possible at some point in the future.

How would the customer have known to create the D series first to avoid this trap?  We’d recommend utilising a Microsoft partner with experience in Azure services or attend one of our training courses; that’s what we’re here for.


How to Price Azure Backup

Safe backupAzure Backup is a great feature for simple disaster recovery to the cloud.  As with many of the Azure services, it improved and can now retain backups for a silly 99 years.  The pricing model originally depended on the total storage that was backed up but it was a lot more expensive than simple Azure storage and that made long-term retention uneconomical.  Pricing changed in April to reflect a more logical, but harder to understand, model.

Azure Backup differs from Azure Storage because it’s a service which includes bandwidth for transferring the data, the backup agent, compression and encryption.  You could simply run an on-site backup and copy up the backup files to Azure storage but you would not have encryption, you would need to manually perform the upload to cloud and if you wanted to restore any files, you might incur bandwidth charges.

The Azure pricing calculator is rather confusing but essentially when pricing Azure Backup you have the following two steps:

First, determine what you are protecting and how large each instance is.  You might be protecting a Virtual machine (this could be on-premises Hyper-V or an Azure virtual machine, Windows or Linux).  You might be protecting a Windows Server (perhaps running a server application or just a file server).  Finally, you might be protecting a Windows client machine as we blogged about previously.  Note that instances should all be 64-bit and some workloads, especially application servers like SQL Server or Exchange, will require System Center Data Protection Manager.

How to calculate Azure backup cost

Small and medium are pretty easy to calculate.  If you have large instances, you will be paying £6.109 (prices as of May 2015) per 500GB so a 1.3TB backup would cost you £18.33 per month.  A simple protection estate could be:

Instance Size Cost
 Windows Server 300GB £6.109
 Windows 7 laptop  45GB £3.0545
 Linux virtual machine 30GB £3.0545

And the cost for those would be £12.22 per month.  So that takes care of the backup service; the agent, compression, encryption and bandwidth.

Next we need to calculate the cost of the storage.  Microsoft have wisely brought this in line with the standard Azure Storage costs and you have the choice of locally redundant where your backup files are replicated three time within a single datacentre (e.g. Dublin) or zone redundant where they are replicated three times in one data centre and then three times in geographically paired datacentre (e.g. Dublin and Amsterdam).

How to calculate Azure backup cost

 

We’ve put a typical price per GB in the table above.  The actual figures vary with the amount of data you store and you can view current prices on the Azure Storage Prices.  Determining the amount of storage is a bit of a guessing game as it depends on how much the data changes (the churn), how many restore points you want to keep and the level of compression that can be achieved.  A file server with lots of Word documents will be compressed far more than a file server containing hundreds of .jpg images because the jpeg format is already compressed.  Azure will only charge for the actual storage used so your estimate doesn’t need to be accurate.  In our example, we might use the following factors:

1- the total storage of 375GB

2 – locally redundant storage because we only want an archiving and backup solution to replace tape-drives

3 – 20% of the data changes between backups

4 – 10% compression (this is conservative; a typical compression should be around 30-40% depending on the type of data being backed up)

5 – a backup every week

6 – retention period for the backups of 1 year (for a maximum of 52 backups stored after a year)

Our back-of-a-napkin calculation would be 375GB initial backup + 52 further backups would just be the data changes at 75GB (20% of 375GB).  Total of 4.275TB, with compression at 10% this comes down to 3.8475TB.

So after 1 year (at which point we will have a rolling 52 backups retained), our monthly cost might be £53.87 (for storage at a rough £0.014 per GB) + £12.22 (for the protected instances) = £66.09

For more technical information about Azure, sign up for one of our courses and gain your professional qualification.

 


Excel – Paste into Visible Cells Only

Microsoft Excel

 

Sometimes Microsoft Excel is just too helpful.  Like American shop assistants to an English shopper (I’m not being xenophobic, I’m just not used to lots of people asking if I want help finding things (try shopping in Reading on a Saturday afternoon).

Anyone who has tried to paste data in a filtered Excel spreadsheet knows this.  Excel will also paste the data into the hidden (filtered out) cells.  It obviously thinks it’s being helpful but it’s really not.

There have been many suggested workarounds but it comes down to using Paste into Excel Visible Fields or a Paste into Excel Visible fields only with code.

There are two solutions that we use.  If you’re running Excel 2013 or above, you can utilise Flashfill.  For earlier versions, you might be able to use the Fill function..

Let’s look at Fill first.  Here is our example sheet:

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

A nice simple table with numbers in column B, whether they are odd or even in column A and the square of the number in column C.  What I would like to do is filter on odd numbers (because I am a little odd), copy the square and paste those into the new column D.

Let’s try to do that in the most obvious way and see what happens.

Filter the table to show only odd numbers.  Select all the squares in column C and copy.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

Click in cell D2, right-click and select Paste Values.  But wait!  Only half of the values are shown.  That’s because Excel is being over-helpful and pasting into the hidden, filtered-out rows as well as the visible rows.  It would be lovely if there was a ‘Paste Values into Visible Cells’ option but you’ve already spent an hour searching the internet to discover there just isn’t.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

If we clear the filter, we can see exactly that behaviour.  Our five selected cells have been pasted into the interim rows.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using Fill to Successfully Paste into Visible Cells Only

Let’s go back to our filtered table.  However this time select the cells and the column next to it.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

Now go up to the ribbon (Home tab) and click Fill and Fill Right.  Obviously if your destination column is to the left then feel free to hit Fill Left instead.

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

And voila, unlike the previous attempt, we are seeing all five desired values.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

And just to be sure, let’s clear the filter condition to make sure nothing has been copied into the hidden rows.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

Bingo.  We have our desired outcome.  Obviously this only works in the same sheet and if your columns are adjacent left or right to the cells you wish to copy.  If there are columns in between, you can hide those columns and this method will still work; Excel doesn’t paste into hidden columns in the same way it pastes into hidden rows.  In the screenshot below, I moved column A between the source column and the destination.  I filtered on Odd numbers in the same way, then hid column C.  Select Columns B and D and use the Fill Right method and as the screenshot works, once I unhide column C and clear the filter, everything still works out ok.

 

Excel Paste into Visible cells only

 

Flashfill Will Only Update Visible Cells

In Excel 2013, we have the lovely Flashfill feature which we blogged about previously.  Flashfill will also help but it’s not relevant for Excel versions earlier than 2013 (or Office 365 ProPlus if you ‘re in the cloud).

You can filter on odd numbers, type 1 in the first cell of the destination column, type 9 in the next cell down, hit Enter and then CTRL + E to force Flashfill to take over.  All the desired cells will be copied and if you clear the filter condition, you’ll see that the hidden rows haven’t been touched.  This is why we love Flashfill!

If you’d like more hints and tips, subscribe to our newsletter or better still, sign-up for one of our courses.

 


Modern Attachments in OWA

I’ve just been sent an email with a PowerPoint template attached.  All would be fine except this is the fourth version of the template file.  I’m lucky that I don’t need to worry about storage limits in my inbox but I still don’t like multiple versions flying about and duplicated search results.

We all know we should put the file in a shared location and send a link to so we don’t need to worry about different people having different versions.  But it’s never been easy.

Modern Attachments with Outlook Web App

If the file is on OneDrive for Business (we’re assuming you don’t put business files in OneDrive), I can easily attach them to an email and the sharing is done for me.  I don’t need to go into the ODfB folder and share.

Below I have a document stored on my ODfB but shared with no-one.

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

 

In Outlook Web App (OWA), I compose my email in the normal way and insert attachment.

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

OneDrive for Business shows me recent files.  This is a fairly new enhancement along with the ‘shared with me’ view.  I select the file I want to attach.

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

The all-important question; do I want to attach this file and endure the pain of resending it every time something changes.  Or do I want the simplicity of sharing the file via OneDrive?

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

Within the email, I can use the dropdown on each attachment to change the permissions from the default of edit.

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

And once I send the email, I can see that the share and permissions have been set for me automatically back in ODfB.  Nice.

 

 

OneDrive Modern attachments

 

An upcoming feature of ODfB is expirations on shared links.  That means I could share a file or folder for a week and the permissions will automatically revoke after that time.  How this will surface in the attachment process, I don’t know.

Currently, this feature is only available via OWA but it will be included in the rich Outlook client sometime in 2015 (no timeline) and in the mobile Outlook apps for iOS and Android before July 2015.

 

 

 


Lync Translator – Klingon vs Welsh

Can you Confused peoplespeak Klingon?  Nope, nor can I.  Unless I eat a hot chilli and then I emit sounds which could be mistaken for Klingon.

Lync can translate from and into not just one dialect but two dialects of Klingon.

Lync 2010 client application (and 2013 of course) has a little-known conversation translation feature which is great fun to try but also very useful if you need to collaborate with people who don’t share your language.  Let’s take an example of a local council.  A newly arrived Romanian strolls into the council office reception and sees a kiosk where they can select help with various councily things.  The resident selects their preferred language, selects their requirement (e.g. housing), is connected via Lync to someone in the appropriate team who can instant message (IM) in English whilst the resident IMs in their preferred language.  Or Klingon.  [Disclaimer: I am not in any way stereotyping Romanians, housing applicants, council employees or Klingons.]

In the early days of this feature, Welsh translation was not an option.  I asked Microsoft HQ why they had chosen to offer Klingon before Welsh and they came back with the perfectly reasonable answer that more people in the world spoke Klingon than Welsh so it was a higher priority.  Sorry Cardiff.

The feature does require enabling (if you want to try it yourself you can see one method on this blog page) but is fun to try.  Microsoft is not promising that you’ll be seen as fluent but it overcomes language barriers quite effectively.

Turn on Lync Conversation translator

 

Start Lync Conversation translator

 

Lync Conversation translator preview

The new Skype for Business will go even further by translating the audio in conversations.  Skype Translator is in preview currently and only works with English and Spanish but is a promising feature.

Sign up for the Skype translation preview at Microsoft.com.  You can also read our blog post on licensing Skype for Business and of course take one of our Office 365 or Lync Server training courses and gain your Microsoft qualification.


Office Demos to Make Customers Cry

User jumping for joy

We don’t mean make them cry in a bad way.  Let me set the scene.  Microsoft have between 1-1.5 billion users of Office applications worldwide.  The Office developers work really hard to make the applications intuitive so users can just get on and use them without needing to take a day’s training course in Outlook or Excel.  However there’s a downside.  Users tend to use new versions of Office in the same way they used the previous version so they don’t really see any immediate improvement and that’s part of the reason we see customer inertia; no-one takes the time to point out some of the fantastic things they can now do.

With new Office versions, there’s really two buckets of goodness – firstly, a bunch of new features and secondly, improvements.  The improvements might include a single button which does what used to take the user 5 minutes and twenty clicks in the previous version.  Or perhaps an improvement will stop users swearing so much!  New features are great too but I find they’re best learnt organically; take a couple of minutes each day to look at a new feature and if it will help, then practice it but don’t try to learn every new trick in Office from day 1.

So we’re starting a series of very quick demos that you can easily emulate either to learn from or to repeat if you have customers that use Office.  Welcome to number 1.

Excel Flashfill

1. Download and open the sample Excel file.  Once you’ve downloaded that, pat yourself on the back for ensuring you had up-to-date anti-malware installed and you can confidently download files from the great unwashed Internet.

2. You’ll see a simple table with five columns.  Column 2 (Data) holds concatenated strings which we need to split out into the correct columns, so the Manager column will hold names such as John, Jenny and Bill and the Category column will hold the type of expense such as Advertising, Events and Digital Marketing.  Some Excel users will look in the help for a string function that will work.  Others will look in the ribbon and perhaps try out Text to Columns.  Most users will see there’s only twenty table rows and just type or copy and paste.  That’s how errors occur; one Bill might be typed with three l’s in it; we won’t notice and the reports will be wrong.

Excel flashfill demo step 1

 

Excel flashfill3. Click in cell D4 and type John.  Hit ENTER to go to cell D5 and type Jenny.  As soon as you’ve typed Jen you should see Excel volunteer the rest of the rows.  It’s as if a little Excel intern has been watching and is now stepping into take over your work.  How lovely.  Hit enter to accept the Flashfill.

4. Now click in cell E5, type Events and hit ENTER.  Hit CTRL+E to force Flashfill to evaluate the pattern at this point and you should see the suggestions.  Press ENTER to accept.

5. Flashfill can do smarter things too.  Click in cell F5 and type John heads up events.  Then hit enter to move down into cell F6 and start typing Jenny heads up advertising.  Flashfill will complete the rows for you, including respect to your capitalisation of the category name (keeping it lowercase).

Customers have asked at what point Flashfill is checking.  You can be reassured that this is nothing scary.  We’re all happy with autofill; type in 1 in a cell and 2 underneath and you can have Excel continue the numbering pattern t0 3, 4, 5, etc.  Flashfill is just an extension of autofill, that’s all.

Flashfill step 3Sometimes Flashfill will not guess correctly first time in which case you ignore the greyed out suggestions and keep typing rows.  Your little Excel intern will keep watching and at some point will guess the correct pattern at which point you just hit ENTER to save lots of typing!  Sheet 2 includes an example of this.  Click in cell C2 and type Adriana from Germany.  Go to cell C3 and type Billy from United Kingdom.  Flashfill is suggesting incorrect matches at this point but you just ignore it and keep typing in the rows.  You will need to get down to row 5 (Damien from Germany) before the suggested pattern is correct and at this point you can accept it by hitting ENTER.

Flashfill is available as a Ribbon command too (on the Data tab) and is a feature of Microsoft Excel 2013 and Office 365 ProPlus.

Subscribe to our Twitter feed for more hints and tips, take one of our Office courses or let us run an Office Buzz Day for your users.


PowerPoint Presenter View Says No

PowerPoint Presenter ViewAn attendee had an issue with a PowerPoint file and could not choose ‘Use Presenter View’ as it was greyed out and disabled.  What’s more, when the slideshow was started, it didn’t take up the whole screen but annoyingly, played in a window and left the system tray icons at the bottom of the display.  How is a speaker supposed to present their awesome slideshow on plans for World Domination v1.0 if they can’t even get PowerPoint working?  As you can imagine, we use PowerPoint quite a lot so were happy to point out the issue.

First thing to check of course is whether the dual monitor option in Windows is set up correctly and in this case it was.  The second cause is a feature of PowerPoint that is less well-known because most slideshows are presented live by a speaker.  An alternative is to set-up self-running presentations, either in full screen (for example on kiosk displays) or in a window.  These will typically use recorded timings for each slide and animations so they play and advance in a timely manner and might even loop continuously.  To set your PowerPoint deck up to run automatically, choose Set Up Slide Show in the Slide Show ribbon tab.

Set up slideshow button

 

 

This will open a window where you can set your play options.

Set up PowerPoint slideshow

 

 

 

 

 

In our attendee’s example, the Show Type was set to Browsed by an individual which meant the show would play in a resizable window and not full screen or presenter view.  Kiosk mode plays the show full screen and uses timings to advance the slides; users cannot click or touch to advance.  The default is Presented by a speaker and for some reason this deck had that option changed.  Once we’d selected the correct show type, the Use Presenter View checkbox was active again and the world is happy.

Of course, if you’d like to know more hints and tips on Microsoft PowerPoint or any Office application, we’d love to hear from you.

 


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!