Data and backups: both create issues IT professionals will be all too familiar with. The first three questions an IT professional will ask themselves are: How much data do we have to back up? Where can I store all this data and more importantly, how much is all this going to cost me?

These are questions that have a variety of answers and in recent years there’s been a massive shift towards cloud technologies, with almost every backup vendor now offering some form of cloud backup solution. Which makes good sense. Why would an organisation invest in additional storage capabilities when they can leverage the use of cloud and offload some pretty hefty capex costs into manageable opex? This makes “cloud backups” ideal for both SME’s and larger organisations due to the “Pay as you go” nature of them.

Shaping Cloud are a Microsoft Gold partner, so naturally we’ve had a lot experience using Microsoft products, and as such, the main one I’ll focus on here is Microsoft System Centre Data Protection Manager(DPM).

DPM has traditionally been used to provide an on-premise backup solution for your windows environment and workloads. The 2012 R2 release of DPM had a massive overhaul of functionality from its 2008 predecessor which made it a serious contender in the backup market. Since 2012 Microsoft has been piling resources into updates for the product and has added some pretty nifty functionality. A notable example of this would be in their recent update rollup (11) as of August this year, they’ve announced that you can now do VMware VM backups using DPM which has always been a bit of a downside when compared to competitors. For more information about DPM you can visit the TechNet article here: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh848294(v=sc.12).aspx

Without going into too much detail about what DPM can do as an on-premise solution, in my personal experience, once you’ve spent the time to set up DPM correctly and got all your protection groups/retention policies sorted: it’s a fantastic product and one any size organisation should consider using. When evaluating a product like this, the next question will be: “What makes DPM stand out from the other hundreds of backup solutions out there?” There is one short and sweet answer to this, Azure.

Most people will have heard about Azure; in short, it’s Microsoft’s offering of a Cloud computing platform and infrastructure, much like other offerings such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google Cloud. Azure boasts that they have 120,000 new customer subscriptions every month, 38 datacentre regions and that 90% of the fortune 500 companies use Microsoft Azure. You can read more on what Azure is and what it can do here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/

The only thing we need for a hybrid backup solution is a “Recovery Services Vault” on Azure, this can be set up in any Azure subscription and allows us to connect an on-premise DPM server into Azure. All you have to do is register your DPM server in Azure (again Microsoft make this really easy to configure), install the correct agent on your DPM server and you’re good-to-go. All data passed between both sources is encrypted and secure. To give a visual representation of what this will look like, see the image below:

How Azure Backup Works

The main thing we can achieve with a hybrid DPM solution is offloading our long-term retention of data into Azure. For example, you could keep 7 days’ worth of backups on your DPM server, then offload the weekly/monthly/annual backups into Azure for the long term. The main benefit here is this can completely replace the need for tape backups, significantly reducing the cost of your backup solution. The price you pay in Azure for storage is cheap compared to traditional methods. At the time of writing this blog, 1 instance of 500GB would cost you £6 a month. Azure also has a “hot” and “cool” storage capabilities, and so you can reduce the cost down even further by utilising “cool” storage (described as less frequently accessed data, ideal for long term backups). More info can be found at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/introducing-azure-cool-storage/

There is an informative document on the Azure website which explains all the topics glanced over in this blog in much more detail: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/backup/backup-azure-dpm-introduction

In Summary:

The Benefits:

  • Offload backups into Azure for long-term retention, no need for tapes
  • Cost model is “pay for what you use”, storage is relatively cheap
  • Easy to configure and set-up
  • It is simply an extension of your existing DPM server and therefore very easy to use
  • Doesn’t require a site-to-site VPN
  • No need to manage Azure infrastructure
  • Locally redundant storage keeps 3 copies of all your data in Microsoft’s data centres by standard

The Drawbacks:

  • Recovery time of backups sitting in Azure will be longer
  • If you required Globally redundant storage (replicated across multiple datacentres) this increases the cost
  • You don’t manage the Azure infrastructure, e.g. any issues in the datacentre your data is stored in, you have no control over.

If you’d like to find out more, get in touch for an honest conversation about whether DPM could benefit your organisation.

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