In this post, I’ll give you an overview of the process that Azure Backup currently uses to seed the first full backup using a secure couriered disk transfer process.
Before we talk about out-of-band disk transfers, we need to understand how Azure Backup copies data to Azure. The following process is used to copy data to a backup vault in the cloud:
The result is what is commonly referred to as a synthetic full backup, although I’m sure that the Azure Backup team probably has a different name for their engine! The backup vault understands how to reassemble the blocks to recover files from any point in the retention policy.
Typically, a full backup is very large, and incremental backups are a trickle feed of changes. A company might have enough bandwidth to deal with even an exceptionally large incremental backup. But a lot of companies will struggle with the first full backup, as they don’t want that first job to take days or even weeks.
Ideally, an online backup solution will have a means where:
Azure Backup, including the MARS agent, Azure Backup Server, and System Center Data Protection Manager, offers a method for seeding the first backup via a secure disk transfer. When you create a backup schedule, you are asked if you want to do the first backup online or via offline backup.
The screen above gives you some hints of how the process is started. There are several different system requirements. In Azure, you will need:
On the customer site, you will need:
And then you start the process …
Verify that you have deployed all of the system requirements. Pay special attention to the hardware requirements and keep your physical disk connectivity simple.
You deploy your Azure Backup solution and schedule a backup. Pay special attention to the job import name, storage account and storage container names when configuring the offline backup; you will require these later and the values must stay consistent for the process to be successful.
Once the job is created, you must manually start the first full backup.
Azure Backup will back up all of your selected data to the staging location — either a directory or file share that you provisioned and selected in the previous step.
You will run WAImportExper.EXE with the PrepImport flag to:
This tool also creates a journal file for each disk, with the following information:
You sign into the old Azure management portal and browse to the new storage account. Here you will create an import job:
Call your courier and ship the disk. There is some conflicting information about this step. It is stated by Microsoft that you must use FedEx to ship the disk to an Azure region. However, there is an anomaly. The North Europe region is in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. FedEx will not collect a package within the Republic of Ireland if the destination is in the Republic of Ireland. I contacted Azure Support, and they confirmed that:
Note that the drive preparation tool has encrypted the disk using BitLocker so you have secured the data transfer and protected the business against regulatory or data protection risks.
You can monitor the disk transfer process using the management portal. The disk will have a “shipping” status after you created the import job and supplied your shipping information. After arriving in the Azure data center, if the package is accepted (if you followed the process correctly) there can be a lag before the next step; this is when the status changes to “transferring” and data is imported by Microsoft staff from the disk(s) to the container in your storage account.
Once your data is in the storage account container, Azure Backup will, without your input, transfer the data to the backup vault; this completes the offline backup process.
Normal incremental backups will commence after the first full backup (the disk import) has completed. Azure Backup will automatically commence with sub-file difference backups that are encrypted and compressed before leaving the customer site.
This is the backup traffic that you should size bandwidth requirements for, because the biggest backup (the initial full backup) is complete, and Azure Backup will only use differences from now on.
The Azure Backup team is very interested in what you think of this process? Do you need to use a seeding process for the first backup? Have you looked at or used the step by step instructions? Were you scared off by the process? Did the import work for you? What improvements, if any, would you like to see? Please post below to share your thoughts.