Microsoft recently discussed how they were going to extend the functionality of Azure Backup at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Orlando last week. I had a call with some people in Microsoft to discuss Project Venus, which is a multi-step project that will quickly add desired features to Azure Backup.
Azure Backup is Microsoft’s online backup solution that uses extremely affordable Block Blob storage as the backup target. I personally don’t like the branding of Azure Backup, because I see it as three very different solutions that customers are constantly get confused about, often thanks to Microsoft announcements and marketing that gloss over significant differences between the offerings.
Here’s how I refer to the solutions:
The two online backup services, as I refer to them, Azure Backup and DPM + Azure Backup, offer very different levels of functionality, which cause an issue. Online backup is a huge market that’s quite mature, where most of the resellers I deal with have been offering resold services for up to 10 years, usually based on a product called Ahsay. The market for online backup is for small-to-medium enterprises, where each might be small, but they make up over 90 percent of all companies, where the sum is a lot of storage. Unfortunately, these companies have usually been unable to adopt Azure Backup because:
In Europe, most SMEs rely on managed IT service providers (Microsoft partners) to supply and manage their IT. Those partners service many customers, and they require a centralized online multi-subscription console which Azure Backup in any form, lacks.
Details about Project Venus were hinted at in a recent announcement by Microsoft on improvements in hybrid computing. Microsoft stated that:
At WPC 2015, Microsoft went into some detail on how they will do this. The steps will be:
What are Azure Backup customers going to get and how will it work? In return for using Azure Backup, customers will get rights to deploy a new on-prem edition of DPM that does not require System Center licensing. Speaking of licensing:
What’s been stripped out? As it happens, not much. Microsoft has removed the ability to backup to tapes. Otherwise, it’s the same DPM that System Center customers can deploy. It will backup files and folders, Hyper-V virtual machines, SQL Server, Exchange Server, and SharePoint.
With this solution, you will be able to backup required services to local disk with short-term retention, and optionally forward the data to Azure Backup for off-site and long-term retention.
Note that instance pricing still applies to anything that you backup to local disk and don’t forward to Azure. In other words, this is not a free DPM because you’re paying for it through the Azure Backup instance charge.
If you need to restore data, use the local repository to restore recent data over the LAN, and download data from Azure via DPM.
I did wonder why the project was called Venus, and I had a bit of a “doh!” moment when it was explained to me in a briefing on this project that the current agent is called MARS. So, I’ll let you figure out the who’s from Venus and who’s from Mars thing!
If you’re like me and you want a long-term solution to use Azure Backup for SMEs, you might have an initial reaction of disappointment to Project Venus. Why do we need to install DPM? I let this stew overnight, and I also listened to Microsoft’s reasoning.
Admittedly, this isn’t a perfect solution, and Microsoft realizes this. Using DPM is an interim feature that will allow Microsoft to empower SMEs to use Microsoft’s very price-competitive solution by adding the necessary features. Personally, I think that it will be a great benefit to have a local backup repository, too. Microsoft has heard the feedback and giving us a DPM-based solution was the quickest way to give us what we need.
In the meantime, Microsoft will continue to develop a centralized portal and more powerful agents that can be directly managed from the cloud. I liked what I heard from the team when I talked to them, and I like what they described as the endpoint and the plan to transition to it (it must be seamless without interrupting backup or repository access). So, while the first step in Project Venus isn’t perfect, we have to realize that it’s the first of several steps to get us where we want to go, and that this first step is getting us essential features fast.