Azure Backup – New! Instant Restore

Azure Backup is a service offered within the platform that allows you to backup and restore your IaaS data both from within Azure and on-premises. The integration out-of-the-box within Azure, and the attractive cost point make it a great option for many deployments. Simplicity is also key, for example, you can enable backup right from within the VM blade, or, for several VMs within your environment from the recovery services vault itself.

Another benefit is the speed and efficiency with which you can test and confirm your required restore processes. This has been recently improved on again by the introduction of Instant Restore. This introduces the ability to use snapshots taken as part of a backup job, which are then available for recovery without waiting for any data transfer to the vault. This greatly reduces the wait time to trigger a restore.

While Instant Restore is the quickest option, it does incur additional cost for the storage required to hold the snapshots. Also, it currently is only available in four regions, West Central US, India South, Australia East, and North Europe.

There are other alternatives included in the cost prices of Azure Backup. They are as follows:

  • Create a new VM
    • This quickly creates a basic VM from a chosen restore point. Configuration options are limited.
  • Restore disk
    • This creates new disks from a restore point. These disks can then be attached manually or via script. You pay for the disks while they are active but this option offers great flexibility.
  • Replace existing
    • This is more automated. Azure Backup takes a snapshot of the currently active VM, powers it off, then detaches current disks. While this is happening, it creates new disks from a restore point. Once restore is complete, it attaches them to the VM and powers it back on. There are some limitations here due to the automation used, it’s not supported for unmanaged disks, generalized VMs, or for VMs created using custom images.

There is also a fourth option that combines some automation for file level recovery. This is well detailed here – Azure Backup File Recovery.

Based on the previous options available, I think the new Instant Restore capability is a welcome addition. It brings Azure Backup more in line with traditional snapshot-as-a-quick-backup solutions people regularly leverage on-premises. If you are running significant IaaS workloads in Azure that require regular changes, I would strongly consider upgrading your Recovery Services Vault to support Instant Restore.

Azure Migrate – Where to Start?

If you’re thinking about making a move to Azure, it’s important to first understand how to approach it. With the correct approach and sufficient planning, a migration can be straight forward, efficient and void of surprises.

Therefore, the place to start is the Microsoft Cloud Operating Model. This is a detailed white paper that allows you to create a strategy for migration. Covering cloud readiness, people strategy and technical analysis, it’s a comprehensive document. Once you have an understanding of your business strategy, read “Why am I moving to Azure?” and your people strategy, read “Who is moving us to Azure?” you can progress to the technical phase.

The vast majority of initial moves to Azure are often re-host migrations, or “lift and shift”, as these are most common, I will reference this scenario as an example. There are four stages:

The first step of the technical phase is to Assess. This means understanding what it is that you are moving and what the best process will be. This includes everything from involving the business stake holders, to cost calculation to application evaluation. This analysis should give you an output that not only details where the application could go but more importantly, where it can go.

Microsoft offer several tools to help with some of this. First up is Azure TCO. This allows you to estimate the cost savings you could make by migrating to Azure. Next is Azure Migrate, this is an assessment tool that is FREE and allows you to discover, document and assess your workloads and their dependencies. You can then create cost estimates for running them in Azure.

Azure Migrate Dependencies Example

Now that you have your environment discovered, grouped and sized correctly, you can begin to migrate your workloads. Microsoft provide a service for this also, Azure Site Recovery (ASR). This service allows you to replicate your servers from your on-premises environment. For most services it is application aware, meaning it can replicate services like SQL server without any data loss. Before you implement ASR it is important to use your data from Azure Migrate to capacity plan for your replication requirements. Taking this step allows for greater speed and efficiency during replication and migration of workloads.

Microsoft also provide a script repository for migrating large numbers of VMs at once. These can be from VMware, AWS, GCP or physical servers. There are some limitations, most restrictive is lack of support for Managed Disks, but you can always flip these manually later. The scripts and guide can be found here.

How long it takes to migrate your workloads is determined by your business requirements. However, once complete, it is vital that you revisit these workloads for optimisation. Azure Advisor can provide recommendations but the key areas to focus on are:

  • VM sizing – Ensure the VM is running on an appropriate size to gain maximum cost efficiency
  • Storage tier – Ensure the disks associated with the VM are using the correct tier to balance performance requirements against cost.
  • Reserved Instances – Once the VM is sized correctly, purchase Reserved Instances to achieve the maximum discount to run your workload for one to three years.

Now that your workloads are migrated and optimised, your final step is to ensure they’re secure and managed correctly. The best place to start with this process is Azure Security Center. This provides unified security management and allows you to take action to mitigate risk and implement actionable recommendations. This will include common requirements like disk encryption and anti virus. More advanced and platform specific features like Just In Time Access are also available.

So to recap, there is 1 prerequisite then 4 main steps:

  1. Understand and create your Cloud Operating Model
  2. Assess your current environment
  3. Migrate it!
  4. Optimise your utilisation
  5. Secure and Manage it

If all of the above is completed and optimisation and security are reviewed regularly you can be confident in the quality of your environment state. If you have any questions, feel free to tweet me @wedoAzure or leave a comment!

Azure IAAS Disaster Recovery

The ability to recover your IAAS VMs in Azure to a different region has been a logical requirement within Azure for quite some time. Microsoft made the feature available in preview last year and this week have made it GA.

Azure DR allows you to recover your IAAS VMs in a different Azure region should their initial region become unavailable. For example, you run your workloads in North Europe, the region experiences significant downtime, you are now able to recover your workloads in West Europe.

In this post I will go through setting up an individual VM to replicate from North Europe to West. However, it’s worth pointing out that DR should be a business discussion, not just technical. All scenarios that could occur, within reason, should be discussed to decide whether DR is warranted. For example, if your business entirely relies on your premises for production, if you lose the premises, you don’t need DR as there is no production capability regardless of system recovery etc. The idea is to scope what DR actually means for your business and remember, DR is only valid if it is tested!

Enabling DR for a VM is straight forward. Open your VM blade and scroll down to Operations, you will see an option for Disaster Recovery

DRvmBlade

You select a Target Region that must be different from your current region, you can then choose the default settings for a POC. In my screen shot, I have created a Resource Group and Recovery Services Vault in WE already so will use those. Once submitted, replication for your VM will be enabled. You can then view the configured options:

DRvmSettings.PNG

And that’s it! Once synchronisation completes, you now have your VM protected in a different region. However, for it to be valid, you need to design and confirm your Recovery Plan then complete both a Test Failover and Complete Failover and Failback.

More reading on the overall concept and Azure-Azure DR specifics here.