Don’t Be Afraid of the Cloud

Don’t Be Afraid of the Cloud

I’m an old-school network guy. My career has been built meticulously architecting datacenters with the latest offerings on SANs, switches, servers, firewalls, and threat remediation.

I read all of the articles that talked about how the cloud was the future and how it would change the landscape forever. In no way did I accept that any cloud offering would meet my high standards of performance or security.

Then by virtue of a changing career path, I was afforded the time to learn the real truth about a concept I had completely dismissed. And as it turns out, it’s actually the most incredible platform that I was never able to architect myself.

Microsoft has bridged the gap between my beloved on-premises network operations center and the cloud with rock solid hybrid solutions. This cleanses the palate for guys like me who needed to gain the trust of the technology as it extends the walls of the private datacenter into the private cloud. It seems funny to me now – I once assumed that I was capable of providing a more secure, reliable and fault tolerant solution than a massive team of engineers at Microsoft.

Enter Microsoft Azure—the canvas that lets you paint a solution to meet the requirements of almost any need [Sign up for a free Azure Assessment here].

Recently, Microsoft boosted my confidence by offering more network monitoring and workloads in Azure with Microsoft’s “Operations Management Suite” (or “OMS”). With a quick browse to their website and a few clicks, it integrates with your Azure tenant. It also integrates with anyone who has invested into the System Center platform, extending the capability of monitoring the on-premise datacenter and the cloud infrastructure. For those of us who had to struggle with the firehose of information from System Center Operations Manager, Microsoft eases our pain with charts, graphs, and donut displays that have meaning.

Of all the benefits that the cloud brings us, the biggest by far is the ability to leverage it for offsite backups and for disaster recovery. In most of the projects I have worked on, this area is always the last to be architected and set up. It sits on a whiteboard somewhere towards the bottom of the project list, but usually is never fully implemented, due to either cost or complexity. Ironically, despite being the area that should be of highest priority for any datacenter, it is often overlooked.

Microsoft Azure makes backup and disaster recovery easy, but how it is implemented depends on the unique needs of any given infrastructure and their accepted recovery policies.

From the start, a choice needs to be made – and an important differentiation needs to be understood. There is Azure Site Recovery to address the need for disaster recovery, and then there is Azure Backup – a term thrown around loosely by Microsoft that is actually a trio of options to get your data backed up for a more standard approach.

I’ll explain Azure Backup and its options a little further.

The first option consists of simply installing an Azure Backup Agent on any server, which then ships the data directly to the cloud.

The second option, available to those who have already invested in System Center, is to use Data Protection Manager to first go to local disks, and then up to Azure for long term storage.

The third option is for those who do not have the luxury of having an existing System Center license for Data Protection Manger. It’s called Microsoft Azure Backup Server. Its code is almost identical to the full- blown Data Protection Manager, but it does not require a license from Microsoft. They give it away for free because it only works when first connected to the cloud. From there you can create local backup jobs and then set up long term backup into cloud storage. This generates the fees Microsoft receives in lieu of the license install.

Think of Microsoft Azure Site Recovery as being like a DVR of your virtual machines for a given point of time that gets an exact copy off premises. Azure Backup gets local and offsite cloud copies if you select one of the two Data Protection Manager offerings, or you can bypass it and just install the Azure agent on a server and ship your files and folders. This option leaves it up to the speed on your internet connection to pull all the data back down for even the simplest recoveries. Using one of the DPM varieties enables faster restores, which are more granular when there is local data available.

Of all the backup flavors Microsoft is offering, the best is the one that most closely matches your recovery time objectives. All serve to leverage the most intriguing feature of the cloud:  Offsite data storage.

About the Author:

Quade Finnigan