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Microsoft Adds Online Backup to Windows Server 8 Beta (UPDATED)

Microsoft rolled out an online backup service for the Windows Server 8 beta late last month, though not everyone can try it out.

The new Microsoft Online Backup Service is currently offered in the United States only as free trial via the Microsoft Connect portal for those who qualify, although Microsoft indicated on March 16 that many trial spots still are available. Users have to fill out an online survey form that asks about their number of servers, how those servers are used and the amount of data that typically gets backed up. Users may also need to have high-bandwidth connections to participate. UPDATE, 3/16: Microsoft indicated by e-mail that "the service supports backing up over a relatively slow connection -- the minimum requirement is only of 512 Kbps (less than 1 Mbps)."

The online backup service seems to have flown somewhat under the radar. Its existence was pointed out last week by MVP Aidan Finn in a blog post. Microsoft's description of the service can be found in a whitepaper, which can be downloaded here. The service gets installed on the Windows Server 8 beta, allowing "file and folder backups to the cloud service." The user experience for this cloud-based backup service is described as being similar to the user experience found in the Windows Server backup feature. Testers have the option to use either the GUI or PowerShell.

Microsoft is getting testing data before making this online backup service available more broadly available, according to the white paper. However, it isn't clear how the service will be offered or when. Apparently, the service doesn't use Windows Azure. For instance, Microsoft's white paper explains that the Windows Server 8 beta is already preprovisioned to work with a Microsoft Online Services account, which is required to use the backup service.

Data get encrypted when using the online backup service, but Finn noted that users have to be careful to record the passphrase for data encryption because Microsoft doesn't store it. Users won't be able restore data if they lose that passphrase.

There are other restrictions with regard to the kind of data that gets backed up by the service. For instance, users can back up encrypted data and they can back up compressed data, but they can't back up encrypted and compressed data.

Finn noted that Microsoft's document omitted any description of "data de-duplication or compression before backup." UPDATE, 3/16: Microsoft clarified on this point via e-mail that "data is compressed on the server before it is transmitted to the service for backup. Only changed blocks are stored across different point[s] in times of the backup." Finn also noted that a description about backing up Hyper-V virtual machines isn't described in the document.

Some of the limitations of the backup service specified by Microsoft include the inability to do system-state backups. Furthermore, for the beta, the backup size is limited to 10 GB. Users of the beta are limited to performing just three backups per day. The service just works with the Windows Server 8 beta and does not work with other Windows releases.

The backup service has some system requirements. To test the service, a computing environment needs to have Windows PowerShell, Windows Identity Framework and Windows Live ID client authentication installed. Microsoft also suggests having about 1.5 GB of local cache storage available.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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