Microsoft's Windows Azure Update Includes Backup Service

Microsoft this month rolled out a slew of new services to Windows Azure as part of an update designed to integrate the cloud platform with Microsoft's latest flagship software offerings.

Scott Guthrie, corporate vice presidentĀ of Microsoft Server and Tools Business, announced the updates to Microsoft's cloud-based service offerings on Friday and this week in blog posts. Essentially, Microsoft has enabled some of its Windows Azure cloud services to work with Windows Server 2012 R2 and .NET 4.5.1. It also released its production-ready Windows Azure Backup Services offering for commercial use, including a backup and recovery service for SQL Server. On top of that, Microsoft rolled out a new software development kit for Windows Azure.

Adding to the mix, Microsoft announced Wednesday that it has acquired Apiphany, a year-old, Washington, D.C.-based startup that provides a cloud-based solution for managing APIs. Apiphany has stopped taking new customer orders and indicated in a blog post that the Apiphany API Management and Delivery Platform "will soon re-emerge as an integrated Windows Azure API management service." The Apiphany Software as a Service (SaaS) product is designed to help manage a company's APIs so that it can better connect with customers and partners.

Windows Server 2012 R2 VMs: It's now possible to set up Windows Server 2012 R2 virtual machines (VMs) to run on Windows Azure via a few clicks of the mouse when using the Windows Azure Management Portal. Friday marked the "general availability" release of this new VM support feature on Windows Azure. Microsoft claims that these new VM images of Windows Server 2012 R2 deploy and run "30% faster than previous versions of Windows Server."

Windows Azure Pack: Microsoft released the Windows Azure Pack last week, which is a free download that adds some Windows Azure functionality to datacenters running Windows Server.

Windows Azure Price Cuts: Microsoft's announcement on Friday indicated that the costs for using Windows Azure's intensive-memory support for VMs will be reduced by "up to 22%," starting on Nov. 1. The memory price cuts are associated with three Windows Azure plans: A5 (two cores, 14 GB of RAM), A6 (four cores, 28 GB of RAM) and A7 (eight cores, 56 GB of RAM).

Windows Azure Backup Service: Microsoft on Wednesday released its cloud-based backup service for commercial use. The service took more than a year to become a product after early test releases. It was at the beta stage back in March 2012 and was last available in April 2013 as a "paid preview" release. The backup service transfers only changed blocks of data to reduce network bandwidth loads. Data are first compressed and then encrypted on premises before transmission to Microsoft's cloud (BLOB storage is used). Users can set throttling policies to control when backup-and-restore actions take place. The backup service is integrated with the Windows Server Backup utility, System Center Data Protection Manager and Windows Server Essentials. Pricing for the Windows Azure Backup Service will start on Dec. 1 at $0.50 per GB per month for storage loads of greater than 5 GB per month, according to Microsoft's pricing page. Microsoft will offer a "three-nines" (99.9 percent) service level agreement with the backup service. However, support will cost extra, which is priced at $29 per month.

SQL Server Backup Service on Windows Azure: Microsoft also announced this week that its Windows Azure backup and recovery service is available for SQL Server users. The backup capability provides BLOB storage on Microsoft's cloud and is accessible through SQL Server 2014 Community Technology Preview (CTP) 2, which was released for testing last week. Microsoft also released a SQL Server Backup to Windows Azure Tool, which enables Windows Azure Storage support for SQL Server 2005 and newer versions of that relational database management system. Backups can be set using Microsoft's SQL Server Management Studio. In addition, Microsoft is selling a managed backup "premium" capability that measures "database usage and patterns to set the frequency of backups to Windows Azure to optimize networking and storage," according to the company's announcement.

Preview of Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager: Microsoft this week announced a "public preview" test version of Hyper-V Recovery Manager on Windows Azure. The preview actually was available earlier in August as "a limited public preview." It's a disaster recovery management capability for application data on private clouds that uses Microsoft's Hyper-V Replica technology. Hyper-V Recovery Manager links a primary site with a secondary site on Windows Azure. Virtual machines get copied over to the secondary for disaster recovery support in the cloud using Hyper-V Recovery Manager. The management service is based on using Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2. It integrates with the Virtual Machine Manager components of either System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 or System Center 2012 R2.

Active Directory Improvements: Microsoft indicated that it has further integrated the management aspects of Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD). All Windows Azure accounts now come with WAAD, which can be hosted or synced with an organization's premises-based Windows Server Active Directory at no additional cost. Microsoft updated the Windows Azure Service Management APIs to support using WAAD, so users no longer have to download management certificates. The new Windows Azure SDK 2.2 released this week includes built-in support for these new Service Management APIs. With SDK 2.2, it's now possible to connect to Windows Azure directly from inside Visual Studio.

Other Windows Azure Improvements: Microsoft added some functionality improvements to Windows Azure. It's now possible to delete attached disks when deleting virtual machines, all in one operation. Similarly, users can now delete an entire cloud service and get rid of its roles and deployments, too, in a single operation. Users now get warnings when their "availability sets" map to only one virtual machine. Configuring SQL Server AlwaysOn "direct server return endpoints" through the Windows Azure Management Portal is now possible (instead of having to use PowerShell).


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