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Microsoft Updates Azure, Unveils 'Availability on Demand' Service

Microsoft on Thursday announced improvements to Azure centering around backup and disaster recovery, as well as took the wraps off a new service called "Availability on Demand for Azure."

Availability on Demand is a bundled service offering that combines the capabilities of the currently available Azure Backup service and the currently available Azure Site Recovery service. The offering will enable organizations to "harness a near unlimited amount of compute and storage in the cloud for dev/test, cloud bursting, migration, reporting/analytics, recovery, backup and long-term data retention," according to Joel Ferman, group manager for Azure product marketing, in a blog post.

Availability on Demand still has some elements that are at the preview stage, though. It works with Hyper-V hypervisors currently, but it's at the preview stage for use with VMware hypervisors as well as for physical media, according Ferman's description.

Still, Microsoft is promising big things with Availability on Demand. Ferman suggested that its use can eliminate the need to have a secondary disaster recovery site, for instance. And he promised easier migration of Hyper-V, VMware and physical workloads into Azure cloud storage.

Microsoft's published materials don't readily explain how an organization can subscribe and use Availability on Demand. Presumably, subscriptions to both the Azure Backup Service and Azure Site Recovery service would be required, but it's not clear. Availability on Demand was described on Thursday by Vibhor Kapoor, director of product marketing for Microsoft Azure, as more of an "investment" area right now, per a blog post:

Microsoft is investing in delivering industry-leading cloud management capabilities, and today we are continuing our investment with updates to Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery, which will enable Availability on Demand. These tools will allow on premises assets to easily extend into Azure for disaster recovery, analytics, backup, cloud bursting, migration, and development and testing.

Azure Backup for VMs Preview
Also on Thursday, Microsoft announced an improvement to its Azure Backup service -- namely, the ability to back up virtual machines hosted on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) clouds. The VMs can be Linux- or Windows-based. This feature addition is currently at the "preview stage," although Microsoft first started offering its Azure Backup service as a "general availability" product back in October 2013. General availability means it's ready for production environments, according to Microsoft, but with Azure services, Microsoft is always rolling out new capabilities.

The new IaaS VM backup capability in the Azure Backup service doesn't require the shutdown of the VMs and the process won't affect production workloads, according to Aashish Ramdas, program manager II for Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft, in a blog post. He also promised that organizations would have "automatic management of recovery points" for those backups. They can restore from the latest recovery point or from older ones, he explained.

Disaster Recovery for VMware VMs Preview
Microsoft also announced that its existing Azure Site Recovery service can now provide disaster recovery protection for VMware VMs and physical servers on Azure infrastructure. This new addition to the Azure Site Recovery service is still at the preview stage, but Microsoft doesn't plan to charge extra for it, according to Kapoor. Protection for VMware VMs was one of the top four requests that Microsoft received for its Azure Site Recovery service, according to Gaurav Daga, principal program manager for Azure Site Recovery, in a blog post.

Daga explained that this new capability builds on Microsoft's acquisition of technology from InMage Systems. The technology adds several new capabilities, such as the ability to support Linux and Windows versions, automated discovery of VMs and "near-zero Recovery Point Objectives," he added.

Other Azure News
This week brought out other Azure news, apart from the general backup news. For instance, Microsoft has increased the size of Azure VMs from 127GB to 1023GB. This change happened with an Azure update that was rolled out last week, according to Guy Bowerman, senior program manager for Azure Compute Runtime, in a Wednesday blog post. The change is in effect in all Azure regions except for China. It isn't available yet for Microsoft's Azure government users, though.

Bowerman explained that Microsoft had originally restricted Azure VMs to 127GB for cache optimization purposes. In addition, drives were smaller when Microsoft initially rolled out the service. Now, organizations can create VMs larger than 127GB and then migrate them to Azure. He noted that the larger VM sizing doesn't affect organizations needing higher I/O performance. Microsoft's recommendation in that case is to try its Premium Azure Storage option, which is at the preview stage.

Azure Active Directory now has three new capabilities that are at the preview stage. It's possible to rollover passwords, which can be a useful tool for organizations that maintain social networking sites, but don't want to make end users remember the passwords needed to access those sites. This feature will automatically update the passwords at certain intervals and trusted users won't have to remember them. Microsoft previewed this password rollover feature last month. Microsoft also added an Azure AD feature that lets administrators set rules on groups based on user attributes, such as "department." The third Azure AD enhancement is the ability to set a multifactor authentication requirements for end users based on the particular application used.

Microsoft had a few notices Thursdasy for developers using Azure services. For instance, it rolled out its Azure API Management Premium service as a general availability product, supported by a service-level agreement. Developers maintaining access to their APIs can provision them across the globe "simultaneously," according to Microsoft's announcement of the Azure API Management Premium service. The new service is supported by Azure Active Directory for identity and access management. Pricing will comes into effect on May 1.

Last month, Microsoft announced a preview of its Azure Mobile Engagement service, which taps end user data from mobile devices that developers can use to improve the marketing of their apps or services. This service uses push technology to deliver ad campaigns to end users. It's based on Microsoft's acquisition last year of the mobile push analytics company Capptain.

If all of that weren't enough, Microsoft announced its new Azure App Service earlier this week for developers and IT organizations. The Azure App Service brings together three existing Azure services, including Web Sites, Mobile Services and Biztalk Services, to facilitate the integration of hosted apps with premises-based ones.

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