How Operational Management Suite keeps Customers sticky on Azure – (Backup)


Over my first year working at Microsoft, it has been very clear that we are doing everything that we can to really be the go-to for enterprise customers when it comes all levels of Cloud based services. However, not everyone is ready to start leveraging some of the more cutting edge services like Platform as a Service or Software as a Service. So in that vain, these customers will find it much easier to get their feet wet with Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). However, doesn’t everyone have IaaS based services? This means that a customer could easily pick and move from Azure to someone else, and still get the benefits of the Cloud. True, but I believe that Azure and Microsoft have found a way to differentiate ourselves in the IaaS space and therefore can keep our customers sticky to the Azure platform.

However, unlike other CSPs, Azure does have a suite of services that will absolutely help you manage and maintain your IaaS and it is called the Operational Management Suite (OMS). OMS should make you feel much more comfortable that Microsoft is putting together a Cloud environment that is designed for the enterprise, not just for providing IaaS based resources, but also supporting services, that can help you feel secure about your investment with Microsoft. The specific services that I am referring to are the following:

  1. Backup
  2. Site Recovery
  3. Automation
  4. Monitoring / Log Analytics

For the most part, the services that make up this suite are pretty straight forward, but they can take a significant burden off of your IT department, by providing better security and operational efficiency and doing so in a very cost effective way. Implementing OMS will save your IT department time and money, there by allowing them to learn and work on new projects that they may not have time for today.

Hybrid Capability

Oh yeah, there is one other thing that really makes Microsoft stand out with respect to our IaaS based offerings and it will make you feel even more secure about your investment with Azure. All of these services are Hybrid and Multi-Cloud aware. What exactly do I mean by this? I mean that you can leverage all four of these services, no matter where your VMs are located:

  • Azure
  • On-Premises
  • AWS

The reason that this is true is because although the service that is being leveraged may be sitting in Azure, the interaction with that service is managed through an agent/extension that is installed on the VM and the only requirements for the agent/extension is that the VM has one of the supported OS’s installed on it. By going down this path, you have the ability to really move into the Cloud at your own pace while continuing to leverage all of the same services to manage and maintain both types of infrastructure.

With all of this as a backdrop, lets talk about each of the individual services and explain the value that you get from using them.

Services – Backup

This service is the easiest one to discuss as it is a primary requirement for every VM no matter what its function. Azure Backup provides a Backup/Restore function by either allowing for a VM “snapshot” or Files/Folders level Backup within a VM no matter which OS is installed. This is all controlled through the centralized & shared Azure Backup Service where the majority of the work to handle job scheduling, data storage, retention policies, as well as backup/restore level logic (what should be backed up and what shouldn’t, etc.) is handled.

Backup Schedule & Retention

NOTE: Not everything with respect to the Azure Backup service can be controlled or managed through the Azure Portal as shown above. If you need your VMs to be configured for File/Folder level backups, then you will need to login to the VMs manually and specify exactly which Files and/or Folders should be managed by the Azure Backup service by configuring the Azure Backup agent that is installed on the VM.

By delivering a centralized service that handles almost all of the processing required to provide the required functionality, there is a huge reduction in load on the VM itself in comparison to most on-premises level Backup/Restore services, such as Acronis, Symantec, or Backup Assist. This allows for jobs to run on the VM throughout any time of the day without the process affecting the performance of the VM. How is this exactly accomplished, you might ask. Here is a typical workflow for when a VM based Backup is actually being processed and where the processing is actually occurring.

  1. Based on Job Start Time, Azure Backup Service sends request to each VM registered within the Policy
  2. VM sends a list of all items within its connected drives (File Names, Date Last Modified, File Sizes, etc.)
  3. Azure Backup Service does a comparison between recent list with list from the last successful Backup
  4. Azure Backup Service sends request to VM for only files/folders that have changed within each drive based on last successful Backup
  5. VM sends each file that was requested to Azure Backup Service
  6. Azure Backup Service stores all updated Files/Folders along with updated meta-data list along side of all other incremental backups

As you can see, the VM has a much smaller role in the Backup/Restore process when using the Azure Backup service which means that the process itself can pretty much happen at any time of the day without fear that it will adversely affect the VM. This also does mean, that Backup Jobs as a whole do tend to take longer as there is no longer a requirement for them to be completed within short time windows.

For a more detailed understanding of everything that makes up the Azure Backup service, please see the following documentation on the Azure website: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/services/backup/

Finally

There are still three more services to talk about, but I have a propensity to get a little long winded, so I am going to stop here and will continue this discussion in future posts. In my next post, I will focus on the Site Recovery and Automation Services and then my last post will focus on the Log Analytics Service, which is definitely my favorite to talk about and demonstrate.

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