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The Essential Guide: Azure Backup and Disaster Recovery

Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions allow for the implementation of BCDR (business continuity and disaster recovery) plans in an unparalleled manner. See how they help businesses ensure continuity during outages and backup retention in case of system failures.

Organisational data and applications are of paramount importance to business continuity.  Therefore, businesses must emphasise developing data backup and disaster recovery strategies to tackle the aftermath of an outage. Implementing such strategies allows businesses to secure their data, application, and workloads. 

In addition, implementing these strategies also allows businesses to seamlessly continue their operations during any planned or unplanned outages. In the current business environment, most organisations often opt for cloud-based solutions to ensure business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR).

However, finding BCDR solutions that meet organisational requirements can be challenging for businesses. To avoid such challenges, businesses must consider various factors influencing back and disaster recovery practices. Some of these factors include the impact of application downtime on business continuity and automation of the failover process. 

Compared to all others, Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions remain the most preferred option among organisations. Some of Azure’s many disaster recovery options include virtual machines (VM), databases, storage, and containers. 

Feel free to contact our Microsoft Azure Consultants for expert advice on which Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions are the best options for your business. 

Understanding Azure Backup and Disaster Recovery 

Ensuring data security and backup is of paramount concern to organisational leaders worldwide. Businesses can use Azure backup and disaster recovery options to ensure that such concerns are adhered to. 

Azure Backup enables businesses to create and store data backups using different agents. Using the service organisation can create different types of backups and ensure the level of access for each. In addition, organisations can use Azure Site Recovery to ensure business continuity after failovers and during outages. 

What Is Azure Backup?

Azure Backup is a service that allows organisations to create and then store data backups to the Azure cloud. The scalability of the backup service allows it to be used for both on-premise servers and on VMs hosted by Azure. In addition, the service uses Azure AD as its default identity and access management service. This allows organisations to control employees’ access to these backups. 

Organisations must use different types of backup agents depending on the type of machine the service is needed for. Microsoft Azure Recovery Service (MARS) agents are used for on-premise servers, Azure VMs, and for the Microsoft Azure Backup Server. Whereas the Azure VM extension acts as an agent and ensures that data on Azure VMs are backed up to a vault. Using this service, organisations can create three types of backups:

  • Full – a backup type that contains the entire data source requires more network bandwidth than others. 
  • Differential – only stores the data blocks that have been changed since the initial back was created. It uses comparatively fewer amounts of storage and doesn’t keep any redundant copies of the data. 
  • Incremental – stores data blocks that have changed since the creation of the previous backup. It allows organisations to have greater storage options and network efficiency. 

What Is Azure Site Recovery?

Azure Site Recovery (ASR) is a Disaster Recovery as a service (DRaaS) solution that eliminates the need for any disaster recovery equipment. ASR can be implemented to on-premises Windows servers and on both cloud and hybrid-cloud architectures. Using an Azure backup and disaster recovery service such as ASR allows organisations to ensure business continuity and minimise downtime during outages. Additionally, it allows businesses to customise recovery plans as required. 

The service operates by creating automated replication processes which enable application-consistent snapshots. Such functionality allows organisations to ensure that the data is usable after a failover has occurred. In addition, it ensures that production workloads and end users are not affected in any way as the organisation tests the compliance of their disaster recovery plan. ASR emphasises the sequencing of multi-tier applications that operate on multiple VMs, drastically decreasing recovery issues.

Some of the many data recovery and migration scenarios the ASR can be used for include the replication of :

  • Windows or Linux VMs that operate on either VMware or Microsoft HyperV.
  • Windows VMs from AWS to Azure. 
  • Azure Stack or Azure hybrid-cloud VMs. 
  • Other on-premises and cloud-based servers to Azure. 

What Is Azure Archive Storage?

The Azure Archive Storage is the most cost-efficient storage option for blob storage. It allows organisations to categorise data into three tiers: hot, cold, and archive. Organisational data categorised in the hot tier is of frequent use or is active in the background. The cold tier is another great addition to Azure’s backup and disaster recovery possibilities. Data stored in this tier is not frequently used and can be used for short-term backups. 

In comparison to others, the archive tier is the most budget-friendly option and enables organisations to have greater data recovery possibilities. It is feasible for businesses to store sensitive information using 256-bit AES keys and HTTPS protocols for data security. The Azure Archive Storage can be implemented in various use cases that include: 

  • Long-Term Backup Retention – it stores data that is not frequently required and allows organisations to have storage capacity for productive uses. 
  • Policy Mandated Archiving – businesses can store data that must be kept due to legal requirements and company policies. Such information includes employee information, financial details, tax records, medical information etc.
  • Magnetic Tape Replacement is a more cost-effective and secure alternative to tape storage infrastructure and allows greater storage and management options. 

Azure Site Recovery Features & Benefits

Before choosing Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions, organisations must consider the features of ASR and the benefits they can avail of by using them. Some of these features include: 

1. VM Replication

Using ASR allows organisations to establish disaster recovery for Azure VMs from a primary region to a secondary region. In addition, organisations can replicate VMware VMs to Azure and avail enhanced security and resilience compared to configuration servers. Lastly, ASR can be used to replicate on-premise VMs, physical servers, and workloads that operate on supported VMs or servers. 

2. Easy Integration 

ASR can be seamlessly integrated with other BCDR technologies. This allows organisations to use this service for securing other BCDR aspects, such as the SQL Server. In addition, it can also integrate with network applications such as Azure Traffic Manager and Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). It comes with an automation library that is equipped that allows organisations to use downloadable application scripts for integration.

3. Resiliency and Testing 

It ensures that replication and testing operations occur without any interception of application data. This allows organisations to use the replications in cases of a failover or outage. It also ensures that disaster recovery drills can be conducted without hindering the ongoing replication. 

4. Failover Consistency and Flexibility 

This service uses application-consistent snapshot, which allows organisations to replicate using multiple recovery points. These snapshots acquire memory data, disk data, and transactions that are still in progress. Its replication flexibility and frequency eliminate data loss during planned failovers. Data loss during unexpected failovers is kept at a minimum.

Azure-to-Azure vs Physical-to-Azure 

There are several differences that organisations need to consider when choosing which Azure backup and disaster recovery approach is feasible for them. In an Azure-to-Azure approach, the service extension for Site Recovery Mobility is installed on the VMs. When the VM is registered with Site Recovery, the system begins continuous replication of the VM. 

Disk writes are instantly transferred to the Standard cache storage defined in the source location. Once the transfer is complete, ASR processes the cache data and sends it to managed disk or storage accounts. Upon completion, crash-recovery points and app-consistent recovery points defined in the replication policy are created. 

However, in a Physical-to-Azure approach, the Recovery Service Vault specifies various replication protocols. These protocols include source, destination, configuration server, and replication policy. Incremental changes to Azure service are copied once an initial copy of the server data has been replicated.  

When initiating a failover in an Azure-to-Azure approach VMs are created in the target regions. Such regions are based on virtual networks, subnets, replicated data, and predefined availability sets. Whereas in a Physical-to-Azure approach VMs and failover recovery points need to be selected. Failover recovery options in this approach include:
Latest – crash-consistent option that provides the lowest Recovery Point Objective (RPO).

  • Latest processed – provide the lowest Recovery Time Objective (RTO) by using the most updated version ready for failover. 
  • Latest app-consistent – use the latest app-consistent recovery point and ensure that data is not corrupted. 
  • Custom – allow the configuration of manual recovery points. 

These options are also available when a failback process is initiated. However, Azure VMs are shut down during a failback process data, and slight downtime is expected. In addition to these differences, both these approaches have architectural differences that govern their functionalities and capabilities. 

Architectural Components of Azure to Azure Backup and Disaster Recovery 

The Azure-to-Azure architecture is made of multiple components that include: 

  • Source Region VMs – multiple Azure VMs operating in the same region. 
  • VM storage – VMs are either managed or have unmanaged storage disks in various accounts.
  • VM Network – VMs can be placed in one or more virtual network subnets in the source region. 
  • Cache Storage Accounts – changes made to VMs are stored in the cache accounts before being sent to the target storage so that the impact on the production application is minimised. 
  • Target Resources – used during an outage or failover. Although these are configured by default, they can be created and customised. 

Architectural Components of Physical to Azure Backup and Disaster Recovery 

In comparison, the Physical-to-Azure architecture is based on:

  • Azure – the primary component of this architecture is an Azure subscription and network. It ensures that data replicated from physical and on-premise servers is replicated to a storage disk with an organisation’s subscription. 
  • Server Machine – this component requires organisations to have an on-premise server that operates as a VMware VM and can be deployed using downloadable OVF templates. It requires the server to run on all on-premise site and recover components that include:
    • Configuration server – used for managing data replication and communication between Azure and physical servers. 
    • Process server – installed by default on the configuration server and used for receiving replicated data and using caching, encryption, and compression to optimise it. 
    • Master target server – has a similar installation to the process server but is used for data replication during a failback from Azure. 

Best Practices for Azure Backup and Disaster Recovery

Microsoft Azure is one of the most competent platforms used for implementing backup and disaster recovery solutions. Organisations can use several Azure services to ensure that their BCDR is implemented as required. However, there are various factors that businesses must consider prior to implementing such solutions. 

When implementing Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions, organisations need to consider the scheduling and retention policies of backups. In addition, they need to consider how failover and failback processes impact both application downtime and business continuity. Understanding some of the best practices for such solutions can allow businesses to develop a disaster recovery (DR) plan that adheres to their requirements.

Best Practices for Data Backup 

When implementing Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions to ensure that organisational data is backed up in a secure environment. In addition, businesses also need to consider the frequency at which backups are created. 

To do this, organisations can use a combination of Azure Policy and Azure Backup. Doing so will allow them to have greater control over the scheduling and retention protocols. Some of the best practices for implementing backup scheduling include: 

  • Grouping VMs with similar frequency, retention, and schedule start time requirements.
  • Using varying time slots for creating VM backups to avoid overlaps when distributing VM backup traffic. 
  • Ensuring that backups are scheduled when production application usage is minimum. 

Best practices for implementing retention policies include:

  • Using short-term retention if compliance or operational requirements don’t dictate long-term storage. 
  • Pre-planning long-term retention for data that needs to be stored for a longer period. Such retention policies can be on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis. Such storage requirements can be dictated by organisational requirements or legal compliance regulations.
  • Using custom retention to create on-demand backups that were defined in an initial backup policy. This is a recommended retention option in cases where more than one VM back is required per day. 
  • Ensuring that a custom retention period is defined for each custom backup. 

Best Practice for Disaster Recovery

Organisations looking to implement Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions to ensure business continuity during outages can use Azure Site Recovery. The exact functionalities and requirements of the service may depend on the size of the business. 

However, ASR is a feasible and cost-efficient option for both SMEs and enterprise-level organisations. Some of the best practices to consider when using ASR as a disaster recovery option include:

  • Conducting failover and failback tests to help determine if the solution is a feasible option for your organisation. Such tests will help identify whether an application’s dependent services remain functional during the disaster recovery process. 
  • Examining possibilities of business continuity in case of a network outage. Such possibilities may include using applications with reduced functionalities or reducing application downtime by failing over to other regions. 
  • Making sure that all human resources, technologies, and processes required for continued functionality are defined within Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
  • Using the Monitor Logs feature of Azure Monitor to evaluate ASR health and status and to configure alerts. 

Disaster Recovery Plan with Azure Site Recovery

Having an understanding of disaster recovery and developing a plan is of paramount importance when implementing Azure back and disaster recovery solutions. Azure Backup and ASR are two of the most trusted BCDR solutions. However, there are several things that businesses need to consider when developing a DR plan for ASR. 

When developing a DR plan, businesses need to consider the impact application failure will have on business continuity. They also need to examine the availability of cross-region recovery options for mission-critical applications. To ensure an efficient BCDR implementation, organisations must ensure that most of the back and recovery processes are automated. 

In addition, businesses also need to perform disaster simulations and test back regulations processes. Doing so will help them gain key insight into the BCDR’s expected performance and will allow them to validate and update their DR plans accordingly. One of the most important things to include in a DR plan is the agreed-upon process of contacting support services. This will allow organisations to reduce downtime during initial recovery operations. 

Another major factor that needs to be considered when developing a DR plan is the process that will be followed in case of regional failures. Regional failures can occur due to unpredictable natural events and can drastically impact organisational operations. To avoid such a scenario, organisations must ensure that the BCDR solution they choose supports multiple availability zones as it increases resilience and ensures business continuity.

Conclusion 

Azure backup and disaster recovery solutions are the most cost-efficient options for businesses looking to implement DR strategies. Businesses can use Azure Backup to ensure that backups for organisational information are stored in a secure environment. Using Azure Backup allows organisations to have various retention options, such as short-term, long-term, and custom retention. 

In addition, organisations can also use ASR to ensure business continuity during an outage. Although the exact architecture of the service will vary based on the size of the business, it’s a highly recommended option for SMEs and enterprises. Get in touch today to learn more about how Azure Site Recovery can help you ensure business continuity.

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