In this post I want to share with you my early experience with using Microsoft Azure Backup Server (MABS) in production. I rolled it out a few weeks ago, and it’s been backing up our new Hyper-V cluster for 8 days. Lots of people are curious, so I figured I’d share information about the quality of the experience, and the amount of storage that is being used in the Azure backup vault.
What is Azure Backup Server?
Microsoft released the free (did I say free?) Microsoft Azure Backup Server last year to zero acclaim. The reason why is for another day, but the real story here is that MABS is:
- The latest version of DPM that does not require any licensing to be purchased.
- With the only differences being that it doesn’t do tape drives and it requires an Azure backup vault.
- It is designed for disk-disk-cloud backup.
- It supports Hyper-V, servers and PCs, SQL Server, SharePoint, and Exchange.
- It is free – no; you don’t have to give yellow-box-backup vendors from the 1990s any more money for their software that was always out of date, or those blue-box companies where the job engine rarely worked once you left the building.
The key here is disk-disk-cloud. You install MABS on an on-premises machine instead of the usual server backup product. It can be a VM or a physical machine, running Windows Server (Ideally WS2012 or later to get the bandwidth management stuff).
MABS uses agents to backup your workloads to the MABS server. The backup data is kept for a short time (5 days by default) locally on disk. That disk that is used for backup must be 1.5 x the size of the data being protected … don’t be scared because RAID5 SATA or Storage Spaces parity is cheap. The disk system must appear in Disk Management on the MABS machine.
As I said, backup data is kept for a short while locally on premises. The protection policy is configured to forward data to Azure for long-term protection. By default it’ll keep 180 daily backups, a bunch of weeklies and monthlies, and 10 yearly backups – that’s all easily customized.
All management (right now) is done on the MABS server. So you do have centralized management and reporting, and you can configure an SMTP server for email alerts.
And did I mention that MABS is free? All you’re paying for here is for Azure Backup:
- Block blob storage (LRS or GRS)
- Instance charges based on what you are protecting in the MABS protection policies
Please note that you do not need to buy OMS or System Center to use Azure Backup (in any of it’s forms), as some wing of Microsoft marketing is trying to incorrectly state.
Microsoft has documented the entire setup of MABS. It’s not in depth, but it’s enough to get going. The setup is easy:
- Create a backup vault in Azure
- Download the backup vault credentials
- Download MABS
- Install MABS and supply the backup vault credentials
The setup is super easy. It’s easy to configure the local backup storage and re-configure the Azure connection. And agents are easy to deploy. There’s not much more that I can say to be honest.
Create your protection groups:
- What you want to backup
- When you want recovery points created
- How long to keep stuff on-premises
- What to send to Azure
- How long to keep stuff in Azure
- How to do that first backup to Azure (network or disk/courier)
Other than one silly human error on my part on day 1, the setup of the machine was error-free. At work, we currently have 8 VMs on the new Hyper-V cluster (including 2 DCs) – more will be added.
All 8 VMs are backed up to the local disk. We create recovery points at 13:00 and 18:30, and retain 7 days of local backup. This means that I can quickly restore a lost VM across the LAN from either 13:00 or 18:30 over a span of 7 days.
The protection group forwards backup of 6 of the VMs to Azure – I excluded the DCs because we have 2 DCs running permanently in Azure via a site-site VPN (for Azure AD Connect and for future DR rollout plans).
Other than that day 1 error, everything has been easy – there’s that word again. Admittedly, we have way more bandwidth than most SMEs because we’re in the same general area as the Azure North Europe region, SunGard, and the new Google data centre.
The 8 VMs that are being protected by MABS are made up of 839 GB of VHDX files. We have 7 days of short term (local disk) retention and we’ve had 8 days of protection. Our MABS server is using 1,492.42 GB of storage. Yes, that is more than 1.5x but that is because we modified the default short-term retention policy (from 5 to 7 days) and we are creating 2 recovery points per day instead of the default of 1.
We use long-term retention (Azure backup vault) for 6 of those VMs. Those VMs are made up of 716.5 GB of VHDX files. Our Azure backup vault (GRS) currently is sitting at 344.81 GB after 8 days of retention. It’s growing at around 8 GB per day. I estimate that we’ll have 521 GB of used storage in Azure after 30 days.
How Much Is This Costing?
I can push the sales & marketing line by saying MABS is free (I did say this already?). But obviously I’m doing disk-disk-cloud backup and there’s a cost to the cloud element.
I’ve averaged out the instance sizes and here are the instance charges per month:
GRS Block Block costs $0.048 per GB per month for the first terabyte. We will have an estimate 521 GB at the end of the month so that will cost us (worst case, because you’re billed on a daily basis and we only have 344 GB today) $25.
So this month, our backup software , which includes both traditional disk-disk on-premises backup and online backup for long-term retention, will cost us $25 + $60, for a relatively small $85.
The math is easy, just like setting up and using MABS.
What About Other Backup Products?
There are some awesome backup solutions out there – I am talking about born-in-virtualization products … and not the ones designed for tape backup 20 years ago that some of you buy because that’s what you’ve always bought. Some of the great products even advertise on this site They have their own approaches and unique selling points, which I have to applaud, and I encourage you to give their sites a visit and test their free trials. So you have choices – and that is a very good thing.