Backup to the cloud using Windows Azure Backup

One of the use cases of cloud computing Infrastructure as a Service is data recovery. IaaS service models have unlimited compute and storage capacity without upfront investments. More and more vendors are adding support for backup to the cloud. Some examples are Microsoft who acquired StorSimple. Storsimple is a hardware appliance which offers local storage and a gateway to various cloud storage providers. Veeam Backup & Replication Cloud Edition offers the same kind of functionality delivered in software.

Windows Azure has a preview feature named Azure Backup  which offers an unlimited storage capacity for backup purposes. This post will give some insights in this feature and how to connect to it.

azure-backup

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Citrix CloudBridge connects private cloud with Windows Azure

Citrix released at February 15 a technical preview of a new product named Citrix CloudBridge. The product, available as a hardware or software appliance can be used to connect enterprise datacenters to cloud infrastructures like Microsoft Windows Azure.

With the help of this kind of solutions the hybrid cloud becomes reality.

This technology preview offers standard based secure connectivity to Microsoft Azure. With this enhancement, a customer can  connect their enterprise data center to the Azure VPN gateway and access the IaaS and PaaS offerings from Microsoft.Citrix-cloudbridge-for-azure

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Windows Azure Virtual Machines is now general available

At April 16 Microsoft announced that  Windows Azure Virtual Machines is general available (GA). This means the service is fully supported by Microsoft and can be used for production purposes. The service was in preview mode since June 2012.

Azure Virtual Machines is an Infrastructure as a Service service model. That means the consumer of the service is responsible for managing the operating system and all software running on that operating system. So far Windows Azure was a Platform as a Service only  service model.  Developers could use the platform to create and execute applications using a fixed set of tooling like SharePoint, SQL server or .NET. If the preferred tool was not made available by Microsoft it could not be used. The consumer was not responsible for managing the operating system.

That changes with Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Customers can now create a guest VM running a selected number of supported operating systems. Now they can run any application they want on that virtual machine. Besides provisioning using an Azure  management portal, virtual machines can also be provisioned using System Center Orchestrator, using PowerShell and using System Center App Controller. Also VHD (VHDX not supported on Azure) virtual disks can be created on-premises on Hyper-V and then uploaded to Azure.

Also via the VM Depot many images are available of Linux distributions preloaded with a lot of different applications. Just a few examples are Drupal, Joomla!, Ruby Stack and WordPress.

To learn more about Azure Infrastructure Services see this short video.

Since the general availability of Windows Azure Virtual Machines some things are improved compared to the Preview:

1. Two additional sizes for virtual machines are added. Available now are 7 sizes including two Monster VM’s. Those 2 monster VM’s have 4 or 8 cores and 28 GB or 56 GB of internal memory.
2. Additional images are available. Images (or templates) contain a pre-installed operating system and software like SQL Server or SharePoint. Supported operating systems are Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2012, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Openlogic CentOS

3. Costs for some of the Azure services are reduced with 21 to 30 percent.

azure-virtual-machines-sizes

Microsoft today also announced they will follow price reductions of Amazon. So when Amazon lowers prices, Microsoft immediately will do so too.

What not has changed is the availability in the SLA. The SLA states that Microsoft agrees to deliver connectivity to the virtual machine  during 99,95% of the billing month. To meet the SLA the customer needs to have at least 2  instances of a virtual machine running which are part of the same availability set.

Suppose a customer want to runs a legacy application which does not have availability features in the application and does not support clustering. The VM the application is running on  is a single point of failure. When the virtual machine goes down (Microsoft performing scheduled maintenance on Azure involving downtime for the host, host hardware issues, networking issues) Microsoft does not violate the SLA even when 99,95% is not reached. Simply because there is no SLA for a single instance virtual machine.

An Azure Availability set ensures that virtual machines instances are not running in the same fault domain. A fault domain is the same host or the same rack. An availability set makes sure members (virtual machines) of that group never run on the same single point of failure. It is the same as anti-affinity rules in Hyper-V/SCVMM or vCenter Server.

Much more on Azure availability sets can be read here in a post titled Windows Azure Host Updates: Why, When, and How

Azure-availability-set

The Service Level Agreement for virtual machines can be downloaded here.

  1. “Maximum Connectivity Minutes” is the total accumulated minutes during a billing month for all Internet facing Virtual Machines that have two or more instances deployed in the same Availability Set.  Maximum Connectivity Minutes is measured from when at least two Virtual Machines in the same Availability Set have both been started resultant from action initiated by Customer to the time Customer has initiated an action that would result in stopping or deleting the Virtual Machines.

Below a nice infographic of Windows Azure. The full version can be seen here at dotnetsolutions.co.uk

azure-virtual-machines-infographic

Test drive the Windows Cloud OS for free

Microsoft has as strong focus on the hybrid cloud: a mixture of public and private cloud infrastructures. The vision is delivered by solutions like Windows Azure, Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 SP1.

Azure and Windows Server 2012 bring in the hypervisor part, System Center 2012 sP1 the management of virtual machines running on one or both hypervisors. These solutions provide customers with one consistent platform for infrastructure, apps, and data – spanning customer datacenters, hosting service provider datacenters, and the Microsoft public cloud.

To enable a consistent user interface for the self service portal when Windows Server 2012 is used, the Azure Services for Windows Server are used. This has a Service Management Portal and Service Management API which turns a cloud based on Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V into the Azure look and feel and API-connectivity.

azure-screen01-big

Microsoft has a blog published in January 2013 explaining what Cloud OS exactly is.

Amsio, managed hosting provider, lauched the first  private cloud in Europe based on Microsoft Windows Cloud OS at February 6 2013. Amsio offers a free three month trial of this private cloud. Included is the use of two full virtual private servers running Linux or Windows and 100 GB of high performance storage.

Register for the trial at http://testthecloud.nl/Index.aspx

Windows Azure integration with Microsoft System Center and private cloud

Microsoft has a strong focus on cloud computing. Lots of innovation on Microsoft’s public cloud platform Azure is developed. For private cloud Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V combined with System Center 2012 offers lots of capabilities.

One of Microsoft strategies on cloud computing is a strong believe that initially a hybrid cloud will be used by organizations. Hybrid cloud computing means some services are consumed on a private cloud (or hosted platform) and some services are running in a public cloud.

With System Center 2012 Service Pack 1 (SC2o12 SP1) a lot of integration between private (Windows Server 2012) and public cloud (Azure) will be possible.

Microsoft names this Cloud OS, an integration between Azure and Windows Server 2012 and adding System Center 2012 for its automation, orchestration and management capabilities. The cloud OS would end up integrated across a company’s datacenter (on-premises), a service provider’s datacenter and the Windows Azure public cloud.

To connect private and public clouds Microsoft has several solutions available, either in beta or general available. This posting will give an overview of solutions.

  • System Center App Controller
    This software component of System Center 2012 enables management of virtual machines running in your Microsoft private cloud and Azure from a single console. Added in System Center 2012 SP1 is the ability to  integrate and manage VMs running on a wide range of  cloud service providers. VHD files can be uploaded to Azure. It is not yet possible to Live Migrate a VM from on-premises to Azure.
  • Windows Azure Services for Windows Server
    This software which is currently in preview allows Service Providers to deliver Azure services on a Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V platform. Windows Azure Services for Windows Servers brings the Azure Management Portal interface to Windows Server 2012. Providers will be able to provide initially two Azure capabilities: high density Web Sites as well as Virtual Machine provisioning and management, also known as “Infrastructure as a Service” (IaaS).
    Read more here . Instructions on how to setup the software at hyper-v.nu
  • Global Service Monitor
  • Configuration Manager 2012 SP1 – Cloud Distribution Point
  • High Performance Compute Pack for Windows
  • Orchestrator Windows Azure Integration Pack
  • System Center Monitoring Pack for Windows Azure Application
  • Data Protection Manager cloud-based backup

Continue below for a more detailed description of the mentioned solutions.

 

Orchestrator Windows Azure Integration Pack
This software enables System Center Orchestrator to perform certain action on Azure like creating virtual machines, perform tasks on Azure storage.

The Integration Pack includes the following activities:

  • Azure Certificates– the Azure Certificates activity is used in a runbook to add, delete, and list management and service certificates
  • Azure Deployments– the Azure Deployments activity is used in a runbook to create, delete, get, and swap deployments, change deployment configurations, update deployment statuses, rollback an update or upgrade, get and change deployment operating systems, upgrade deployments, walk upgrade domains, and reboot and reimage role instances
  • Azure Cloud Services– the Azure Cloud Services activity is used in a runbook to create, delete, and get cloud services, check cloud service name availability, and create affinity groups
  • Azure Storage– The Azure Storage activity is used in a runbook to create, delete, update, and list storage accounts, get storage account properties, get and regenerate storage account keys, create, list, and delete containers, and put, copy, delete, list, snapshot, and download blobs
  • Azure Virtual Machine Disks– the Azure Virtual Machine Disks activity is used in a runbook to add, delete, update, and list virtual machine disks and virtual machine data disks
  • Azure Virtual Machine Images– the Azure Virtual Machine Images activity is used in a runbook to add, delete, update, and list virtual machine operating system images
  • Azure Virtual Machines– the Azure Virtual Machines activity is used in a runbook to create virtual machine deployments, download virtual machine remote desktop files, as well as get, delete, start, restart, shutdown, capture, and update virtual machine roles

The integration pack is currently in Beta. More information here.

Configuration Manager 2012 SP1 – Cloud Distribution Point
Configuration Manager (ConfigMgr) 2012 SP1 offers the ability to deploy and use Distribution Points in a Public Cloud environment; I am talking about Windows Azure. If you owned an Azure subscription or if you get one, then thanks to the SP1 upgrade,
ConfigMgr is able to utilize a standard Distribution Point provisioned inside the Microsoft Windows Azure Cloud Computing space. ConfigMgr clients can use the Cloud Distribution Point (CDP) just as if they were using a standard Distribution Point.

The CDP adds a new way to rapidly provision DPs, especially in situation you do not have the ability to scale out the current environment or can’t provide new server workloads. CDPs also allow you to service internet-clients without having to set up an internet facing ConfigMgr server role.
Read more here.

High Performance Compute Pack
The Microsoft HPC Pack 2012 (a free download that will be available from the Microsoft Download Center later this year) makes it very easy to manage compute resources and schedule your jobs in Windows Azure. You take the proven cluster management tool from Windows Server, connect it to Windows Azure, and then let it do the work. All you need to get started is a Windows Azure account. A set-up wizard takes care of the preparation, and the job scheduler runs your computations.
More information here.

System Center Monitoring Pack for Windows Azure Application
The Windows Azure Monitoring Management Pack enables you to monitor the availability and performance of applications that are running on Windows Azure. Download here. The software is targeting SCOM 2007 but it works with the 2012 release. Information on installing the software here. and here

Global Service Monitor
Global Service Monitor is an Azure-based service that extends SCOM 2012 capabilities into the cloud. It allows you to schedule synthetic transactions from geo-distributed locations to monitor availability, performance and reliability
of your externally facing web applications.

You can think of Global Service Monitor as providing “agents in the cloud” (managed by Microsoft) that you can use to test your applications. These agents return the same kind of data to your Management Group as your on-premise agents, i.e. alerts, performance data and state data, and you can use this data in the same way in notifications, reports, views etc.

GSM extends the application monitoring capabilities in System Center 2012 SP1 using Windows Azure points of presence around the globe, giving a true reflection of end-user experience of your application. Synthetic transactions are defined and scheduled using your on-premises System Center 2012 SP1 Operations Manager console; the GSM service executes the transactions against your web-facing application and GSM reports back the results (availability, performance, functionality) to your on-premises System Center dashboard. You can integrate this perspective with other monitoring data from the same application, taking action as soon as any issues are detected in order to achieve your SLA. To evaluate System Center 2012 SP1 with GSM, sign up for a customer preview of GSM.
More information here.

Data Protection Manager cloud-based backup
With the System Center 2012 SP1 release, the Data Protection Manager (DPM) component enables cloud-based backup of datacenter server data to Windows Azure storage.  System Center 2012 SP1 administrators use the downloadable Windows Azure Online Backup agent to leverage their existing protection, recovery and monitoring workflows to seamlessly integrate cloud-based backups alongside their disk/tape based backups. DPM’s short term, local backup continues to offer quicker disk–based point recoveries when business demands it, while the Windows Azure backup provides the peace of mind & reduction in TCO that comes with offsite backups. In addition to files and folders, DPM also enables Virtual Machine backups to be stored in the cloud.

Future integration:
DPM with Azure using Storesimple devices. Microsoft took over StoreSimple. This device can integrate local storage with cloud storage provide by services like Azure but also other cloud storage vendors.
Read more on Windows Azure online backup here.

A look into Microsoft Windows Azure datacenters

Microsoft Windows Azure is hosted in 8 datacenters located at different locations worldwide. Those locations are:

US North Central – Chicago, IL
US South Central – San Antonio, TX
West Europe – Amsterdam
North Europe – Dublin
East Asia – Hong Kong
South-East Asia – Singapore

Each datacenter is paired with a datacenter in the same regio. Data is asynchronous copied between the pairs. 13 new datacenters are under construction at the moment.

Microsoft has spent $2.5bn on its six Azure data centres.

Azure is using rackmounted servers. Servers are placed in racks. A set of of racks are placed in a container with cooling. Each container unit contains around 2500 servers and a whole datacentre has 360,000 servers.

Azure Data Center Container

The datacenters are heavily automated. There are just 12 staff members working in 3 shifts per 24 hour:  9 armed security guards and 3 administrators.

In total Azure consists of 100,000’s of servers. The capacity is expected to overdouble in the next year to 1.5. Microsoft was surprised by the demand for Azure. Deployments of servers are done 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days per year.

Most of the code running on the servers is C++ which will be converted to C# in the future. The fabric controller software is written in C# (c-sharp)

Windows Azure Network Operations  is the department which monitors the Azure platform. One is located in India and the other is located at the Microsoft campus in Seattle. Two persons in the Network Operations center monitors all the Azure servers worldwide.

Here’s a 10 min video from Microsoft describing the ‘Microsoft Cloud’ and the Windows Azure data centers – with emphasis on their modular approach, energy efficiency, and sustainability.

This video shows one of the containers having Dell servers. Video was tapes in 2009. Here is another, 15 minutes video showing a Guided Tour inside the Windows Azure Cloud with Patrick Yantz

Thanks Mark Wilson for some of the information.

Is Windows Azure Virtual Machines (WAVM) a true IaaS plattform? Microsoft drops SLA on single role instances.

Microsoft introduced a new service on Windows Azure named Virtual Machines. Using this service also advertised as  feature, Windows Azure customers are able  to manage and are resposible for  the operating system. Virtual Machines allows a deployment of a virtual machine using a cataloge or upload a self made VHD file.
This enables developers to run applications on their platform of choice. The PaaS platform which Microsoft offers on Azure does not have a choice of the operating system running underneath the development tools.

Microsoft Azure Virtual  Machines is currently running in a Preview version. This can be compared to a Beta status. At the annoucement of the Virtual Machines feature back in June 2012 Microsoft offered two SLA’s for availability of the virtual machines. 99.9 % for single role virtual machines and 99.95 % for multiple role instances.  A single role instance is a *single* VM presenting an application. If the VM becomes unavailable (crash of guest, crash of host etc), the application becomes unavailable as well. A multiple role instance has at least two VMs offering the same application. A load balancer distributes application requests over the available VMs.

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Overview of Microsoft Windows Azure Virtual Machines

Microsoft has put the development of new services running on Windows Azure in a fast pace. Time to give some high level information on the latest Windows Azure feature  named Virtual Machines.

Windows Azure is run in Microsoft owned and operated datacenters located in several regions worldwide. At the time of writing there are no other Cloud Service Providers running this Azure service unlike the VMware vCloud Datacenter Provider program.

When using Azure features the cloud consumer will have a contract with Microsoft. Being an USA company this means data stored in Azure is subject to the Patriot Act.

China might be the first country in which Windows Azure is licensed to another provider. In this post at CRN.com is written that China provider 21Vianet will be offering Azure in China located datacenters. 21Vianet bills itself as the largest carrier-neutral Internet data center services provider in China. Microsoft Office365 will also be offered by 21Vianet.

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My first Windows Azure virtual machine

Microsoft recently launched a preview version of a new Azure cloud service named Windows Azure Virtual Machine (WAVM). This is an Infrastructure as a Service delivery model in which consumers can either provision a virtual machine from a catalogus or upload their own image in VHD format.

As Microsoft has a free trial for Azure I decided to start using Windows Azure Virtual Machines. This posting will report on my findings.

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