Thursday, July 13, 2017

‘Mobile First–Cloud First’ Strategy – How About System Center – 04 – SCDPM

Advice to the reader
This posting is part of a series of articles. In order to get a full grasp of it, I strongly advise you to start at the beginning of it.

Other postings in the same series:
01 – Kickoff
02 – SCCM
03 – SCOrch
05 – SCSM
06 – SCVMM
07 – SCOM

In the fourth posting of this series I’ll write about how System Center Data Protection Manager (SCDPM) relates to Microsoft’s Mobile First – Cloud First strategy. Even though it’s a bit ‘clouded’ it’s pretty sure SCDPM will move to the cloud, one way or the other. But before I go there, let’s take a few steps back and take a look at SCDPM itself.

From the very first day it saw the light SCDPM was different compared to other backup products. For instance, Microsoft positioned it as a RESTORE product, not a backup product. By this Microsoft meant to say that as a SCDPM admin you could easily restore any Microsoft based workload, like SQL, Exchange, SharePoint and so on, WITHOUT having any (deep) understanding of the products involved.

Even though SCDPM’s usability was limited to Microsoft workloads, it offered a solution to the ever growing amount of data to be backed up with a never growing backup window: continuous backup!

Therefore SCDPM offered something new, if only a refreshed approach to the backup challenges faced by many companies back then.

Unfortunately Microsoft dropped the ball on SCDPM some years later on, because further development of new functionalities and capabilities was stopped.  As such it was overtaken by many other backup vendors, delivering improved implementations of continuous backup and easiness of restore jobs.

On top of it all, SCDPM kept it’s focus on Microsoft based workloads. Only for a short period SCDPM was capable of backing up VMware based VMs (SCDPM 2012 R2 UR#11), to be abandoned when SCDPM 2016 went RTM. Sure, one of the reasons being that the VMware components required to be installed on the SCDPM server to support VMware backup isn’t yet supported on Windows server 2016. None the less, the result is the same: SCDPM covers Microsoft based workloads only.

Combined it has led to an ever shrinking market for SCDPM. With Microsoft’s strong focus on Azure it looks like SCDPM is going to the cloud, one way or the other.

SCDPM & Azure
Valid backup strategies are vital for any company, whether working on-premise, in the cloud or hybrid. Therefore Azure offers different backup services, which are potentially confusing. Even more confusing because the starting point for consuming Azure backup services is the same.

It all starts with creating a Recovery Services Vault which is an online storage entity in Azure used to hold data such as backup copies, recovery points and backup policies. From there one can configure the backup of Azure or on-premise based workloads.

When choosing to backup on-premise based workloads there are three options to choose from:

  1. When you’re already using SCDPM, you have to download and install the Microsoft Azure Recovery Services (MARS) Agent:
    The MARS Agent is installed on the SCDPM server. Now SCDPM will be extended from disk-2-disk backup to disk-2-disk-2-cloud backup. The on-premise backup will be used for short-term retention and Azure will be used for long-term retention.

  2. Of course, the MARS Agent can be used outside SCDPM as well, in which case you have to install and configure it separately on every server/workstation you want to protect. In bigger environments this creates enormous overhead.

    As such this approach should be avoided and is only viable in smaller environments where you have just a few on-premise laptops/workstations to protect and run everything else in the cloud (Azure/AWS).

  3. When you don’t use SCDPM, you have to download and install Microsoft Azure Backup Server (MABS) v2:

    MABS is actually a FREE and customized version of SCDPM with support for both disk-2-disk backup for local copies and disk-2-disk-2-cloud backup for long term retention. And contrary to SCDPM, MABS supports the backup of VMware based VMs!

    Of course, the moment you start using Azure for long term retention, you’ve to pay for the storage used by your backups. And the moment you restore from Azure to on-premise or to Azure in another region, you have to pay for the egress traffic.

    On top of it, MABS requires a live Azure subscription. The moment the subscription is deactivated, MABS will stop functioning.

When using a Recovery Services Vault to backup Azure based workloads you can only backup Azure VMs, which is an extension to an Azure VM. This will cover the whole VM and all related disks to that VM. The backup will run only once a day and a restore can only be done at disk level.

Azure Site Recovery
And no, this isn’t everything there is. Another option is Azure Site Recovery.

As Microsoft states: ‘… (it) ensures business continuity by keeping your apps running on VMs and physical servers available if a site goes down. Site Recovery replicates workloads running on VMs and physical servers so that they remain available in a secondary location if the primary site isn't available. It recovers workloads to the primary site when it's up and running again…’

Too many choices to choose from?
As you can see, Azure offers different backup services, aimed at different scenario’s. Also SCDPM can be used together with Azure backup, turning SCDPM into a hybrid solution.

And SCDPM can be installed on an Azure VM and the same goes for MABS, enabling you backup cloud based workloads running on Azure based VMs.

Even more options to choose from! To make it even more confusing, Azure is in an ever state of (r)evolution. What’s lacking today, is in preview tomorrow and next week in production. The same goes for Azure backup services and Site Recovery.

SCDPM is moving to the cloud. Or better, it has already arrived there. One way is using SCDPM in conjunction with the MARS Agent, another way is installing SCDPM on Azure based VMs. Or instead, using the revamped and customized free version of SCDPM, branded MABS. Which can be installed on-premise or on Azure based VMs.

So there are choices to be made. The right choice depends much on the type of workloads your company is running, combined with the location (on-premise, cloud or hybrid) and the Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery (BCDR) strategy in place.

On top of it, the moment of your decision is also important. Simply because Azure backup services are just like Azure itself, changing and growing by the month. This Microsoft Azure document webpage might aid you in making the right decision.

But no matter what the future might bring, one thing is for sure: SCDPM as a local on-premise entity is transforming more and more into a cloud based solution. Of course, when running on-premise or hybrid workloads, there will be a hard requirement for a small on-premise footprint. But more and more the logic, storage and management of it all will move into the cloud.

On top of it all, many backup options will be integrated more and more into specific services. As a result there won’t be 100% coverage offered by SCDPM or the Azure based backup services. In other cases there won’t be a out-of-the-box backup solution available at all. As a result third parties will jump into that gap, created by Microsoft.

A ‘shiny’ example is the backup of Office 365. Lacking by default and not in Microsoft’s pipeline, Veeam jumped into that gap by offering a solution made by them.

So at the end, the technical solution to your company’s BCDR strategy might turn into a hard to manage landscape of different point solutions instead of the ultimate Set & Forget single backup solution…

Coming up next
In the fifth posting of this series I’ll write about SCSM (System Center Service Manager). See you all next time.

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