Restore an Azure Virtual Machine’s Hard Disks

In this post, I’ll show you how to restore just the disks of an Azure virtual machine. This is useful if you want to restore a virtual machine to an availability set, or restore it as a different series/size.

Restoring to Availability Sets

For some reason that I do not know, we cannot restore a virtual machine to an availability set in Azure. It probably has something to do with the restriction in ARM that prevents a VM from being able to join an availability set after creation (vote for change here).

As a workaround, Azure Backup allows you to restore the disks, and then use those disks to create a new virtual machine (metadata) that is joined to the availability set. On the official docs pages, there is some pretty messy looking PowerShell to re-create the VM from those disks.

Thanks to some features of Managed Disks, if you have used managed disks for the VM, then you don’t need to go anywhere near that nasty PowerShell or JSON! I’ll post about that soon.

Restoring Disks

Browse to to the recovery services vault, open it, go to Backup Items > Azure Virtual Machine, and select the VM in question. Below is a screenshot of my web server in Azure. Click Restore VM.

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A blade with recovery points appears. Choose a restore point, i.e. a point in time from when you want to restore from, and click OK.

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The Restore Configuration blade appears. Choose Restore Disks as the Restore Type, and choose a storage account as the Staging Location. Click OK to start the backup job.

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Some time later, the disk(s) of the virtual machine are restored as blobs in a container in the storage account. You’ll also find a JSON file with details of the disk(s) that were restored.

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By the way, if you cannot tell which of the VHD blobs is your OS disk, download the JSON file and open it in Notepad (VS Code refuses to open it for me). The “osDisk” setting will tell you the path of the VHD blob that was the original data disk.

Microsoft’s solution would have you restore the virtual machine using PowerShell and that JSON file. I’ve read through it – it’s not pretty! My solution, in a later post, would create managed disks from the VHD blob(s), and then create a VM from the OS disk … and that’s nice and easy using the Azure Portal and a few mouse clicks.

Azure Backup Central Reporting – Pay Attention MS Partners!

Microsoft has launched a preview of Azure Backup Reporting; this is a solution where you can export backup data to Power BI, and this allows you to consume, visualize, and subscribe to information about backup from many recovery services vaults in many subscriptions.

The way the system works is that you configure the recovery services vault to export data regularly to a storage account (must be in the same tenant as the recovery services vault).

Configure storage account step 3

You then sign into Power BI (a free subscription can be used but this is limited to 1 GB of data) and import the Azure Backup content pack.

Import content pack

Data is exported as JSON files into a folder (container) in the storage account, and Power BI will consume/process that data. The timing of this varies on the data, but Microsoft advises that it can take 24 hours for your first data sets to be consumed.

Azure Backup Reports data push frequency

The default screens show lots of useful information:

  • Summary of job health
  • Cloud storage usage
  • Quantities of instances
  • Cloud storage growth trends

Azure Backup dashboard

While the solution is not perfect yet (read more and vote here) it can be used today. Note that DPM, MABS, and Azure VM backup are not supported yet by the preview. I have set up 3 demo subscriptions (each in a different tenant as is normal for deployments by MS partners), each with a MARS backup job. I imported the Azure Backup content pack 3 times, 1 for each tenant. I made a custom report for each subscription and pinned them to a single dashboard. Now I can see the results of each and every backup job in one screen. I can also create daily/weekly email subscriptions to each report – that means I can send out these reports to my customers!

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I can also publish the reports either to a web site or a private SharePoint (including Online) site – here’s an example that I did for work.

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The end result is that we finally have a centralized reporting solution for Azure Backup. With one quick scroll, I can easily see the health of all of my customers’ backups.

Microsoft Azure Backup Server v2 Launched

Microsoft has launched version 2 of MABS, the Microsoft Azure Backup Server v2, with support for Windows Server 2016 and vSphere 6.5.

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So far we’ve had 2 versions (v1 and v1 update 1) of MABS, the freely licensed (but your pay Azure Backup pricing) slightly modified version of System Center Data Protection Manager. MABS v1 was based on DPM 2012 R2, and MABS v2 is based on DPM 2016, with the cool features of DPM 2016:

  • Modern Storage, which improves performance and reduces consumption by leveraging ReFS Block Cloning, VHDX, and Deduplication.
  • Improves Hyper-V backup, by supporting WS2016 hosts and by using the built-in (WS2016 Hyper-V) Resilient Change Tracking (RCT) for incremental backups without 3rd party software being placed into the kernal of the host’s management OS.
  • Support for Shielded Virtual Machines, the ultra-secure platform on WS2016 Hyper-V.
  • Support for Storage Spaces Direct (S2D).
  • The ability to install MABS v2 on WS2016.

MABS v1 Update 1 added support for VMware vCenter & ESXi 5.5 and 6.0. MABS v2 adds vCenter & ESXi 6.5 to the list. Note that if you install MABS v2 on WS2016 then VMware protection will be in preview mode, while we wait for VMware to release support for VDDK 6.5 for WS2016. You can learn more on from this video.

You can download MABS v2 from here or from a recovery services vault in the Azure Portal.

The supported backup server configuration is:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2016
  • Processor: Minimum: 1 GHz, dual-core CPU. Recommended: 2.33 GHz quad-core CPU
  • RAM: Minimum: 4GB. Recommended: 8GB
  • Hard Drive Space (program files): Minimum: 3GB, Recommended: 3GB
  • Disks for backup storage pool: 1.5 times size of data to be protected

Microsoft Azure Backup MARS Agent Supports System State

Microsoft has announced that the Azure Backup MARS agent will support the protection of System State on Windows Server. This is a preview release.

I started talking about Azure Backup 3 years ago, and one of the “we’re not doing it” questions was “does it backup system state”. The answer was no. Azure Backup listened and now you can backup your system state to Azure using the MARS agent.

Scenarios discussed by the Azure Backup team include Active Directory, file server configurations, and IIS server configurations, where restoring files & folders is not enough; the metadata that makes those files & folders useful is stored in System State so the ability to restore that meta data is also important.

Supported versions of Windows Server in this preview release are:

  • W2008 R2
  • WS2012
  • WS2012 R2
  • Windows Server 2016

Do you want support for Windows Server 2003? Let me sell you some Ace of Base and Vanilla Ice cassettes!

This is good news, a part of the continuous improvement of Azure Backup driven by your feedback.

My Top 5 Features in System Center Data Protection Manager 2016

Microsoft’s System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) has undergone a huge period of transition over the past two years. Significant investments have been made in hybrid cloud backup solutions, and DPM 2016 brings many improvements to this on-premises backup solution that all kinds of enterprise customers need to consider. Here are my top 5 features in DPM 2016.

5: Upgrading a DPM production server to 2016 doesn’t require a reboot

Times have changed and Windows Server & System Center won’t be released every 3-5 years anymore. Microsoft recognizes that customers want to upgrade, but fear the complexity and downtime that upgrades often introduce. Upgrading DPM servers and agents to 2016 will not cause production hosts to reboot.

4: Continued protection during cluster aware updates

The theme of continued protection during upgrades without introducing downtime continues. I’ve worked in the hosting business where every second of downtime was calculated in Dollars and Euros. Cluster-aware updates allow Hyper-V clusters to get security updates and hotfixes without downtime to applications running in the virtual machines. DPM 2016 supports this orchestrated patching process, ensuring that your host clusters can continue to be stable and secure, and your valuable data is protected by backup.

3: Modern Backup Storage

Few people like tapes, first used with computers in 1951! And one of the big concerns about backup is the cost of storage. Few companies understand software-defined storage like Microsoft, leading the way with Azure and Windows Server. DPM 2016 joins the ranks by modernizing how disk storage is deployed for storing backups. ReFS 3.0 block cloning is used to store incremental backups, improving space utilization and performance. Other enhancements including growing/shrinking storage usage based on demand, instead of the expensive over-allocation of the past.

2: Support for Storage Spaces Direct

While we’re discussing modern storage, let’s talk about how DPM 2016 has support for Microsoft’s software-defined hyper-converged infrastructure solution, Storage Spaces Direct. In recent years, these two concepts, inspired by the cloud, have shaken up enterprise storage:

  • Software-defined storage: Customers have started to realize that SAN isn’t the best way to deploy fast, scalable, resilient, and cost-effective storage. Using commodity components, software can overcome the limitations of RAID and the expense of proprietary lock-in hardware.
  • Hyper-converged infrastructure: Imagine a virtualization deployment where there is one tier of hardware; storage and compute are merged together using the power of software and hardware offloads (such as SMD Direct/RDMA), and turn cluster deployments into a simpler and faster process.

Windows Server 2016 took lessons from the previous two versions of Storage Spaces, Azure, and the storage industry and made hyper-converged infrastructure a feature of Windows Server. This means that you can deploy an extremely fast (NVMe, SSD, and HDD disks with 10 Gbps or faster networking) storage that is cost effective, using 1U or 2U servers, and with no need for a SAN, external SAS hardware, or any of those other complications. DPM 2016 supports this revolutionary architecture, ensuring the protection of your data on the Microsoft on-premises cloud.

1: Built for the Cloud

I’ve already discussed the cost of storage, but that cost is doubled or more once we start to talk about off-site storage of backups or online-backup solutions. While many virtualization-era backup products are caught up on local backup bells and whistles, Microsoft has transformed backup for the cloud.

Combined with Azure Backup, DPM 2016 gives customers a unique option. You get enterprise-class backup that protects workloads on cost effective (Modern Backup Storage) storage for on-premises short term retention. Adding the very affordable Azure Backup provides you with a few benefits, including:

  • A secondary site, safeguarding your backups from localized issues.
  • Cost effective long-term retention for up to 99 years.
  • Encrypted “trust no-one” storage with security mechanisms to protect you against ransom-ware and deliberate attacks against your backups.

In my opinion, if you are not using DPM, or have not looked at it in the past two years, then I think it’s time to re-evaluate this product.

 

Seeding Azure Backup Using Secure Disk Transfer

Microsoft’s online backup service, Azure Backup, was recently updated to greatly improve how the first big backup is done to the cloud. These improvements impacted the Azure Backup MARS agent, Microsoft Azure Backup Server, and System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM). I recently recorded a short video to explain the problem, the soluition, and I show how you can use it – the process is the same across each of the 3 products.

 

 

Podcast – Talking Azure Backup with MVP Carsten Rachfahl

I had the pleasure of recording a podcast with my CDM (Hyper-V) MVP colleague and friend, Carsten Rachfahl, a few weeks ago. We talked about a few things, but the focus of the talk was cloud or hybrid backups using Azure Backup. You can watch the recording here.

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How To Get DPM/Azure Backup Server To Use USB Drive As Backup Storage

If you are running a demo or test lab, and you need some additional economical storage for backups, then you might think “I’ll use a USB drive”. However, DPM (and therefore Azure Backup Server) do not support adding a disk on a USB controller as a backup target. I struggled with this, and then it hit me this morning.

Storage Spaces will abstract that the disk is connected via USB Smile

I connected the disk, made sure it was unformatted and offline, launched Server Manger and created a pool from the primordial pool. I then create a simple virtual disk from the pool, and chose not to format it. Back into Azure Backup Server, and I was able to add the disk as a backup target.

Installing Azure Backup Server (DPM) Agent Leads To 0x80990a2b Error

This post explains how to solve an issue where installing the Azure Backup Server or DPM agent to a machine fails with a 0x80990a2b error.

I was asked to deploy Azure Backup to backup content on PCs in the office (organized admins –> that’s another story). I decided to test with my Windows 10 PC. I logged onto our Azure Backup server, and used the GUI to deploy the agent and it failed:

Install protection agent on <Machine Name> failed:

Error 347: An error occurred when the agent operation attempted to create the DPM Agent Coordinator service on <Machine Name>.

Error details: Unknown error (0x80990a2b)

Recommended action: Verify that the Agent Coordinator service on <Machine Name> is responding, if it is present. Review the error details, take the appropriate action, and then retry the agent operation.

I searched my services for something called DPM Agent Coordinator and found nothing. The DPM community is full of stories about Windows Firewall causing issues – I tried to disable it but it made no difference. And the 0x80990a2b error wasn’t appearing in my search results.

Next I decided to try a manual installation on my PC. That failed with the same error, but this time there was a clue:

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There is a log file for the installation. I opened the log and started reading. There was the error about not being able to initialize something called an AC (Agent Coordinator). I was getting frustrated but kept reading.

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Ah!

WARNING    Failed: Hr: = [0x80990a2b] : MARS agent found. Cannot install Microsoft Azure Backup Agent

Now was exactly when I remembered that I had been backing up my OneDrive using the Azure Backup MARS agent. I remove the agent, cleaned up the backup, and re-ran the original agent deployment from the Azure Backup Server GUI. The agent installed perfectly and was added to the protection group.

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