UPDATE: Windows Server 8 Beta Has Online Backup Service

Microsoft late last month quietly rolled out an online backup service for use with its Windows Server 8 beta.

Not everyone can try out the new Microsoft Online Backup Service. It's currently offered in the United States only as free trial via the Microsoft Connect portal for those who qualify, although Microsoft indicated on Friday that many trial spots still are available. Users have to fill out an online survey form that asks about the number of servers, how those servers are used and the amount of data that typically gets backed up. It also appears that Microsoft is expecting testers to have high-bandwidth connections to participate. Update: Microsoft indicated by e-mail that "the service supports backing up over a relatively slow connection -- the minimum requirement is only of 512 Kbps (less than 1 Mbps)."

The online backup service seems to have flown somewhat under the radar. Its existence was pointed out last week by MVP Aidan Finn in a blog post. Microsoft's description of the service can be found in a white paper, which can be downloaded here. The service gets installed on the Windows Server 8 beta, allowing "file and folder backups to the cloud service." The user experience for this cloud-based backup service is described as being similar to the user experience found in the Windows Server backup feature. Testers have the option to use either the GUI or PowerShell.

Microsoft is getting testing data before making this online backup service available more broadly available, according to the white paper. However, it isn't clear how the service will be offered or when. The service actually is "built on Windows Azure," according to Microsoft (via clarification sent by e-mail). Microsoft's white paper explains that the Windows Server 8 beta is already preprovisioned to work with a Microsoft Online Services account, which is required to use the backup service.

Data get encrypted when using the online backup service, but Finn noted that users have to be careful to record the passphrase for data encryption because Microsoft doesn't store it. Users won't be able restore data if they lose that passphrase.

There are other restrictions with regard to the kind of data that gets backed up by the service. For instance, users can back up encrypted data and they can back up compressed data, but they can't back up encrypted and compressed data.

Finn noted that Microsoft's document omitted any description of "data de-duplication or compression before backup." Update: Microsoft clarified on this point via e-mail that "data is compressed on the server before it is transmitted to the service for backup. Only changed blocks are stored across different point[s] in times of the backup." Finn also noted that a description about backing up Hyper-V virtual machines isn't described in the document.

Some of the limitations of the backup service specified by Microsoft include the inability to do system-state backups. Furthermore, for the beta, the backup size is limited to 10 GB. Users of the beta are limited to performing just three backups per day. The service just works with the Windows Server 8 beta and does not work with other Windows releases.

The backup service has some system requirements. To test the service, a computing environment needs to have Windows PowerShell, Windows Identity Framework and Windows Live ID client authentication installed. Microsoft also suggests having about 1.5 GB of local cache storage available.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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Thu, May 3, 2012 Cathy Martin USA

Just read your post and would like to thank you for maintaining such a cool blog. Just like my friend Edward I am also a folder lock user and I was surprised when I came to know that it also offers free online backup with fast and secure encryption.

Fri, Mar 16, 2012 Kurt Mackie Irvine, CA

@Mohammed Khalid: Thanks for pointing out the error, which was based on Microsoft's phrase "Online Services." Yes, the backup service is based on Azure. I've also updated the article today (3/16/12), having received feedback from Microsoft.

Thu, Mar 15, 2012 OnlineBackupSpot

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out; is Microsoft trying to shut down the independent online backup services? They squashed all others in the "Office" space. Antivirus companies are offering steep discounts to compete with the free MS Security Essentials. The difference, though, is that storing peoples data does take HUGE infrastructure cost. Microsoft won't be able to offer that for free for long. Be interesting to watch.

Tue, Mar 13, 2012 Mohammed Khalid India

Hi Kurt, the MS doc says "About The Understand and Troubleshoot Guide This guide describes the fundamental workflow an IT pro experiences when using the new Microsoft Online Backup Service to backup and restore files using Microsoft Azure cloud services." But your article says it doesnt use Azure. Please correct the article i hope there is no other mistake. Thanks

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