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Microsoft Expands Azure Backup's Capabilities with 'Project Venus'

Microsoft this week announced that its Azure Backup service now can back up Hyper-V virtual machines, as well as the files and folders of some of Microsoft's flagship servers.

Azure Backup was released way back in October 2013, so it might be thought that this service was already capable of backing up Hyper-V virtual machines, as well as SQL Server, SharePoint Server and Exchange Server. However, all of those backup capabilities are new, as announced on Wednesday in this Azure blog post.

The added support was briefly mentioned as part of Microsoft's AzureCon news announcements last week, but it didn't get any further attention. For instance, there was no specific breakout session on the topic.

The lack of attention possibly is due, in part, to the Azure Backup service's limitations. This newest software release seems to be an advance in the product's somewhat slow evolution. The new Hyper-V and server workload support right now is only available in an Azure Backup software download that's in the English language. However, Microsoft plans to broaden language support in future releases.

At its most fundamental level, Microsoft describes its Azure Backup service as capable of carrying out disk-to-disk backups for so-called "tier-1" application support (or support for applications associated with highly important data). Alternatively, Azure Backup can be used for disk-to-disk-to-cloud kinds of backups, which are used for long-term retention. The Azure Backup service already had the ability to back up Windows Server, and Microsoft announced the ability to backup 64-bit Windows client machines last year.

This latest update to Azure Backup is part of Microsoft's improvement plans for the service, which go by the code name of "Venus." This Project Venus effort, while alluded to in Microsoft's announcement, went unexplained. However, Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn filled in the details. He described Project Venus in a recent blog post, as well as a Petri.com article.

Based on Finn's descriptions, Project Venus is Microsoft's attempt to quickly add features to the Azure Backup service to broaden its appeal, especially among Microsoft's small-to-medium business customers. Finn explained that some of the more fine-grained controls over backups have been limited with the standalone Azure Backup service. More capabilities light up when the service is used with Microsoft's System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) solution.

Microsoft sells DPM as part of its System Center suite of management applications, but the whole System Center bundle may have been perceived as "too expensive and too complex" for those small-to-medium organizations to deploy, according to Finn's assessment.

Project Venus, as reflected in this Azure Backup release, adds a "stripped-down" version of DPM that's included in the Azure Backup subscription, along with SQL Server 2014 use rights to support DPM. The idea is to address the needs of small-to-medium customers in the interim before Microsoft creates a more centralized cloud management solution for the Azure Backup service. Finn said that Microsoft understands that it hasn't provided the best solution yet, but it is using Project Venus to get Azure Backup service capabilities out as soon as possible to its customers.

Microsoft's publications don't appear to describe Project Venus at all. There's some documentation on Azure Backup in this overview article, but Venus isn't mentioned. Finn's blog and article appear to be the best available descriptions so far.

The Venus name isn't wholly arbitrary. The name for the agent that gets installed on servers with the Azure Backup service is called "MARS" by Microsoft, according to Finn.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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