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Azure Site Recovery expands cloud DR to VMware users

Azure Site Recovery expands Microsoft's cloud disaster recovery capabilities to VMware users and potentially to other services, too.

Microsoft is expanding its disaster recovery capabilities beyond the Azure ecosystem.

Updates to Azure Site Recovery and Azure Backup are available in preview, providing users with new disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) capabilities beyond what was already available for Hyper-V customers.

With Site Recovery, IT pros can use Azure as a disaster recovery site for physical servers or VMware virtual machines (VM), while Backup allows customers to duplicate  and restore Windows and Linux public cloud VMs.

Azure Site Recovery incorporates technology from InMage Systems, Inc., a company focused on cloud-based business continuity that Microsoft acquired last July. MCR Safety, a manufacturer of protective gear in Collierville, Tenn., used InMage Scout prior to the deal and continues to as part of Azure, said Michael Cantkier, systems engineer for MCR Safety.

"It's unique in that it doesn't do any one thing that other people can't do, but it pulls them together in one product," Cantkier said.

MCR runs its primary applications on AIX and also uses VMware for the majority of its support applications. Site Recovery offers granular control and constant data protection across platforms simultaneously. It's also better than the typical SAN replication, Cantkier said.

And while MCR still plans to build its own DR site for greater end-to-end control, the Azure replication tools allow the company to fall back to VMs running in the cloud if the primary site has issues, or to recover everything from a mailbox all the way up to an entire VM, Cantkier said.

VMware competition from Azure

The Azure additions provide features similar to VMware vCloud Air disaster recovery capabilities, analysts said.

"VMware was trying to get people to move applications to [vCloud Air] and it's just a really easy use case for cloud," said Dave Bartoletti, principal analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass. "Microsoft also now has a recovery service, and it's sort of the same thing."

It's unique in that it doesn't do any one thing that other people can't do, but it pulls them together in one product.
Michael Cantkiersystems engineer for MCR Safety of Collierville, Tenn.

DRaaS is possible on any public cloud infrastructure, but what's different about vCloud Air and Azure is that data center administrators get a simple group of tools to set it up and test it, Bartoletti said. This move keeps Microsoft competitive and allows it to suck some workloads out of VMware and potentially open those customers to other Azure uses, he added.

This move is further recognition that "Microsoft is facing the music" that not everything in the stack is going to be its own product, said Werner Zurcher, vice president and director of storage research at Gartner, Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Microsoft cites this as an example of availability on-demand, and it could be used to lure in customers for a variety of other uses, including cloud bursting, development and testing, migration or analytics, Zurcher said. 

"They're not positioning it just as disaster recovery, but as an approach to use Azure as a hybrid cloud and hoping that people won't just see it as a DR offering but as a broader offering," Zurcher said.

DRaaS a gateway to cloud, but not for everyone

DRaaS is often seen as low-hanging fruit for cloud vendors because it offers improved accessibility and pricing compared to traditional tape storage, and because it's often one of the first capabilities customers turn to in cloud computing. That's especially true for small to mid-sized business, Zurcher said.

"For them, sending data to the cloud and enabling recovery in the cloud is a no brainer," Zurcher said.

But DRaaS hasn't materialized with enterprise customers the way many vendors expected it would. There are only a handful of customers with more than 500 VMs using the cloud for DR, and 90% of DRaaS customers have 50 or fewer VMs, Zurcher said.

The reason larger organizations aren't signing up is because of lingering concerns about security, as well as cost, Zurcher said. For companies with more than 500 VMs it can cost millions, and to do it right means even mission critical apps need to be in the cloud -- a step most enterprises aren't willing to take.

"For these large corporations or big prospects, we're not finding people buying it," Zurcher said. "It will probably go beyond a handful in the next year, but it won't be a stampede."

How successful Microsoft will be at expanding to large customers will depend on how attractive they make it to partners, Zurcher said.

Other recent Microsoft product additions include Azure API Management Premium and new infrastructure management software SaltStack Enterprise for the Azure Marketplace. The API tools can be used synchronically to host an instance in multiple Azure data centers and has VPN connectivity.

Microsoft declined to give a timeframe for when the updated DR capabilities would be generally available.

Trevor Jones covers the cloud for He can be reached via email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @trevorjTT.

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