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Microsoft Releases Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager Service

Microsoft's Windows Azure disaster recovery service is generally available for use in production environments, according to an announcement made this week.

The Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager (HRM) service taps a number of Microsoft's products. It uses agents on System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) 2012 R2 or System Center VMM 2012 SP1 to orchestrate private cloud failovers from a primary site to a secondary site. The two sites can be independent of Windows Azure, as in private clouds maintained by an organization. Microsoft claims not to touch an organization's data with the service. The actual failover is carried out using Microsoft's Hyper-V Replica technology, which is a feature of Windows Server 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2.

This general availability release of Windows Azure HRM follows from a limited public preview that Microsoft released back in August. It now is commercially available and offered with a 99.9 percent service level agreement from Microsoft. The service can be used disaster recovery, and IT pros can customize the orchestration policies to address various scenarios. In addition, it also has a test feature that will execute a failover in a temporary virtual machine, without interrupting the production environment, so that IT pros can verify that the service is working.

The new service may also be available from some service providers or hosting companies, since Microsoft now permits that kind of licensing. However, no examples of such service providers were described in Microsoft's announcements this week.

Microsoft Doesn't Touch the Data
Microsoft claims that the disaster recovery messaging to Windows Azure using the service is encrypted traffic. The service just sends metadata to Windows Azure, such as the "names of logical clouds, virtual machines, networks, etc.," according to a blog post by Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president in the Microsoft Server and Tools Business. Users can monitor the service via the Windows Azure Portal, which can be accessed via any device connected to the Internet.

This commercial release of Windows Azure HRM contains a few improvements, according to Guthrie. Microsoft improved "scenarios where the primary host cluster has been rebuilt after an outage." It added support for Kerberos-based authentication for Hyper-V Replica, which is designed to support organizations using third-party WAN solutions. It also supports organizations upgrading from System Center VMM 2012 SP1 to VMM 2012 R2.

The Windows Azure HRM service works by separating out the "control plane" into the cloud for orchestrating the disaster recovery process. The policies and automation preferences are stored in the cloud, according to a blog post by Brad Anderson, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Cloud and Enterprise. He claimed that this arrangement eases the burden on IT shops to secure a high-availability platform for disaster recovery scenarios.

"I believe that this model of the control plane being in Azure as a highly available SaaS app is the architecture we should all be leaning towards," Anderson wrote.

However, at least one Microsoft MVP has a different view.

"I would never rely on a DR [disaster recovery] failover/orchestration system that resides in a location that is outside of my DR site," stated Aidan Finn, a Microsoft MVP in Ireland, in a blog post. "I can't trust that I will have access to that tool."

He noted the 9-11 U.S. plane crashes represented an event where Internet traffic slowed worldwide. Consequently, he instead advised having the failover tool located at the disaster recovery site "as an on-premise appliance."

Windows Azure HRM Pricing
Finn praised the simplicity of the Windows Azure HRM service, but he found the price to be too high.

"[Windows Azure] HRM is stupid expensive," Finn wrote. "I've talked to a good few people who knew about the pricing and they all agreed that they wouldn't pay €11.92/month per virtual machine [$19.57] for an replication orchestration tool. That's €143.04 [$234.92] per year per VM -- just for orchestration!"

Microsoft bills users of the service each month, based on the "average daily number of virtual machines you are protecting," according to the company's pricing page. To get technical support, it costs an extra $29 per month.

To entice users, Microsoft is now offering a 50 percent price discount on the Windows Azure HRM service. However the discount offer is just good through February 28, according to Armstrong's blog post.

About the Author

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

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