How Azure Boosts Disaster Recovery For SMEs

As TechEd 2013 draws towards its close, our guest blogger David Klemke looks at how Azure will play an increasingly important role in backup and disaster recovery for smaller firms. Plus: David chats with PowerShell guru Don Jones about the future of admin and how to beef up your IT pro skills.

You don’t have to look hard to see the pattern with Microsoft’s recent releases: they’re all about bringing functionality into the core line up. Whilst their strength is arguably due to their large partner network and strong developer relations Windows Server 2012 (and consequently its R2 version) brings a whole host of technology that’s not necessarily new but was typically unavailable unless you engaged a third party.

For large enterprises this is often irrelevant as they usually have the budget for such solutions but for small to medium organisations it can enable them to do things that were just simply not feasible before. One of the most critical things that many of them miss is backup and disaster recovery and with the introduction Azure Backup and Hyper-V Recovery Manager these capabilities are finally within reach.

Azure Backup is a straightforward service which allows you to securely backup your Windows server OS to Azure’s blob storage. Once you have your vault set up with Azure there’s not much more to it: install an agent on the servers you want to back up (it will even hook into System Center Data Protection Manager if you’re using it), do a bit of configuration and you’re done.

This is nothing revolutionary but the price of admission is far below that for comparable backup products, especially if you factor in the cost of off-siting your data. For many organisations backups aren’t a strong suit and recovering data (or even just testing the backups worked) is nigh on impossible. With Azure Backup however you’ll be able to back the data up, test it in the cloud (you can boot VHDs direct from backup on Azure) and recover their data in a fraction of the time.

This is only half it though as things start to get really cool when you look at Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager. I noted during the keynote that Recovery Manager looked to be Microsoft’s answer to VMware’s Site Recovery Manager but on closer inspection it’s way more than that. It does provide that same level of functionality, allowing you fail over between sites should a disaster happen, but the key difference here is that the brains that controls this lies in the Azure cloud. Additionally should you not have the resources available to have a fully (or even partially) functioning disaster recovery site you can fail your infrastructure up into Azure. I can’t tell you how useful that is for businesses that can’t afford to be down but aren’t yet big enough to keep a DR site running all year round.

The PowerShell Guru

I also got to sit down with Don Jones of CBT Nuggets/Concentrated Tech fame. I asked him about where IT is heading and how admins can keep up to speed with the latest developments.

David: There’s a lot of talk of the traditional admin role going away due to the cloud so how do you see the admin role changing going forward?

Don: We’ve got a three-tiered system today and have for a long time and Microsoft is the only piece of the IT world that has that. We’ve got the entry-level help desk person, at the very top we’ve got the engineering-level type who builds and maintains solutions at a high level. What Microsoft has that’s different is this entire massive second tier that runs a lot of wizards, does a lot of day to day change/add/delete type work; that’s what’s going to go away. You don’t need that guy when you’ve got a well-run data center.

If your datacenter exhibits cloud-like capabilities that’s well-run you don’t need that person. If you’re outsourcing anything to the cloud you don’t need that person. What you need is the high-end person who can create units of automation so that the low-end people can trigger those.

So we’re going to see a migration, and that’s already happening. I’ve already seen organisations, a couple of my clients, who’ve already abandoned their second tier and people have either gone up, down or out. So it’s a huge opportunity for a smart admin.

David: For admins who are looking to go up rather than down what skills would you recommend they pursue?

Don:They’re going to have to master PowerShell, they’re going to have to master System Center. They’re going to need to know Orchestrator, they’re going to need to know Configuration Manager and Operations Manager. They’re going to have those tools in their environment. They’re going to have to acknowledge that you can’t work in the IT industry anymore unless you’re at least a little bit of a programmer. It doesn’t have to be hard — systems programming isn’t — but there’s this massive barrier because a lot of people got into Microsoft IT as career changers back in the NT/MSCE days when there was a gold rush and they never got into it with that intent.

I see people with massive resistance to the idea and I don’t think it’s because they’re stupid or they couldn’t master it, it’s just that they’ve made it this thing in your head and you just gotta pop that balloon. So start with PowerShell, pick up another couple of scripting languages and it’ll make you more flexible. IT is your career, don’t rely on your current job being your career, that can change. Make sure you’ve got a portable skill set so that IT can support you.

David: In that vein which one of your training videos would you recommend admins watch?

Don:It actually wouldn’t be one of mine! It would be one from Greg Shields as he did the CBT Nuggets videos for Microsoft’s Private Cloud certification and they are gamut of information. It’s the entire System Center family: it’s Hyper-V, it’s automation, it’s the server product. That is your foot in the door to becoming a jack-of-all-trades and that’s exactly where you need to be. From there my PowerShell classes.
The idea of being able to pick something up in 20 minute chunks feeds really well into how we have to live our jobs these days. You can sit down at lunch and can get through a little 20 minute video and then you can go off and fight the fire.

David: Any written resources you’d recommend?

Don:I have a book called Learn PowerShell In A Month Of Lunches and it’s built in the same fashion. So if you’re not a video learner and you’re more of a book learner it’s built in hour-long chunks that you do one a day. It’s a great starting point that a lot of people have found it to be very helpful for them. The other resource I’d recommend is which is a site I helped found. It’s a free set of resources, awesome people helping answer questions and so you don’t need to stay stuck, you’re not alone. There are people that want to help.

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