Back dat app up: Microsoft opens Azure Backup to Windows PCs

Cloudy data protection no longer just for Windows Server

Microsoft's Azure Backup cloud service could start getting a lot more traffic soon, with the introduction of backup services for Windows client operating systems.

Azure Backup was released to general availability in 2013 as a backup and restore service for machines running Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Sever 2012, and Windows Server 2012 R2. Microsoft added support for plain Windows Server 2008 in October of this year, but so far the service has remained a data center–only affair.

On Tuesday, however, Redmond released a new update to the Azure Backup Agent software that extended support to include desktop PCs running Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8, or Windows 8.1.

Specifically, only the 64-bit versions of the operating systems are supported. But this is nonetheless a big step that should change how IT admins view Microsoft's cloudy storage pool as a data protection and recovery option.

Modern Windows clients already have the option of storing data in Microsoft's cloud via the OneDrive and OneDrive for Business clients. But these are file storage and sync systems, a la DropBox or SpiderOak, and don't offer the full security and data integrity of proper backup solutions.

Azure Backup, by comparison, conducts regularly scheduled backups that store users' data en masse in cloudy bit buckets that Microsoft calls "backup vaults." Vaults can be assigned to individual machines or a single vault can be used to simultaneously manage up to 50 machines.

The backups are incremental, so that only the latest changes are shipped to the server each time the process runs. The backup can also be deferred when a user's laptop is running on battery, for example, or lacks an internet connection.

All data is encrypted locally before being transmitted to the Azure cloud, and customers retain control of their own encryption passphrases.

When recovering from a backup, the user can restore files, directories, and volumes based on the date and time of the backup, as with local file protection solutions.

In general, you can think of the service as an alternative to tape for offsite backup storage, one that's billed on a pay-as-you-go basis. As of September, it costs $0.20 per gigabyte per month in the US or £0.1273 per gigabyte per month in the UK, with prices varying in other regions.

That should make it attractive to some customers, particularly small business for which managing secure offsite backup storage is often a chore that quietly slips off the radar.

Windows client support is available now for all Azure Backup users; the update that enables the new functionality can be downloaded here. ®

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