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Microsoft previews Azure Files, Azure Site Recovery at TechEd

Microsoft previewed the Azure Files service and new Azure-based disaster recovery capabilities yesterday at TechEd North America in Houston, in line with its major conference theme of connecting on-premise systems and the public cloud.

Azure Files are designed to address the problem of moving an on-premise application or data that uses file-based storage to object-based storage in the cloud. Local applications often run on virtual machines (VMs) and use traditional file protocols, such as Server Message Block (SMB), to access shared storage. But, cloud-based object storage is generally accessible via REST APIs.

Until now, enterprises had to rewrite the applications to use REST APIs or use a gateway product to shift their application data to Microsoft’s Azure cloud storage. Azure Files gives them the option to access an Azure File share using SMB 2.1 or REST APIs, allowing Azure to act as a cloud NAS.

“Think of now having shared and common storage in Azure with an SMB protocol head to it that all your VMs in Azure — all the applications that you’re writing — can now use in a shared manner,” Brad Anderson, vice president of Microsoft’s cloud and enterprise division, said during the opening keynote.

The Azure Files service is available as a public preview. Microsoft declined to provide the expected date for the general release.

Microsoft also has yet to set a timetable for SMB 3.0. When Azure Files are accessed via the currently supported SMB 2.1, the file shares are available only to VMs within the same region as the storage account. REST APIs, however, are available for concurrent file access from anywhere, according to a Microsoft Azure storage team blog post.

According to the blog post, the scalability targets for the Azure Files preview are up to 5 TB per file share, a file size of up to 1 TB, up to 1,000 IOPS (at 8 KB block size) per file share and throughput up to 60 MB/s per file share for large I/O.

Pricing for Microsoft Azure Files is 4 cents per GB for locally redundant storage during the preview period. The price includes a 50% preview discount. Geographically redundant storage is not available during the preview period, according to Microsoft’s Azure site.

Microsoft also unveiled new capabilities for Azure Site Recovery (formerly Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager) at TechEd. New capabilities will enable customers to replicate VMs from their own data centers directly to Azure and coordinate the recovery of  workloads in the cloud. A preview is due next month, according to Anderson.

“This is the No. 1 request that we have heard for Hyper-V Replication Manager today,” Anderson said. He said customers will have a “complete disaster recovery solution with the ability to seriously fail over in an unplanned or planned manner to Azure.”

Anderson said disaster recovery (DR) is typically reserved for only the most mission-critical applications because it’s too expensive and too difficult. But he claimed the simplicity of Azure Site Recovery makes the service suitable for all workloads.

Microsoft priced Hyper-V Recovery Manager by the number of VMs protected, based on the average daily number overly a monthly period. Pricing was $16 per VM protected.