Azure Backup: Benefits, Challenges and Third-Party Solutions

Cloud computing has become a vital component of modern business strategy. According to new research by Synergy Research Group, global spending on cloud infrastructure services crossed $61 billion in the fourth quarter of 2022. Overall, the cloud services market grew by $47 billion in 2022 compared to 2021. The exponential growth in cloud adoption in recent years is a testament to the increasing popularity of cloud computing platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

AWS currently holds the majority of the cloud infrastructure services market share, with its share largely floating between 32% and 34%. However, these figures had neither risen nor declined in the last five years, according to the cloud market data by Synergy Research Group. On the other hand, Microsoft Azure’s market share increased from 19% to 23%, up 4% over the last two years, rapidly narrowing the gap between itself and its strongest competitor, AWS.

Moving workloads and data to the cloud presents many opportunities but is not without risk. As with on-premises systems, you must also back up cloud workloads. Microsoft Azure and other hyperscale providers do not provide backup by default. However, you can make use of native backup tools like Azure Backup, as well as third-party solutions, to protect Azure-based workloads.

Read on to learn more about Azure Backup, its advantages, disadvantages and an efficient Azure Backup alternative.

What is Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure (earlier known as Windows Azure) is a public cloud computing platform owned and operated by Microsoft. Azure provides over 200 cloud computing products and services, enabling businesses like yours to build, run and manage applications across multiple clouds, on-premises and at the edge. The cloud platform supports a variety of frameworks and programming languages, including Python, .NET, JavaScript, Java, Go and PowerShell. In Azure, you can also create and deploy Linux and Windows virtual machines (VMs).

What is Azure Backup?

Azure Backup is a backup service native to Azure that allows you to protect your workloads in the Microsoft Azure Cloud, multicloud or hybrid cloud environments, enabling self-service backups and restores at scale. Your organization’s data is constantly at risk of loss, damage, theft and exposure. Therefore, you must always protect it regardless of where it is stored — on-premises or on cloud servers. A reliable backup solution can help your organization quickly recover lost data and continue business operations without interruption.

Why do we need to back up Microsoft Azure?

Microsoft Azure follows the shared responsibility model (SRM), a security framework that outlines the responsibilities of service providers and customers. Under this model, the responsibility of securing the platform and everything in it is shared between the service provider and its customers. As such, Microsoft is responsible for the security of the cloud platform and its infrastructure, such as hardware, networks and services. On the other hand, you, the customer, are responsible for protecting the data and other assets you store in Azure.

Customers maintain varying degrees of responsibility over applications, networking, accounts, etc., depending on the workload deployment types — Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) or in an on-premises data center. However, regardless of the deployment type, you always own certain responsibilities as a customer. These include:

  • Data
  • Endpoints
  • Accounts
  • Access management

Figure 1 shows the division of responsibility between you and Microsoft according to the type of deployment of your workload.

Figure 1. Division of responsibility (Source: Microsoft).

Apart from the SRM that transfers certain responsibilities to you, you must also back up Microsoft Azure for protection against threats, such as:

  • Human error: Data loss incidents due to human error or negligence, like accidental deletion of files and physical damage due to inattentiveness, are common in business.
  • Programmatic/configuration errors: Files can get lost, corrupted or inaccessible due to configuration errors because of inexperience or lack of skills, which can be irrecoverable without a backup. For instance, in January 2023, Microsoft suffered an outage that lasted more than five hours due to improper updates to a router, impacting Microsoft 365 services worldwide.
  • Malicious insiders: Your organization’s sensitive information is at risk by malicious insiders. They can expose your data for personal gain by misusing privileged access. Since malicious insiders have legit access to your systems and data and know your organization’s security controls, identifying and preventing them can be challenging.
  • External hackers: Threat actors constantly innovate their techniques to bypass security systems without being detected to steal important data. They do not hesitate to exploit human emotions through tactics like social engineering. Having a clean backup of your data can help you quickly recover from an attack when hackers strike.
  • Viruses/malware: New variants of viruses and malware appear daily, increasing the risk of data loss. Viruses and malware can cause serious trouble since an infection on a single machine can quickly spread to other systems, ultimately taking down the entire IT system.

Does Azure back up data automatically?

Microsoft Azure provides automation capabilities for backup and recovery operations. To facilitate backup and recovery, Microsoft offers native Azure solutions like Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery. 

Azure Backup

Azure Backup services provide a solution to back up Azure workloads and data and recover it from the Microsoft Azure cloud. Azure Backup allows you to back up and restore VMs (Hyper-V and VMWare), files, folders, system state, on-premises workloads or even an SQL database. You can back up Windows or Linux VMs, files, folders and system state using the backup extension or Microsoft Azure Recovery Services (MARS) agent. You can automate the backup process in Azure Backup and schedule backups to occur at regular intervals.

Azure Site Recovery

Azure Site Recovery services provide Disaster-Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) by replicating an Azure VM(s) to a different Azure region. Like Azure Backup, you can automate the replication process, and it can be set up to occur at regular intervals. Azure Site Recovery offers several disaster recovery options like replication, failover and failback, which you can configure and manage in the Azure portal. It supports multiple platforms, including Azure VMs, Hyper-V, VMware, and Windows and Linux physical servers. 

What is the advantage of using native Azure backup?

Choosing Azure Backup over other clouds could be advantageous if your business already uses and is familiar with Microsoft’s suite of productivity applications. Azure allows you to derive more value from your existing Microsoft investment through Microsoft 365 and Active Directory integration. It also offers cost benefits by enabling you to use your existing Windows Server and SQL Server licenses with Software Assurance while moving to Azure. Microsoft offers free extended security updates (three years) for moving your Windows Server and SQL Server workloads to Azure. Another advantage is its pay-as-you-go subscription model, which means you only pay for the storage space you use.

What are the disadvantages of native Azure Backup?

Protecting workloads with Azure native solution is not without challenges. Below are some key points to consider when using Azure Backup to protect your critical workloads in the cloud.

  • Microsoft’s Azure Backup cannot egress (move) data to a separate cloud environment.
  • Microsoft Azure services come with variable per-incident charges, making it difficult to price and forecast the total cost of ownership (TCO).
  • It requires expertise to manage hybrid environments. The current global macroeconomic situation has slowed down hiring. Finding people with risk skills can be time-consuming. Also, hiring in-demand Azure-certified technical professionals can be expensive.

This leaves your organization at risk:

  • Vulnerable to single-cloud risk and downtime.
  • Backups are behind the same set of credentials as production data instances.
  • Complex billing leads to unpredictable costs and sticker shock.
    • Egress charges (costs $ per incident)
    • Virtualization charges (costs $ per incident)
    • Screenshot verification (costs $ per incident)*
    • DR testing (costs $ per incident)*
    • DR failover (costs $ per incident)

*Many organizations do not have the expertise, time or budget to test their backups regularly, so they don’t. That is a huge risk.

  • Managing hybrid environments can be tricky since different skill sets are required across tenants and geographies.

Third-party Azure backup vs. native Azure Backup solutions

Third-party Azure backup solutions can ease some of the data security burden resulting from the shared responsibility model. Backup solutions that protect Azure resources like VMs, virtual networks and storage accounts will further enhance your backup and recovery efforts. These solutions can fill the gaps where native Azure Backup services fall short. To give you a better idea, we have compared native Azure Backup services with a third-party Azure backup solution (see Figure 2), in this case, Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure.


Native Azure Data Protection

Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure

Single-cloud vulnerability


Backups remain within the same Azure region and behind the same credentials as production.

Checkmark with solid fill

Replication to the independent Unitrends Cloud for redundancy and availability.

Management complexity


Restoration of files and VMs is complex, and cost is unpredictable.

Checkmark with solid fill

Recover files and VMs without scripting or mounting disks. Virtualize in the Unitrends Cloud with a few clicks.

Ballooning infrastructure costs


Individual component-based billing, variable fees for egress, DR testing, DR failover.

Checkmark with solid fill

Flat-fee pricing model, no variable fees for egress, storage, testing or failover.

Uncertain recoverability


Variable costs for screenshot verification and testing.

No ransomware detection.

Checkmark with solid fill
Daily screenshot verification.

Has ransomware detection.

Figure 2. Native Azure data protection vs. Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure.

Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure

As outlined above, Azure native solutions require two solutions to provide near-equivalent BCDR capabilities, which is still inadequate for backup verification (screenshot verification).

Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure is purpose-built for Azure-native workloads. It offers single-pane-of-glass management and easy deployment and helps streamline day-to-day operations — all delivered for a flat monthly subscription fee.

Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure offers hourly replication to the Unitrends Cloud, where data is stored immutably in a private and secure Unitrends data center. This solution minimizes single-cloud risk by providing rapid recovery and instant virtualization in the Unitrends Cloud in the event of downtime, cyberattack or other cloud outages.

Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure is a turnkey solution, enabling you to perform disaster recovery outside Azure. Replication to Unitrends Cloud ensures continuity in a cloud-level continuity event. Simple flat-fee pricing removes the unpredictability of cloud billing with a simple forecastable model. The turnkey solution streamlines backup verification, management and recovery.

Unitrends Backup for Microsoft Azure offers superior data protection at a predictable cost. Contact our Azure specialists today to discover how to improve data protection while optimizing costs.


Discover how Unitrends can help protect your organization's sensitive data