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Back up SQL Server to SQL Azure? Some have their fingers crossed

With Microsoft broadcasting the importance of its cloud computing platform, some SQL Server pros want to use the cloud database service as a backup to their on-premises SQL Server databases.

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ORLANDO, Fla., -- Microsoft is talking up cloud computing again this year at TechEd, but it is still early for many SQL Server pros. Some said they were considering Microsoft’s SQL Azure, but only for backup and disaster recovery.

Satya Nadella, president of the server and tools division, called Microsoft the operating system of the cloud during his keynote speech Monday morning. And the conference program was chock-full with sessions on Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform. But IT directors and database administrators are still wary of putting production SQL Server databases in the cloud.

SQL Azure, which Microsoft has renamed Windows Azure SQL Database, has been live for more than two years now. Yet this may be the first year people are taking it seriously, if only for backup purposes. The problem is that SQL Azure never received good grades from end users when it came to backup. It doesn’t even support backing up on-premises SQL Server databases to Azure, but keep an eye on future announcements, said Alexander Nosov, a Microsoft program manager focusing on business continuity and data protection in Azure.

“Last year they were talking and talking about the cloud, but there was nothing there,” said Dan Przybyl, director of information technology for the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), a nonprofit in Carrboro, N.C. “Now they’re starting to make a business case.”

Interest is relative, though. An earlier conference session Monday about SQL Server 2012 filled the room with several hundred people. A later session on Azure SQL Database had about two dozen, many of them IT directors and managers rather than SQL Server database administrators.

OWASA is a small organization that doesn’t have a second data center where it could put its backups, Przybyl said. So he’s looking to the cloud for the answer. Microsoft has multiple data centers where it’s hosting SQL Database, and so that could give OWASA some geographic distance between its production databases and backups.

“We’re looking at SQL Azure as possible business continuity, disaster recovery solution,” he said. “We could run SQL Server on-site and then back up to the cloud.”

Przybyl added that if it were to work out, he might even consider putting production databases inside SQL Database.

Brian Bostrom, director of information systems at The Bar Plan, a St. Louis-based mutual insurance company, is more cautious. The Bar Plan is implementing a new customer portal, and Bostrom is in the very early stages of determining how to build the portal and where it would sit. He’s considering SQL Database for the destination but is concerned about the data loss that could come with any Azure downtime.

Bostrom also doesn’t like that SQL Database doesn’t support log shipping for backup targets. So he would probably do log shipping on his own.

“It might work for something simple,” he said. “But not mission-critical.”

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