Consistent Backup in Large EC2 Windows Environments

largescale-ec2-windowsWindows environments in AWS EC2 have a whole different set of specific challenges that Linux servers simply don’t. Backup and recovery processes require a little extra thought for environments consisting of large amounts of Windows instances. We regularly deal with customers who wish to backup hundreds of Windows EC2 servers. In order to do this they must automate processes so that the need for manual deployment and configuration is significantly reduced, particularly when dealing with large dynamic environments that feature the continual addition of new servers.

There is a wide range of applications that people run on EC2 Windows servers, for example MSSQL, Sharepoint, Exchange, SAP and even Oracle. As these are critical applications it is vital to ensure that they are backed up consistently. In this article we explain how to automate a consistent backup in such environments.

Challenges Ahead

Backup consistency in Windows environments is a predominant issue that can be solved using VSS (volume shadow copy), a Microsoft infrastructure that allows applications to be backed up in an integrated environment. All Microsoft applications support VSS, including the ones mentioned above. Many components in the Windows environment such as the registry, the file system, and dynamic disks use VSS to ensure that backup is consistent. To support VSS you should install an agent on the Windows host that will be responsible for creating the shadow copies.

Streamlining Agent Configuration

The configuration of each agent needs to be streamlined which can be a great challenge when dealing with multiple servers. You need to make sure that your servers’ agents are  up to date and configuration is aligned across all servers. Even when dealing with relatively small environments consisting of tens of servers, manually maintaining the agents’ configuration can be a cumbersome process.

Recovery of EC2 Windows Instances

Windows has a few limitations when it comes to recovering instances from snapshots within AWS. AWS EC2 doesn’t allow for the creation of launchable AMIs from snapshots of instances. Consequently, if you are unable to create AMIs from snapshots of the instances you will not be able to recover an instance from an image. If you wish to be able to recover a large environment quickly you should have the recovery processes completely automated, otherwise you will be left with the painful and tedious task of trying to recover your servers manually.

Using CPM to Protect Your AWS Windows Environment

CPM is an enterprise-class backup-recovery and disaster recovery solution for AWS EC2. CPM allows users to manage multiple AWS accounts and configure policies and schedules to take automated snapshot backups. It also also makes use of the Windows VSS via CPM’s  thin backup  agent.

Backup

CPM helps companies manage snapshot-based backup on large, complex environments both on Windows and Linux by providing a range of features to enhance automation and control of backup processes. The solution offers support for comprehensive functionalities, such as application consistency, and DR across regions and accounts. In terms of supporting backup consistency, CPM users employ a lightweight agent which comes with a standard MSI installation package that can be installed by a simple command line. Any organization that has infrastructure to install and connect remotely to a Windows service can easily use this method to install and configure the CPM agent, avoiding the time and effort of manual installation. Once installed and configured, CPM streamlines the AWS backup policy across all Windows instances using AWS EC2 tags, allowing for an even higher level of automation.

Recovery

As mentioned previously, AWS users face the limitation of not being able to implement the recovery of a Windows instance via snapshots taken of the operating system. Workarounds for this limitation have been discussed in a previous post, although they have recently been rendered irrelevant for our users following the release of CPM’s new 2.0 version. Now all you need to do to recover a Windows instance (even with an automated process) including all its configurations, data volumes, and OS volume, is to click once (or run a command line using CPM APIs). All of the complicated workaround processes needed to get around this limitation have been fully automated, making the recovery of Windows instances a straightforward task.

Final Notes

Overcoming the complexity of backing up a complete stack consisting of hundreds of machines is no simple feat. CPM lets you automate as much as possible in order to implement a consistent backup and recovery at scale.

CPM supports both Linux and Windows servers, although the latter case can be particularly challenging. By using AWS building blocks and incorporating best practices, CPM allows users to customize their entire environment’s backup and recovery, no matter what their size.

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