Backing up a Windows Azure Virtual Machine using PowerShell

Back in June I wrote about how to use snapshots to backup and restore VHDs used by Windows Azure Virtual Machines.

Whilst this approach does have the limitation of only copying the state persisted to the disk and so I would not recommend using it on running VMs, for cases when the VM can be shut-down temporarily this can be a handy approach.

This could be particularly useful for dev and test scenarios when the VMs can be turned off and when users of those VMs might want to be able to go back to various known states.

Of course doing the whole process manually is cumbersome, time consuming and error prone, so scripting is needed and so in this post I’ll show what it takes to do this using PowerShell

‘Backing up’ a virtual machine using snapshots

The first job would be to turn off the virtual machine we want to back-up

Stop-AzureVM -ServiceName $cloudSvcName -Name $vmname

With the VM stopped it is time to take the snapshot. unfortunately the Azure PowerShell Cmdlets do not, currently, support snapshot operations on Blobs but thankfully Cerebrata have produced a great set of Cmdlets for Azure Mananagement

Taking a snapshot of a Blob using the Cerebra Cmdlets is very easy –

Checkpoint-Blob -BlobUrl $blobUrl -AccountName $accountName -AccountKey $accountKey

It is worth noting that this command returns the url for the snapshot, and it might be useful to keep for later use. Also worth noting is that it is possible to add metadata to the snapshot, in the form of a collection of key-value pairs, which could be used to select snapshots later, finally it is useful to know that this command is pretty much instantaneous  so whilst there’s some downtime required for shutting down and starting up the machine, taking the snapshot takes no time at all.

With the snapshot taken it is now time to start our VM again

Start-AzureVM -ServiceName $cloudSvcName -Name $vmname

and so, with a very short powershell script, one can create an effective backup of a virtual machine which will be stored with the Blob. It is worth noting again that this is only reliable when the machine is stopped (turned off) before the snapshot is taken. it is also worth noting that if machines may have more than one disk and additional disks may need to be handled too (in the same way)

‘Restoring’ a virtual machine using snapshots

Restoring a VM is a little bit more involving – when a disk is attached to a VM a lease is created on the Blob storing the disk effectively locking it for everyone else.

That means that one has to remove the VM before a snapshot can be ‘promoted’ on a VHD (effectively overwriting the blob with the snapshot), stopping the VM would not be enough, and so to start we do have to stop the VM again, as before –

Stop-AzureVM -ServiceName $cloudSvcName -Name $vmname

but in order to update the OSDisk we also need to remove it completely.

Before we do that, given that we’re going to bring it back online shortly, it would be useful to export all of its configuration first –

Export-AzureVM -ServiceName $cloudSvcName  -Name $vmname  -Path 'c:\tmp\export.xml'

and with the VM configuration exported, we can go ahead and remove it

Remove-AzureVM -ServiceName $cloudSvcName -Name $vmname

Now that the machine is gone, its lease on the blob is gone too, which means we should be able to use Cerebrata’s Copy-Blob Cmdlet to copy the snapshot over the Blob

Copy-Blob -BlobUrl $blobUrl -TargetBlobContainerName $container -AccountName $accountName -AccountKey $accountKey

Like the Checkpoint-Blob command this is pretty much instantaneous.

Now that we have the updated disk in place, it’s time to bring our VM back to life, first import –

Import-AzureVM -Path 'c:\tmp\export.xml' | New-AzureVM -ServiceName $cloudSvcName -Location 'North Europe'

and that is it – when the VM creation, using the imported configuration, completes – we have our VM back online this time running off the updated VHD state

Final note – in this post I just wanted to show the key operations one would use to create a useful script. the actual process will vary depending on the specific requirements and , of course, it is possible  to make quite an elaborate script with PowerShell – for example it is possible to enumerate on all the VMs in a particular cloud service and for each VM query the OS and Data disks and then perform all the operations above over these enumerations, the sky is pretty much the limit! 🙂

About Yossi Dahan
I work as a cloud solutions architect in the Azure team at Microsoft UK. I spend my days working with customers helping be successful in the cloud with Microsoft Azure.

4 Responses to Backing up a Windows Azure Virtual Machine using PowerShell

  1. Stan says:

    Can a snapshot blob be copied to another location instead of overwriting the original blob?

  2. andres felipe gonzalez says:

    Hola Yossi, estoy ejecutando el comando de Checkpoint-Blob, y me saca un ERROR, que dice:
    Checkpoint-Blob : El término ‘Checkpoint-Blob’ no se reconoce como nombre de un cmdlet, función, archivo de script o programa ejecutable. Compruebe si escribió correctamente el nombre o, si incluyó una ruta de acceso, compruebe que dicha ruta es correcta e inténtelo de nuevo.
    que me esta faltando por hacer ?

  3. Andres Gonzalez says:

    The term ‘Checkpoint-Blob’ is not recognized as the name of a cmdlet…..


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