On Monday, Microsoft announced a preview of its new Windows Azure Import/Export Service. Users of the Azure platform that is hosted in Microsoft's data centers can now import and export data by shipping their hard drives to Microsoft. This means users can move large amounts of on-premise data in and out of data centers with less constraints on their networks' bandwidth.
Windows Azure is cloud computing platform that allows users to build, deploy and manage applications and services through Microsoft-managed data centers.
According to the announcement, "You can use the Windows Azure Import/Export service to transfer large amounts of file data to Windows Azure Blob storage in situations where uploading over the network is prohibitively expensive or not feasible. You can also use the Import/Export service to transfer large quantities of data resident in Blob storage to your on-premises installations in a timely and cost-effective manner."
"Blob" refers to a storage service for large amounts of unstructured data that can be accessed via HTTP or HTTPS.
In a blog post on Monday, Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President in the Microsoft Server and Tools Business, said, “Once we receive the drives we’ll automatically transfer the data to or from your Windows Azure Storage account."
No Buts for BitLocker
What if data gets lost or stolen en route? As part of the service, Microsoft is including an encryption requirement for users’ data while in transit. BitLocker encryption is mandatory. All drives must be encrypted with a BitLocker key. "Our Import/Export service provides built-in support for BitLocker disk encryption," Guthrie said.
For an export job, Microsoft will encrypt the user’s data before shipping the drive back. BitLocker refers to an encryption feature that helps keep documents and passwords safer by encrypting the entire drive that Windows and the data reside on. Guthrie said Monday that the company is shipping a preparation tool to make it easier to set up the encryption on the hard drives.
Customers will use FedEx, which will bring the drives to Windows Azure data centers where they will be uploaded to a storage account. Microsoft’s high-speed internal network will go to work in transferring the data to or from the storage account.
But wait a minute. We’re talking using data offline to and from data centers via hard disk drives? Has Microsoft fallen into some kind of time warp? The answer is that offline import and export is faster, helps cut costs and reduces dependence on network bandwidth for handling large amounts of data. Shipping hard drives actually turns out to be a more cost-effective way of moving data in and out of the cloud with less concern about available network bandwidth.
Hard Drive Limit
As customers evaluate cloud-based storage solutions, one challenge has been moving large amounts of data in and out of Blob storage in a cost-effective, secure and speedy way, said Steven Martin, Microsoft's General Manager of Window Azure. He said the new Windows Azure Import/Export service can solve the challenge.
Microsoft is charging a $40 fee per storage device handled. The company announced there is no data transfer charge between the device and Windows Azure Storage within the same data center.
Limitations on the deal include the types of drives. The service applies only to 3.5-inch SATA II hard drives. In the preview period, no drives above 4TB are supported. Also, no more than 10 drives can be processed per job. Users who want to ship more than 10 can create multiple jobs. What's more, the shipment must originate from within the U.S.