Windows Azure July Updates: SQL Database, Traffic Manager, AutoScale, Virtual Machines

This morning we released some great updates to Windows Azure. These new enhancements include:

  • SQL Databases: Support for Automated SQL Export and a New Premium Tier SQL Database option
  • Traffic Manager: New support for managing Windows Azure Traffic Manager in the HTML Portal
  • AutoScale: Support for Windows Azure Mobile Services, AutoScale rules for Service Bus Queue Depth, Alerts on AutoScale actions
  • Virtual Machines: Updates to the IaaS management experiences in the Management Portal

All of these improvements are now available to use immediately (note: some are still in preview).  Below are more details about them.

SQL Databases: Support for Automated SQL Database Exports

One commonly requested feature we’ve heard has been the ability for customers to perform recurring, fully automated, exports of a SQL Database to a Storage account.  Starting today this is now a built-in feature of Windows Azure.  You can now export transactional-consistent copies of your SQL Databases, in an automated recurring way, to a .bacpac file in a Storage account using any schedule you wish to define.

To take advantage of this feature, click on the “Configuration” tab of any SQL Database you would like to set up an automated export rule on:


Clicking the “Automatic” setting on “export status” will expand the page to include several additional configuration options that allow you to configure the database to be automatically exported to a transactionally consistent .bacpac file in a storage account of your choosing:


You can fully automate and control the time and schedule of the exports. By default, it’s set to once per week, but you may set it up to be as frequent as once per day. The start date and time allows you to define when the first export will happen. The time is in UTC, so if you want backups to happen each day at midnight US Eastern time, put 5:00 AM UTC. Keep in mind that exports can take several hours depending on the size of the database, so the start time is not a guarantee about when exports will be completed.

Next, specify the number of days to keep each export file. You can retain multiple export files. Use the “Always keep at least one export” option to ensure that you always have at least one export file to use as a backup. This overrides the retention period, so even if you stop backups for 30 days, you’ll still have an export.

Lastly, you’ll need to specify the server login and password for Automated Export to use. After providing the required information for your automated export, click Save, and your first automated export will be kicked off once the Start Date + Time is reached.  You can check the status of your database exports (and see the date/time of the last one) in the quick glance list on the “Dashboard” tab view of your SQL Database.

Creating a new Database from an Exported One

If you want to create a new SQL Database instance from an exported copy, simply choose the New->Data Services->Sql Database->Import option within the Windows Azure Management Portal:


This will then launch a dialog that allows you to select the .bacpac file for your SQL Database export from your storage account, and easily recreate the database (and name it anything you want).

Cost Impact

When an automated export is performed, Windows Azure will first do a full copy of your database to a temporary database prior to creating the .bacpac file. This is the only way to ensure that your export is transactionally consistent (this database copy is then automatically removed once the export has completed). As a result, you will be charged for this database copy on the day that you run the export. Since databases are charged by the day, if you were to export every day, you could in theory double your database costs.  If you run every week then it would be much less.

If your storage account is in a different region from the SQL Database, you will be charged for network bandwidth.  If your storage account is in the same region there are no bandwidth charges.  You’ll then be charged the standard Windows Azure Storage rate (which is priced in GB saved) for any .bacpac files you retain in your storage account.

Conditions to set up Automated Export

Note that in order to set up automated export, Windows Azure has to be allowed to access your database (using the server login name/password you configured in the automated export rule in the screen-shot above) . To enable this, go to the “Configure” tab for your database server and make sure the switch is set to “Yes”:


SQL Databases: Announcing New Premium Tier for Windows Azure SQL Databases

Today, we’re excited to announce the preview of a new Premium Tier for Windows Azure SQL Databases that delivers more predictable performance for business-critical applications.  The Premium Tier helps deliver more powerful and predictable performance for cloud applications by dedicating a fixed amount of reserved capacity for a database including its built-in secondary replicas. This capability will help you scale databases even better and with more isolation.

Reserved capacity is ideal for cloud-based applications with the following requirements:

  • High Peak Load – An application that requires a lot of CPU, Memory, or IO to complete its operations. For example, if a database operation is known to consume several CPU cores for an extended period of time, it is a candidate for using a Premium database.
  • Many Concurrent Requests – Some database applications service many concurrent requests. The normal Web and Business Editions in SQL Database have a limit of 180 concurrent requests. Applications requiring more connections should use a Premium database with an appropriate reservation size to handle the maximum number of needed requests.
  • Predictable Latency – Some applications need to guarantee a response from the database in minimal time. If a given stored procedure is called as part of a broader customer operation, there might be a requirement to return from that call in no more than 20 milliseconds 99% of the time. This kind of application will benefit from a Premium database to make sure that dedicated computing power is available.

To help you best assess the performance needs of your application and determine if your application might need reserved capacity, our Customer Advisory Team has put together detailed guidance. Read the Guidance for Windows Azure SQL Database premium whitepaper for tips on how to continually tune your application for optimal performance and how to know if your application might need reserved capacity. Additionally, our engineers have put together a whitepaper, Managing Premium Databases, on how to setup, use and manage your new premium database once you are accepted into the Premium preview and quota is approved.

Requesting an invitation to the reserved capacity preview requires two steps:

  1. Visit the Preview Features page to request access to the Premium preview program. Initial acceptance requires customers with active, paid Windows Azure subscriptions and account administrator responsibility.
  2. Once your subscription has been activated for the preview program, request a Premium database quota from either the server dashboard or server quickstart in the SQL Databases extension of the Windows Azure Management Portal.

For a closer look at signing up for the Premium preview, please review the short tutorial page, Sign up for Premium preview for Windows Azure SQL Database.  For more details on Premium for SQL Database pricing, please visit the Windows Azure SQL Database pricing page.

Traffic Manager: Integrated within the Windows Azure Management Portal

The Windows Azure Traffic Manager is the newest service we’ve added to the Windows Azure Management Portal. Windows Azure Traffic Manager allows you to control the distribution of network traffic to your Cloud Services and VMs hosted within Windows Azure. It does this by allowing you to group multiple deployments of your Cloud Services under a single public endpoint, and allows you to manage the traffic load rules to them.

As an example of how to use this, let’s consider a scenario in which a Traffic Manager would help a Cloud Service be highly reliable and available. Let’s say that we have a Cloud Service that has been deployed across three regions: East US, West US and North Central US (using three different cloud service instances: myServiceEastUS, myServiceWestUS and myServiceCentralUS):


If we now wanted to make our Cloud Service efficient and minimize the response time for any request that is made to it, we might want to direct our network requests so that a request originating from an IP range or location goes to the deployed server with the lowest response time for that particular range or location. With Windows Azure Traffic Manager we can now easily do this.

Windows Azure Traffic Manager creates a routing table by pinging your cloud service from various locations around the world and calculates the response times. It then uses this table to redirect requests to your cloud service so that they are served with the lowest possible response times.

Here is how we could set this up: Create a Traffic Manager profile via NEW -> Network Services -> Traffic Manager -> Quick Create:


We’ll choose the Performance option from the “Load Balancing Method” drop down. We’ll select the three instance deployment endpoints we wish to put within the Traffic Manager (in this case our separate deployments within East US, West US and North Central US) and click the Create button:


Once we have created our Traffic Manager Profile, we can update our public facing domain to resolve to our Traffic Manager DNS (in this case

By clicking on the traffic manager profile we just created within the Windows Azure Management Portal, we can also later add additional cloud service endpoints to our traffic manager profile, change monitoring and health settings, and change other configuration settings such as DNS TTL and the Load Balancing Method.

For example, let’s assume we want to later change our Load Balancing Method so that instead of being about performance it is instead optimized for failover scenarios and high availability.  Lets say we want all our requests to be served by West US, and in the event the West US instance fails, we want the East US deployment to take point, followed by the deployment in North Central US if that fails too.  We can enable this by going to the Configure tab of our Traffic Manager Profile and changing the Load Balancing Method to Failover:


Next, we’ll change the Failover Priority List so that the deployment in West US, myServiceWestUS, is first in the list followed by myServiceEastUS and myServiceCentralUS.


Then we’ll click on Save to finalize the changes:


By changing these settings we’ve now enabled automatic failover rules for our cloud service instances and enabled multi-region reliability.  The new integrated Traffic Manager experience within today’s Windows Azure Management Portal update makes configuring all of this super easy to setup.

AutoScale: Mobile Services, Service Bus, Trends and Alerts

Three weeks ago we added new automatic scaling support for Web Sites, Cloud Services and Virtual Machines. 

AutoScale enables you to configure Windows Azure to automatically scale your application dynamically on your behalf (without any manual intervention required) so that you can achieve the ideal performance and cost balance. Once configured, AutoScale will regularly adjust the number of instances running in response to the load in your application. We’ve seen a huge adoption of AutoScale in the three weeks that it has been available.  Today I’m excited to announce that even more AutoScale features are now available for you to use:

Windows Azure Mobile Services Support

AutoScale now supports automatically scaling Mobile Service backends (in addition to Web Sites, VMs and Cloud Services).  This feature is available in both the Standard and Premium tiers of Mobile Services.

To enable AutoScale for your Mobile Service, simply navigate to the “Scale” tab of your Mobile Service and set AutoScale to “On”, and the configure the minimum and maximum range of scale units you wish to use:


When this feature is enabled, Windows Azure will periodically check the daily number of API calls to and from your Mobile Service and will scale up by an additional unit if you are above 90% of your API quota (until reaching the set maximum number of instances you wish to enable).

At the beginning of each day (UTC), Windows Azure will then scale back down to the configured minimum.  This enables you to minimize the number of Mobile Service instances you run – and save money.

Service Bus Queue Depth Rules

The initial preview of AutoScale supported the ability to dynamically scale Worker Roles and VMs based on two different load metrics:

  • CPU percentage of the Worker/VM machine
  • Storage queue depth (number of messages waiting to be processed in a queue)

With today’s update, you can also now scale your VMs and Cloud Services based on the queue depth of a Service Bus Queue as well.  This is ideal for scenarios where you want to dynamically increase or decrease the number of backend systems you are running based on the backlog of messages waiting to be processed in a queue.

To enable this, choose the “Queue” AutoScale option within the “Scale” tab of a VM or Cloud Service.  When you select 'Queue' in the AutoScale section, click on the ' Account / Namespace ' dropdown. You will now see a list of both your Storage Accounts and Service Bus Namespaces:


Once you select a Service Bus namespace, the list of queues in that namespace will appear in the ‘Queue Name’ section. Choose the individual queue that you want AutoScale to monitor:


As with Storage Queues, scaling by Service Bus Queue depth allows you to define a 'Target Per Machine'. This target should represent the amount of messages that you believe each worker role can handle at a time. For example, if you have a target of 200, and 2000 messages are in the queue, AutoScale will scale until you have 10 machines.  It will then dynamically scale up/down as your application load changes.

Historical Trend Monitoring

When you AutoScale by CPU, we also now show a miniature graph of your role’s CPU utilization over the past week. This can help you set appropriate targets when first configuring AutoScale, and see how AutoScale has affected CPU once it’s turned on.



In certain rare scenarios, something may cause the AutoScale engine to fail to execute a rule. We will now inform you in the Windows Azure Management Portal if an AutoScale failure is ongoing:


If you ever see this in the Portal, we recommend monitoring the responsiveness and capacity of your service to make sure that there are currently enough compute instances deployed to meet your goals.

In addition, if the AutoScale engine fails to get metrics, such as CPU percentage, from your virtual machines or website (this can be caused by intermittent network failures or diagnostics failure on the machine), the engine may possibly take a special one-time scale-up action, if your capacity was previously determined to be too low. After this, no further scale actions will be taken until the AutoScale engine can receive metrics again.

Virtual Machines:

Today’s Windows Azure update also includes several nice enhancements to how you create and manage Virtual Machines using the Windows Azure Management Portal. 

Richer Custom Create Wizard

We now expose more Virtual Machine options when you create a new Virtual Machine using the “From Gallery” option in the management portal:


When you select a VM image from the gallery there are now two updates screens that you can use to configure additional options with it – including the ability to place it within a Cloud Service and create/manage availability sets and virtual network subnet settings:


There is also a new screen that allows you to configure and manage network endpoints as part of VM creation within the wizard:


We now enable remote PowerShell by default, and make it really easy for users to configure other well-known protocol endpoints.  You can select from well known protocols from a drop-down list (the screen-shot above shows how this is done) or you can manually enter your own port mapping settings.

Exposing the Cloud Services that are Behind a Virtual Machine

Starting this month you may have noticed that we also now expose the underlying Cloud Service used to host one or more Virtual Machines grouped within a single deployment. Previously we didn’t surface the fact that there was a Cloud Service behind VMs directly in the management portal – now you’ll always be able to access the underlying cloud service if you want (which allows you to control/configure more advanced settings). 

Some additional notes:

  • You can now use the VM gallery to deploy a VM into an existing – empty - Cloud Service. This enables the scenario where you want to customize the DNS name for the deployment before deploying any VMs into it.
  • You can now more easily add multiple VMs to a cloud service container using changes we’ve made to the Create VM wizard.
  • You can now use the new Traffic Manager support to enable network load traffic distribution to VMs hosted within Cloud Services.
  • There are no additional charges for VMs now that the Cloud Services are exposed. They were always created; we’re simply un-hiding them going forward to enable more advanced configuration options to be surfaced.


Today’s release includes a bunch of great features that enable you to build even better cloud solutions.  If you don’t already have a Windows Azure account, you can sign-up for a free trial and start using all of the above features today.  Then visit the Windows Azure Developer Center to learn more about how to build apps with it.

Hope this helps,


P.S. In addition to blogging, I am also now using Twitter for quick updates and to share links. Follow me at:


  • I'm excited to see the Premium SQL Azure offering, but at first glance the jump from $9.95/month to a minimum of $30/day seems a bit high. That said, is it something you'll be able to scale into and out of? So, say Friday afternoons I know 100 employees will put in their time sheets. Can I scale to Premium for the day?

  • Question re: Traffic Manager - If using storage (blob, queue, table storage) as part of the service, how would this overcome needing to get/ put the data into one central storage location. Thus, if traffic hits the west cost and the storage is part of east coast - then there would be worse performance and cost for that - correct? There is no way to have a sync (without building it) so the data is stored in the location but is also available in the other locations? Point being, it seems to only be very useful for when you have applications that do not do much with storage. Am I wrong?

  • Nice updates, was waiting for Traffic manager. Cooool

  • cool stuff , re the SQL Backup , any plans to relax the "charge a full day for the temporary db for backup" thing

  • The VM capabilities are nice, but the big gaping hole is the lack of support for loading a client OS (i.e. Windows 7, Windows 8, etc.) We're interested in using Azure in our company, especially for testing, but the lack of client OS support in your VM offering is a show stopper.

  • Hello Scott,

    Congratulations on the update, you and your team keep rolling out all those features at a very fast pace making Azure better and better each and everytime.

    I currently have a very small Web Role project for a client and it's currently running on 2 extra small VMs but at the moment 1 would be enough except for the fact that I don't want to have the downtime incurred by automatic OS/software updates while keeping the peace of mind of knowing that updates are rolling out wihtout me having to watch anything.

    While I could turn off automatic updates, scale down to 1 VM and scale up manually when updates are required, it would be great if AutoScale supported this scenario and started instances to cover for VMs/Roles that are down during the update. It's not a must-have feature by any mean, but it would make life easier on very small projects that require the minimal amount of VMs/Roles while having the peace of mind that everything is handled/scaled automatically.

    On an unrelated note, I'm not sure but I remember you mentionned billing alerts during Build conference. Any updates on that? Is that a planned feature (later this year or early 2014) or is it on the TODO list with no ETA?

    Again, really cool update and thanks for your detailed blog posts, they're really helpful!



  • Twice the bill for a nightly backup? Seems rather unreasonable, I hope that you can find another (more cost effective) way. UI and scheduling seems simple and perfect though.

  • I love you. The automated exports are fantastic, although the Premium SQL Azure is a tad expensive.

  • Are there any Api to Schedule bacpac in Azure?

  • I would like to have nightly backup, but the price is way to high..

  • Hi Scott,

    Can you confirm if the SQL database backup solution is a stop gap measure? Whilst it's definitely a step in the right direction, it's quite far off from the solution which was demoed at TechEd over two years ago (skip to around 38:00 in the video):

    Charging users a whole day's usage just to get a transactionally consistent backup of the database is very disappointing. Why can't Azure simply produce binary backups (.bak) of it's databases? I thought SQL Databases in Azure were using full SQL Server technology behind the scenes now? It also takes an absolute age to import/export data when backing up and restoring bacpacs, which could be speeded up immensely by having a binary option.


  • I'm very glad to see both of these enhancements to SQL Database service -- it had seemed like it was being neglected for a while there!

    I would like to echo what other are saying here: the prices are a bit concerning. The fact that the backup solution is anything more than an incremental cost + storage cost is unfortunate.

    In terms of the premium database, it's difficult for me to judge Microsoft's costs in actually hosting a premium database vs. business edition database, but to be honest I was a bit shocked when I saw the cost, especially after RTW. The whitepaper gives a lot of information, but it's difficult to compare because the unit of measure for payments is different: for web/business it's based on size, where as for premium it's mainly based on computing resources. To compare apples-to-apples and justify the premium cost, we need to be able to compare directly.

    For example, take RAM. The P1 comes with 8 GB. What's the distribution of available RAM available to business edition databases before connections get throttled or denied? For example, if across all Azure customers it was an average of 4 GB with a 1 GB standard deviation, it would be possible to directly evaluate whether the cost of the premium databases is justified.

    Regardless, it's great to see the SQL database offerings moving forward.

  • There are two features which we were expected for a long time came true. Now my customer would be happy..
    1. Automated SQL Database Backup
    2. Auto Scaling

    and price reduction on stopped VM also was a long term expectation. But, we are still expecting same with Cloud Services.

  • Hi Scott,

    All great improvements but the largest road block to adoption of Azure has still not been addressed after years of waiting, PCI Compliance of the Azure software stack and guideance on completing PCI Compliance on Azure.

    Even basic anti-virus protection and anti-malware protection is now missing again (Microsoft End-Point Protection) only works with SDK v1.7 - when will this be updated to v2.0 and made generally avalible?


  • Hi Scott,

    Lots of interesting open questions above. It would be great if you could take some time to answer them (maybe in a separate post?).
    I have an additional question about the traffic manager:
    I would like to see a combination of a performance and fail-over scenario. So forward traffic to the data center closest to the client IP but if it's unavailable for some reason, then forward the request to other regions. Would that be possible?

  • Cost Impact
    When an automated export is performed, Windows Azure will first do a full copy of your database to a temporary database prior to creating the .bacpac file. This is the only way to ensure that your export is transactionally consistent (this database copy is then automatically removed once the export has completed). As a result, you will be charged for this database copy on the day that you run the export. Since databases are charged by the day, if you were to export every day, you could in theory double your database costs. If you run every week then it would be much less.
    If your storage account is in a different region from the SQL Database, you will be charged for network bandwidth. If your storage account is in the same region there are no bandwidth charges. You’ll then be charged the standard Windows Azure Storage rate (which is priced in GB saved) for any .bacpac files you retain in your storage account.

    Is there somebody that knows an answer to the following question:

    Does Windows Azure charges for 'max databases active at the same time in one day' of 'databases created in one day'?

    For example:
    If you have 10 databases and in 1 day you perform a scheduled export (backup) for those databases (one after another). wil Microsoft charge 20 databases for 1 day or wil they charge 11 database? (because there was only 1 database active at the same time for backup purposes)

  • Hi, Scott. As I am just now studying how to use Azure to scale up my premises servers, can you tell me if this new Traffic Manager functionality can allow me to call my "on-premise" server as one of the managed instances? I don't want to simply manage/scale my Azure VM's and other cloud instances (DB, Media); I also want to use my on-premises server fully, and scale out to my Azure "pay-to-play" instances, when necessary. This kind of traffic manager would help me avoid some heavy coding on the client side to deal with failover, for example, as well as scaling out to the cloud.
    I know it is "tougher than it sounds," but my take on it is this: 1) if I can get one Azure VM to "watch" my premise server for traffic thresholds (which can be as simple as just watching bandwidth counters), that's great, but 2) if I could get your Traffic Manager to watch for these counts, it would be BETTER.
    It seems to break the scope of isolation that Azure provides, so I think I know your answer... however, it would be cool to use an Azure dashboard (and, maybe, a mobile service free instance) to handle watching my premise server as it gets overworked... then, kick on Azure after my internal (i.e. FREE) server screams "uncle!"
    Just wondering about your thoughts on this, for smaller BizSpark-style deployments, like mine...

  • Being able to export automatically is fantastic news. Unfortunately, I need more information to make it work. Here's why:

    My server login has more than the 12 character password limit.
    When I try to create a custom user I fail. The user can log in and can see the tables. It's dbManager in master and has read and write to the database I want to copy.

    1) Please make a guide how to set up a separate user for backup.
    2) And why a limit of 12 characters in the password, is that really is a good maximum length?


  • Please provide a guide how to create a separate user to use Automated Export. My superuser has a password that is longer than 12 characters. I have tried the superuser on my MSDN-account and that works. But in production I want a separate user.

    Below is how I have tried, but it does not work. I do understand that I do something wrong, but what?

    -- master
    CREATE LOGIN serverLogin WITH password='pa$$W0rd'
    CREATE USER dbUser FROM LOGIN serverLogin
    EXEC sp_addrolemember 'dbmanager', 'dbUser'

    - database
    CREATE USER dbUser FROM LOGIN serverLogin
    EXEC sp_addrolemember 'db_owner', 'dbUser'


  • Nice updates, was waiting for Traffic manager. Cooool

  • I can't believe Microsoft release an automatic export feature that makes people incurs in that kind of charge (a day for a minute of database). SQL Azure must have a easy,simple and free to create backups or it won't be even be taken into account for serious companies. When are those people understand than charging every little thing just cause people to get away from it. Completely agree whit danieldsmith's comment about binary backups.

  • Hi Scott,

    We want to try to build Azure sites using Django/Python, but need to integrate with internal RESTful services. The services a non-WCF, so it appears that Azure Service Bus relays are not an option. Other people have said that it is possible, but if so, I can't find documentation. I've reached out to Clemens Vasters on this as well. Without Service Bus relays, and access to internal data services, the move to Azure is unlikely.


  • Hi,

    That's great news about the SQL Database Premium stuff, except that the price curve is way too steep. For a 10Gb database, you go from 46$/month directly to a whole grand. Plus at that price, you can't even put your smaller databases in the reserved space. We really need an option somewhere between. Why not just offer an intermediate shared plan where you put half or even a fourth of the current users, giving us 2 to 4 times the processing power?

    Azure is way closer to being a complete offering than it was 6 months ago. But along the way it seems you lost the value side of the equation. First it was the SSL certificates. 9$/month to host a certificate? Where's my money going? With white labeling it's more expensive to host my certificates than it is to host my web sites (And I'm not even talking about the 39$/month if we need to support IE8!) And now a sweet 1000$ for a minimum of predictable performance from our database?

    For a small company like ours, SQL Databases could solve A LOT of problems. But with this kind of pricing, we'll have to continue looking elsewhere.

  • I tried creating a new VM in Azure using the new VS 2013 image to try out VS 2013. The install is fine but the Windows8 App Store templates and features seem to be missing or not supported? For example, you can't create apps using WinJS templates. The OS reads Windows Server 2012, but it would be nice to have a Win8 Pro VM available.

  • @B Garza, Windows Store and Windows Phone development is currently unsupported in these cloud based images. Also this time we may only provide development images based on the Windows Server OS and VS 2013 or later. Thanks for your interest in this and we’ll consider your feedback for future releases. Meanwhile we recommend thinking about these images for your Web, Cloud, SharePoint and middle-tier development.

  • I want to back up, but the price is too high.

  • what if im using a database which is located in East us Datacenter,and request comming from application deployed in north Us DataCenter,in this scenario application takes longer time to communicate with Db.

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