Back up a SQL Server database in an Azure VM

This tutorial shows you how to back up a SQL Server database running on an Azure VM to an Azure Backup Recovery Services vault. In this article, you learn how to:

  • Create and configure a vault.
  • Discover databases, and set up backups.
  • Set up auto-protection for databases.
  • Run an on-demand backup.


Before you back up your SQL Server database, check the following conditions:

  1. Identify or create a Recovery Services vault in the same region or locale as the VM hosting the SQL Server instance.
  2. Check the VM permissions needed to back up the SQL databases.
  3. Verify that the VM has network connectivity.
  4. Check that the SQL Server databases are named in accordance with naming guidelines for Azure Backup.
  5. Verify that you don't have any other backup solutions enabled for the database. Disable all other SQL Server backups before you set up this scenario. You can enable Azure Backup for an Azure VM along with Azure Backup for a SQL Server database running on the VM without any conflict.

Create a Recovery Services vault

A Recovery Services vault is a management entity that stores recovery points that are created over time, and it provides an interface to perform backup-related operations. These operations include taking on-demand backups, performing restores, and creating backup policies.

To create a Recovery Services vault:

  1. Sign in to the Azure portal.

  2. Search for Backup center, and then go to the Backup center dashboard.

    Screenshot that shows where to search for and select 'Backup center'.

  3. On the Overview pane, select Vault.

    Screenshot of the button for creating a Recovery Services vault.

  4. Select Recovery Services vault > Continue.

    Screenshot that shows where to select Recovery Services as the vault type.

  5. On the Recovery Services vault pane, enter the following values:

    • Subscription: Select the subscription to use. If you're a member of only one subscription, you'll see that name. If you're not sure which subscription to use, use the default subscription. There are multiple choices only if your work or school account is associated with more than one Azure subscription.

    • Resource group: Use an existing resource group or create a new one. To view a list of available resource groups in your subscription, select Use existing, and then select a resource in the dropdown list. To create a new resource group, select Create new, and then enter the name. For more information about resource groups, see Azure Resource Manager overview.

    • Vault name: Enter a friendly name to identify the vault. The name must be unique to the Azure subscription. Specify a name that has at least 2 but not more than 50 characters. The name must start with a letter and consist only of letters, numbers, and hyphens.

    • Region: Select the geographic region for the vault. For you to create a vault to help protect any data source, the vault must be in the same region as the data source.


      If you're not sure of the location of your data source, close the window. Go to the list of your resources in the portal. If you have data sources in multiple regions, create a Recovery Services vault for each region. Create the vault in the first location before you create a vault in another location. There's no need to specify storage accounts to store the backup data. The Recovery Services vault and Azure Backup handle that automatically.

    Screenshot that shows fields for configuring a Recovery Services vault.

  6. After providing the values, select Review + create.

  7. To finish creating the Recovery Services vault, select Create.

    It can take a while to create the Recovery Services vault. Monitor the status notifications in the Notifications area at the upper right. After the vault is created, it appears in the list of Recovery Services vaults. If the vault doesn't appear, select Refresh.

    Screenshot that shows the button for refreshing the list of backup vaults.


Azure Backup now supports immutable vaults that help you ensure that recovery points once created can't be deleted before their expiry as per the backup policy. You can make the immutability irreversible for maximum protection to your backup data from various threats, including ransomware attacks and malicious actors. Learn more.

Discover SQL Server databases

Discover databases running on the VM.

  1. In the Azure portal, go to Backup center and click +Backup.

  2. Select SQL in Azure VM as the datasource type, select the Recovery Services vault you have created, and then click Continue.

    Screenshot showing to select Backup to view the databases running in a VM.

  3. In Backup Goal > Discover DBs in VMs, select Start Discovery to search for unprotected VMs in the subscription. It can take a while, depending on the number of unprotected virtual machines in the subscription.

    • Unprotected VMs should appear in the list after discovery, listed by name and resource group.

    • If a VM isn't listed as you expect, check whether it's already backed up in a vault.

    • Multiple VMs can have the same name but they'll belong to different resource groups.

      Backup is pending during search for DBs in VMs

  4. In the VM list, select the VM running the SQL Server database > Discover DBs.

  5. Track database discovery in the Notifications area. It can take a while for the job to complete, depending on how many databases are on the VM. When the selected databases are discovered, a success message appears.

    Deployment success message

  6. Azure Backup discovers all SQL Server databases on the VM. During discovery, the following occurs in the background:

    • Azure Backup register the VM with the vault for workload backup. All databases on the registered VM can only be backed up to this vault.

    • Azure Backup installs the AzureBackupWindowsWorkload extension on the VM. No agent is installed on the SQL database.

    • Azure Backup creates the service account NT Service\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc on the VM.

      • All backup and restore operations use the service account.
      • NT Service\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc needs SQL sysadmin permissions. All SQL Server VMs created in Azure Marketplace come with the SqlIaaSExtension installed. The AzureBackupWindowsWorkload extension uses the SQLIaaSExtension to automatically get the required permissions.
    • If you didn't create the VM from the marketplace, then the VM doesn't have the SqlIaaSExtension installed, and the discovery operation fails with the error message UserErrorSQLNoSysAdminMembership. Follow the instructions to fix this issue.

      Select the VM and database

Configure backup

Configure backup as follows:

  1. In Backup Goal > Step 2: Configure Backup, select Configure Backup.

    Select Configure Backup

  2. Select Add Resources to see all the registered availability groups and standalone SQL Server instances.

    Select add resources

  3. In the Select items to backup screen, select the arrow to the left of a row to expand the list of all the unprotected databases in that instance or Always On availability group.

    Select items to backup

  4. Choose all the databases you want to protect, and then select OK.

    Protecting the database

    To optimize backup loads, Azure Backup sets a maximum number of databases in one backup job to 50.

    • To protect more than 50 databases, configure multiple backups.

    • To enable the entire instance or the Always On availability group, in the AUTOPROTECT drop-down list, select ON, and then select OK.


      The auto-protection feature not only enables protection on all the existing databases at once, but also automatically protects any new databases added to that instance or the availability group.

  5. Define the Backup policy. You can do one of the following:

    • Select the default policy as HourlyLogBackup.

    • Choose an existing backup policy previously created for SQL.

    • Define a new policy based on your RPO and retention range.

      Select Backup policy

  6. Select Enable Backup to submit the Configure Protection operation and track the configuration progress in the Notifications area of the portal.

    Track configuration progress

Create a backup policy

A backup policy defines when backups are taken and how long they're retained.

  • A policy is created at the vault level.
  • Multiple vaults can use the same backup policy, but you must apply the backup policy to each vault.
  • When you create a backup policy, a daily full backup is the default.
  • You can add a differential backup, but only if you configure full backups to occur weekly.
  • Learn about different types of backup policies.

To create a backup policy:

  1. Go to Backup center and click +Policy.

  2. Select SQL Server in Azure VM as the datasource type, select the vault under which the policy should be created, and then click Continue.

    Screenshot showing to choose a policy type for the new backup policy.

  3. In Policy name, enter a name for the new policy.

    Screenshot to showing to enter policy name.

  4. Select the Edit link corresponding, to Full backup, to modify the default settings.

    • Select a Backup Frequency. Choose either Daily or Weekly.
    • For Daily, select the hour and time zone when the backup job begins. You can't create differential backups for daily full backups.

    Screenshot showing new backup policy fields.

  5. In RETENTION RANGE, all options are selected by default. Clear any retention range limits that you don't want, and then set the intervals to use.

    • Minimum retention period for any type of backup (full, differential, and log) is seven days.
    • Recovery points are tagged for retention based on their retention range. For example, if you select a daily full backup, only one full backup is triggered each day.
    • The backup for a specific day is tagged and retained based on the weekly retention range and the weekly retention setting.
    • Monthly and yearly retention ranges behave in a similar way.

    Screenshot showing the retention range interval settings.

  6. Select OK to accept the setting for full backups.

  7. Select the Edit link corresponding to Differential backup, to modify the default settings.

    • In Differential Backup policy, select Enable to open the frequency and retention controls.
    • You can trigger only one differential backup per day. A differential backup can't be triggered on the same day as a full backup.
    • Differential backups can be retained for a maximum of 180 days.
    • The differential backup retention period can't be greater than that of the full backup (as the differential backups are dependent on the full backups for recovery).
    • Differential Backup isn't supported for the master database.

    Screenshot showing the differential Backup policy.

  8. Select the Edit link corresponding to Log backup, to modify the default settings

    • In Log Backup, select Enable, and then set the frequency and retention controls.
    • Log backups can occur as often as every 15 minutes and can be retained for up to 35 days.
    • If the database is in the simple recovery model, the log backup schedule for that database will be paused and so no log backups will be triggered.
    • If the recovery model of the database changes from Full to Simple, log backups will be paused within 24 hours of the change in the recovery model. Similarly, if the recovery model changes from Simple, implying log backups can now be supported for the database, the log backups schedules will be enabled within 24 hours of the change in recovery model.

    Screenshot showing the log Backup policy.

  9. On the Backup policy menu, choose whether to enable SQL Backup Compression or not. This option is disabled by default. If enabled, SQL Server will send a compressed backup stream to the VDI. Azure Backup overrides instance level defaults with COMPRESSION / NO_COMPRESSION clause depending on the value of this control.

  10. After you complete the edits to the backup policy, select OK.


Each log backup is chained to the previous full backup to form a recovery chain. This full backup will be retained until the retention of the last log backup has expired. This might mean that the full backup is retained for an extra period to make sure all the logs can be recovered. Let's assume you have a weekly full backup, daily differential and 2 hour logs. All of them are retained for 30 days. But, the weekly full can be really cleaned up/deleted only after the next full backup is available, that is, after 30 + 7 days. For example, a weekly full backup happens on Nov 16th. According to the retention policy, it should be retained until Dec 16th. The last log backup for this full happens before the next scheduled full, on Nov 22nd. Until this log is available until Dec 22nd, the Nov 16th full can't be deleted. So, the Nov 16th full is retained until Dec 22nd.

Run an on-demand backup

  1. In your Recovery Services vault, choose Backup items.
  2. Select "SQL in Azure VM".
  3. Right-click on a database, and choose "Backup now".
  4. Choose the Backup Type (Full/Differential/Log/Copy Only Full) and Compression (Enable/Disable).
    • On-demand full retains backups for a minimum of 45 days and a maximum of 99 years.
    • On-demand copy only full accepts any value for retention.
    • On-demand differential retains backups as per the retention of scheduled differentials set in policy.
    • On-demand log retains backups as per the retention of scheduled logs set in policy.
  5. Select OK to begin the backup.
  6. Monitor the backup job by going to your Recovery Services vault and choosing "Backup Jobs".

Next steps

In this tutorial, you used the Azure portal to:

  • Create and configure a vault.
  • Discover databases, and set up backups.
  • Set up auto-protection for databases.
  • Run an on-demand backup.

Continue to the next tutorial to restore an Azure virtual machine from disk.