About SQL Server Backup in Azure VMs

SQL Server databases are critical workloads that require a low recovery point objective (RPO) and long-term retention. You can back up SQL Server databases running on Azure VMs using Azure Backup.

Backup process

This solution leverages the SQL native APIs to take backups of your SQL databases.

  • Once you specify the SQL Server VM that you want to protect and query for the databases in it, Azure Backup service will install a workload backup extension on the VM by the name AzureBackupWindowsWorkload extension.

  • This extension consists of a coordinator and a SQL plugin. While the coordinator is responsible for triggering workflows for various operations like configure backup, backup and restore, the plugin is responsible for actual data flow.

  • To be able to discover databases on this VM, Azure Backup creates the account NT SERVICE\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc. This account is used for backup and restore and requires SQL sysadmin permissions. The NT SERVICE\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc account is a Virtual Service Account, and therefore does not require any password management. Azure Backup leverages the NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM account for database discovery/inquiry, so this account needs to be a public login on SQL. If you didn't create the SQL Server VM from the Azure Marketplace, you might receive an error UserErrorSQLNoSysadminMembership. If this occurs follow these instructions.

  • Once you trigger configure protection on the selected databases, the backup service sets up the coordinator with the backup schedules and other policy details, which the extension caches locally on the VM.

  • At the scheduled time, the coordinator communicates with the plugin and it starts streaming the backup data from the SQL server using VDI.

  • The plugin sends the data directly to the recovery services vault, thus eliminating the need for a staging location. The data is encrypted and stored by the Azure Backup service in storage accounts.

  • When the data transfer is complete, coordinator confirms the commit with the backup service.

    SQL Backup architecture

Before you start

Before you start, verify the below:

  1. Make sure you have a SQL Server instance running in Azure. You can quickly create a SQL Server instance in the marketplace.
  2. Review the feature consideration and scenario support.
  3. Review common questions about this scenario.

Scenario support

Support Details
Supported deployments SQL Marketplace Azure VMs and non-Marketplace (SQL Server manually installed) VMs are supported.
Supported geos Australia South East (ASE), East Australia (AE), Australia Central (AC), Australia Central 2 (AC)
Brazil South (BRS)
Canada Central (CNC), Canada East (CE)
South East Asia (SEA), East Asia (EA)
East US (EUS), East US 2 (EUS2), West Central US (WCUS), West US (WUS); West US 2 (WUS 2) North Central US (NCUS) Central US (CUS) South Central US (SCUS)
India Central (INC), India South (INS), India West
Japan East (JPE), Japan West (JPW)
Korea Central (KRC), Korea South (KRS)
North Europe (NE), West Europe
UK South (UKS), UK West (UKW)
US Gov Arizona, US Gov Virginia, US Gov Texas, US DoD Central, US DoD East
Germany North, Germany West Central
Switzerland North, Switzerland West
France Central
China East, China East 2, China North, China North 2
Supported operating systems Windows Server 2019, Windows Server 2016, Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1

Linux isn't currently supported.
Supported SQL Server versions SQL Server 2019, SQL Server 2017 as detailed on the Search product lifecycle page, SQL Server 2016 and SPs as detailed on the Search product lifecycle page, SQL Server 2014, SQL Server 2012, SQL Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008

Enterprise, Standard, Web, Developer, Express.
Supported .NET versions .NET Framework 4.5.2 or later installed on the VM

Feature consideration and limitations

  • SQL Server backup can be configured in the Azure portal or PowerShell. We do not support CLI.
  • The solution is supported on both kinds of deployments - Azure Resource Manager VMs and classic VMs.
  • VM running SQL Server requires internet connectivity to access Azure public IP addresses.
  • SQL Server Failover Cluster Instance (FCI) is not supported.
  • Back up and restore operations for mirror databases and database snapshots aren't supported.
  • Using more than one backup solutions to back up your standalone SQL Server instance or SQL Always on availability group may lead to backup failure; refrain from doing so.
  • Backing up two nodes of an availability group individually with same or different solutions, may also lead to backup failure.
  • Azure Backup supports only Full and Copy-only Full backup types for Read-only databases
  • Databases with large number of files can't be protected. The maximum number of files that is supported is ~1000.
  • You can back up to ~2000 SQL Server databases in a vault. You can create multiple vaults in case you have a greater number of databases.
  • You can configure backup for up to 50 databases in one go; this restriction helps optimize backup loads.
  • We support databases up to 2 TB in size; for sizes greater than that performance issues may come up.
  • To have a sense of as to how many databases can be protected per server, we need to consider factors such as bandwidth, VM size, backup frequency, database size, etc. Download the resource planner that gives the approximate number of databases you can have per server based on the VM resources and the backup policy.
  • In case of availability groups, backups are taken from the different nodes based on a few factors. The backup behavior for an availability group is summarized below.

Back up behavior in case of Always on availability groups

It is recommended that the backup is configured on only one node of an AG. Backup should always be configured in the same region as the primary node. In other words, you always need the primary node to be present in the region in which you are configuring backup. If all the nodes of the AG are in the same region in which the backup is configured, there isn’t any concern.

For cross-region AG

  • Regardless of the backup preference, backups won’t happen from the nodes that are not in the same region where the backup is configured. This is because the cross-region backups are not supported. If you have only two nodes and the secondary node is in the other region; in this case, the backups will continue to happen from primary node (unless your backup preference is ‘secondary only’).
  • If a fail-over happens to a region different than the one in which the backup is configured, backups would fail on the nodes in the failed-over region.

Depending on the backup preference and backups types (full/differential/log/copy-only full), backups are taken from a particular node (primary/secondary).

  • Backup preference: Primary
Backup Type Node
Full Primary
Differential Primary
Log Primary
Copy-Only Full Primary
  • Backup preference: Secondary Only
Backup Type Node
Full Primary
Differential Primary
Log Secondary
Copy-Only Full Secondary
  • Backup preference: Secondary
Backup Type Node
Full Primary
Differential Primary
Log Secondary
Copy-Only Full Secondary
  • No Backup preference
Backup Type Node
Full Primary
Differential Primary
Log Secondary
Copy-Only Full Secondary

Set VM permissions

When you run discovery on a SQL Server, Azure Backup does the following:

  • Adds the AzureBackupWindowsWorkload extension.
  • Creates an NT SERVICE\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc account to discover databases on the virtual machine. This account is used for a backup and restore and requires SQL sysadmin permissions.
  • Discovers databases that are running on a VM, Azure Backup uses the NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM account. This account must be a public sign-in on SQL.

If you didn't create the SQL Server VM in the Azure Marketplace or if you are on SQL 2008 and 2008 R2, you might receive a UserErrorSQLNoSysadminMembership error.

For giving permissions in case of SQL 2008 and 2008 R2 running on Windows 2008 R2, refer here.

For all other versions, fix permissions with the following steps:

  1. Use an account with SQL Server sysadmin permissions to sign in to SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). Unless you need special permissions, Windows authentication should work.

  2. On the SQL Server, open the Security/Logins folder.

    Open the Security/Logins folder to see accounts

  3. Right-click the Logins folder and select New Login. In Login - New, select Search.

    In the Login - New dialog box, select Search

  4. The Windows virtual service account NT SERVICE\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc was created during the virtual machine registration and SQL discovery phase. Enter the account name as shown in Enter the object name to select. Select Check Names to resolve the name. Click OK.

    Select Check Names to resolve the unknown service name

  5. In Server Roles, make sure the sysadmin role is selected. Click OK. The required permissions should now exist.

    Make sure the sysadmin server role is selected

  6. Now associate the database with the Recovery Services vault. In the Azure portal, in the Protected Servers list, right-click the server that's in an error state > Rediscover DBs.

    Verify the server has appropriate permissions

  7. Check progress in the Notifications area. When the selected databases are found, a success message appears.

    Deployment success message


If your SQL Server has multiple instances of SQL Server installed, then you must add sysadmin permission for NT Service\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc account to all SQL instances.

Give SQL sysadmin permissions for SQL 2008 and SQL 2008 R2

Add NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM and NT Service\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc logins to the SQL Server Instance:

  1. Go the SQL Server Instance in the Object explorer.

  2. Navigate to Security -> Logins

  3. Right click on the Logins and click New Login…

    New Login using SSMS

  4. Go to the General tab and enter NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM as the Login Name.

    login name for SSMS

  5. Go to Server Roles and choose public and sysadmin roles.

    choosing roles in SSMS

  6. Go to Status. Grant the Permission to connect to database engine and Login as Enabled.

    Grant permissions in SSMS

  7. Click OK.

  8. Repeat the same sequence of steps (1-7 above) to add NT Service\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc login to the SQL Server instance. If the login already exists, make sure it has the sysadmin server role and under Status it has Grant the Permission to connect to database engine and Login as Enabled.

  9. After granting permission, Rediscover DBs in the portal: Vault -> Backup Infrastructure -> Workload in Azure VM:

    Rediscover DBs in Azure portal

Alternatively, you can automate giving the permissions by running the following PowerShell commands in admin mode. The instance name is set to MSSQLSERVER by default. Change the instance name argument in script if need be:

    [string] $InstanceName = "MSSQLSERVER"
if ($InstanceName -eq "MSSQLSERVER")
    $fullInstance = $env:COMPUTERNAME   # In case it is the default SQL Server Instance
    $fullInstance = $env:COMPUTERNAME + "\" + $InstanceName   # In case of named instance
    sqlcmd.exe -S $fullInstance -Q "sp_addsrvrolemember 'NT Service\AzureWLBackupPluginSvc', 'sysadmin'" # Adds login with sysadmin permission if already not available
    Write-Host "An error occurred:"
    Write-Host $_.Exception|format-list -force
    sqlcmd.exe -S $fullInstance -Q "sp_addsrvrolemember 'NT AUTHORITY\SYSTEM', 'sysadmin'" # Adds login with sysadmin permission if already not available
    Write-Host "An error occurred:"
    Write-Host $_.Exception|format-list -force

Next steps