Microsoft Seeks Slice of the Data-Protection Pie

Last week Microsoft announced the public beta of Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM), its foray into the disk-based backup market--a field that's rapidly becoming crowded with competitors. Microsoft is positioning DPM as a low-cost, high-performance product that it claims will simplify management of disk-based backup for Windows sites.

As I've discussed before in this column, disk-based backup has taken off in popularity as the cost of disk storage has rapidly decreased. Storage hardware vendors have been quick to jump on this bandwagon, releasing solutions that allow their SAN and NAS products to be used in a backup or data-protection role. These vendors are using their existing partnerships to offer customers end-to-end backup solutions. Such solutions use the vendors' hardware storage as a front end that moves data to offline tape backup. The approach that these vendors seem to be taking is that of transparency: The hard-disk-based data-protection scheme presents itself to the network as a familiar tape-backup device; it just works much faster. This means that such disk-based solutions can be easily integrated into existing networks with little or no change being made to the computers that need to be backed up.

Microsoft's DPM solution is agent-based. Every server that's being protected installs the DPM agent. The software is solely focused on protecting the Windows environment and is integrated with the Windows Server OSs, Windows XP, and the Microsoft Office application suite. You manage DPM by using a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in. A DPM management pack is separately available for Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) users, which provides an enterprise-management capability for the DPM process and servers.

Like most of today's high-performance backup systems, DPM replicates to storage only the changes made to files on the protected computers. This means that after the full data set has been replicated, ongoing backup is fast and bandwidth-efficient. DPM provides flexible replication scheduling, although Microsoft expects the most common scheduling choices to be daily or hourly. You can use DPM in conjunction with Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) to provide a multilayered solution that supports point-in-time data recovery.

A software development kit (SDK) is available to OEMs who want to build solutions that support archiving data that DPM stores. A number of vendors are showcasing solutions on the Microsoft Web site that demonstrate the ability to archive DPM-stored data to tape.

For users in a pure Microsoft environment, DPM will likely be a compelling choice (depending upon the pricing model Microsoft uses when it releases the product in late 2005). For users who need to support more than just Windows servers, DPM won't do the job unless they're willing to have multiple disk-to-tape solutions in their backup environment. For more information about DPM and to download the DPM beta, go to

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