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What you need to know about Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager

In "What You Need to Know About Microsoft Data Protection Server," January 2005, InstantDoc ID 44688, I wrote about DPS, which has been renamed Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) and is now shipping. DPM is a disk-based file backup and recovery system that's designed to augment, but not replace, the tape-based backups most enterprises use. I've deployed and am managing a DPM server, so I can now provide some insights into what this product does—and doesn't—provide. Here's what you need to know about DPM.

What It Does
DPM is designed to relieve the pain associated with backing up to and restoring data from tapes and libraries. You know the drill: A knowledge worker in your organization has just overwritten a crucial corporate document and needs to get at a previous version. An IT administrator needs to search tape archives for the desired version of the document, a process that is both time consuming and costly. And, if your organization is typical, those tape backups are likely to be unreliable, infrequently updated, or even completely useless.

DPM sits on a dedicated server in your environment and performs snapshot backups of data at specified intervals. Because it writes the backups to dedicated hard disks, data can be restored immediately. And DPM integrates with Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) technology in Windows Server 2003, so workers can restore data without administrative intervention. The initial version of DPM works only with 32-bit Windows Server-based file servers and is well suited to small and midsized businesses or remote offices with up to 99 servers.

What It Doesn't Do
DPM won't replace your existing tape-based backup systems, which you must still use for long-term data backup. But it will provide near-instantaneous retrieval of at least a few days' or weeks' worth of recent data backups.

DPM won't back up Exchange Server message stores, Microsoft SQL Server databases, SharePoint Portal Server data stores, or other non-file-server data stores. (Microsoft is looking at adding those capabilities to future versions.) Another limitation is that DPM only backs up data—you can't use it for system restores. And although DPM can run on an x64-based version of Windows Server, it doesn't provide native x64 capabilities. Future versions will be available in both x86 (32-bit) and x64 versions, I'm told.

How It Works
You must install DPM on an Active Directory (AD) member server—you can't put it on an unmanaged, workgroup-based server or a server that functions as an AD domain controller (DC). You must also install a DPM agent on every server that contains data you want to back up. Each $950 DPM license includes three agents; additional agents cost $150 each.

As you'd expect of a disk-based backup and recovery system, DPM requires ample amounts of disk space. You can't back up—or protect, in Microsoft parlance—data to the system drive. Instead, you must dedicate disk space for DPM's use.

Installation and configuration is straightforward. The product also installs SQL Server 2000 with Service Pack 1a (SP1a), SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services, and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS).

In DPM's easily navigable Administrator Console, the Monitoring module provides an overview of alerts and jobs you've configured. The Protection module lists the protection groups you've defined. In the Recovery module, you can examine the sets of recoverable data and search for particular data to recover. The Reporting module provides an assortment of useful reports, and the Management module lets you configure the distribution of DPM agents and the disks used to protect data.

After installation, you configure the disks that will be included in the storage pool, install the DPM agent on the servers you'll be protecting, and create protection groups. Protection groups specify the data to be protected, how often it will be backed up, and related options. Bandwidth usage throttling lets you control DPM's use of network bandwidth.

The market for continuous data protection products is starting to heat up, and you'll soon be hearing about competition from other companies. DPM's simple and obvious management console and integration with core Windows 2003 technologies will likely make it an obvious play for many Microsoft-centric shops.

In my testing, DPM has proved reliable, and I recommend it, assuming you understand and can live with its limitations. Key among these is its inability to protect non-file servers. Some of the competition will likely fill this gap in the short term, but DPM itself will address those concerns in a future release.

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