Microsoft Plots Assault On Backup And Replication Market

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In case you haven't heard, there's a new player priming to enter the backup and recovery space. And unlike the plethora of other vendors peddling backup and data replication software, this entrant could really upset the balance of power. The vendor, of course, is Microsoft, and its foray into the backup market will come next year in the form of the Data Protection Server (DPS). The DPS software replicates files running on Windows-based servers, reducing disk-to-disk backups and restorations to mere minutes.

Many yawned at Microsoft's DPS announcement last week, pointing out that it may not ship for some time. And solution providers see little impact in the near term.

"I can't be real worried about something that's not going to ship for quite a while," says Andrew Peters, president of Peters and Associates, who was named Microsoft's 2004 VAR Partner of the Year for the Central Region.

Peters is also a Veritas partner who has recently gotten on board Veritas' new SMB initiative, announced earlier this year. Responding to Veritas new push to get partners to bundle more of its wares into the SMB market, Peters is building on his expertise in BackUp Exec to include such add-on tools as the Desktop and Laptop Option (the add-on modules to Backup Exec and Net Backup), and Veritas' Replication Server and Storage Central, the latter a policy engine Veritas gained last year when it acquired Precise. That's certainly not a bad strategy for a VAR looking to add more value to SMB customers that very much need these types of solutions.

But rest assured, Microsoft's entree will give Peters and VARs like him plenty to think about during the coming year. DPS could "seriously hurt" vendors in the Windows backup market, such as CA, CommVault and Veritas, according to a recent research note from Gartner to clients.

"As they add more functionality to the product, slowly over time it will become more of a competitive threat," adds Yankee group analyst Stephanie Balaouras.

To Peters' point, there's no need to head for the hills. Peters and others point out that Citrix has done quite well since Microsoft added and continued to bolster the Windows Terminal Server function of Windows. And Microsoft's DPS will apply only to backup and recovery of Windows-only files, meaning companies such as CA, CommVault and Veritas will still be able to serve enterprises with Linux, Unix and various host platforms.

But for those VARs targeting SMBs, the Windows-only market spells a huge opportunity. A whopping 80 percent of SMB customers surveyed by the Yankee Group say spending on backup and recovery solutions will be a key part of their IT spending plans during the next year. By some estimates, more than half of those SMBs don't have any formal or adequate backup and recovery plans. Of course, the lower end of the SMB market, where there are fewer than 100 servers, is typically dominated by Windows.

DPS also validates the growing market of disk-to-disk backup and recovery, says IDC analyst Bill North.

"It's an acknowledgement that most of the current offerings that make use of disk make use of disk by writing a tape format out to a direct access device, which isn't the best use of disk storage," he says. "Odds are better than 50-50 that it will actually help grow the market, and Microsoft will take a chunk of that growth, as will the others. But it won't take a significant dent out of anyone's helmet."

So how will DPS work? Solution providers will be able to install it on customers' file servers running Windows 2000/2003 Server or Microsoft Storage Server 2003. The current plan is for DPS to run on a multiterabyte ATA or SATA-based storage device or an independent storage server. Using the DPS Management Console, administrators will be able to install agents on production servers and provide policy-based replication of files.

DPS will use Microsoft's Active Directory to discover the file servers and deploy agents on them, which will continuously monitor and log changes and replicate them back to DPS. Instead of sending an entire file, however, it will only replicate changes within the file. So if a 20-MB file only has deltas of less than 1 MB, only those changes will be transmitted, notes Microsoft senior director Jeff Price.

"That puts much less load on the production server and allows you to do it much more frequently," he says.

To be sure, there are plenty of solutions that support such features. So why did companies including CA, CommVault, Dantz and Dot Hill jump on the DPS bandwagon, announcing their wholehearted support? Chris Van Wagoner, director of product marketing at CommVault, says supporting DPS can help get backed-up data to removable media for archiving. Also, because DPS doesn't have native support for Exchange, SQL or SharePoint, CommVault can continue to support those functions.

So what happens when Microsoft takes DPS to the next level?

"We can always run faster than them," Van Wagoner says. CA BrightStor Product Management vice president Anders Lofgren notes that his company will use DPS to "extend its capabilities to include disaster recovery, application recovery, off-site vaulting, long-term archival and advanced security across heterogeneous environments."

Adds Julie Parrish, vice president of field and channel marketing at Veritas, "This is validation that this a very important market."

While Symantec and Veritas did not join the likes of CA and CommVault in officially endorsing DPS, they both intend to support it. Symantec, which next week will launch an upgrade of its Protector 2 product, to be called LiveState Recovery 3.0, sees Microsoft's DPS as a validation of its own thrust toward disk-to-disk backup and recovery.

"We look forward to supporting DPS and being able to provide system recovery on DPS servers as well," says L.D. Weller, senior product manager fur Symantec's Enterprise Administration business unit.

Although it can be used in enterprises of any size, Microsoft says DPS is best-suited in SMBs or departments of larger organizations with five to 49 file servers and those currently finding that they:

  • have little time to conduct backups because they take too long or are too costly;
  • have frequent file recoveries from tape; and
  • need those recoveries within an hour, otherwise it could have an adverse impact on the business.

    As long as it's a heterogeneous world and storage vendors stay ahead of the curve from both a price and performance standpoint, DPS could be a boon to partners -- think Citrix. But in a market where consolidation is inevitable at some point, never underestimate the impact Microsoft may have.

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