Microsoft Releases Data Protection Manager, Others Add To Platform

Announced a year ago and released to public beta in April, Microsoft DPM is designed to integrate disk-to-disk and near-continual data protection into the Redmond, Wash., company&s server platforms. The software cuts the time required for data backups by backing up changes to the data--instead of the entire data set--as often as once per hour, and it takes data snapshots that can be used to maintain point-in-time copies.

Users can specify how often changes to data are backed up, tracked on the production server and moved to a separate DPM server, as well as throttle the movement of data so it does not affect normal IT operations. They also can browse the DPM server for previous versions of lost or corrupt files and restore them without help from IT administrators.

Microsoft will face heavy competition from Symantec, which on Monday unveiled Backup Exec 10d, the product&s first release to include the company&s Backup Exec Continuous Protection Server continuous data-protection software. Continuous Protection Server--along with IBM Tivoli's new Continuous Data Protection for Files, EMC's upcoming continuous data protection offering and similar products from several startups--can copy all changes to data as they happen instead of just once an hour, as with Microsoft DPM. That gives customers more granularity in terms of accessing point-in-time copies of their data.

Rakesh Narasimhan, general manager for the Windows Enterprise Management division at Microsoft, said there have already been about 60,000 downloads of the beta version of DPM. The software currently backs up a server's files but not data related to such applications as Microsoft Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint.

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"We prioritized on our largest workloads, which is files," Narasimhan said. However, the next version--due in the next 18 to 24 months--is expected to include those capabilities, as well as improved SAN integration, centralized management of storage and bare-metal restore, he added.

Dann Langdan, senior network engineer at Micromenders, a San Francisco-based solution provider, has looked at the DPM beta and thinks the application will enable many customers to enhance the level of file protection vs. traditional 24-hour backup routines. Still, he said Microsoft competitors that criticize DPM as not being granular enough have a valid point.

"There are areas where customers would want higher granularity than one hour," Langdan said. "DPM choice is a function of cost. For some scenarios, it's adequate. But for mission-critical file and print services or for replicating transaction logs, DPM with one-hour granularity is not adequate."

For solution providers looking to work with DPM, other storage vendors are picking up where Microsoft left off with extra capabilities not offered in the product&s first release.

Double-Take data backup and recovery software from NSI Software works with DPM to make sure up-to-the-millisecond changes to Exchange, SQL and SharePoint data are backed up and made available when needed, and it backs up the DPM server, said Jason Buffington, director of business continuity at Hoboken, N.J.-based NSI. "DPM is backup-centric, so customers can click on a file to restore it," Buffington said. "With NSI, you get realtime replication so that secondary copies of a file look like the primary copy for high-availability purposes."

CommVault Systems offers similar capabilities with its software, said Randy DeMeno, director of applications and the Microsoft partnership at the Oceanport, N.J.-based vendor. CommVault can protect all the data that the DPM server is managing and collecting, including the data's metadata, he said.

"We can move it to alternative media like tape or optical drives, and we can restore it to the file level without going through DPM to anywhere," DeMeno said.

It&s important for many DPM customers to use another application, such as those from NSI or CommVault, to provide extra protection, said Langdan, whose company is a partner of NSI. "With NSI Double-Take in place of DPM, you get continuous data replication," he said. "You have every last write to the server, and you also have the database protection DPM doesn't offer."

Because it&s licensed on a per-server basis, DPM is less expensive than software like Double-Take, which is licensed on a per-node basis, according to Langdan. But adding Double-Take on top of DPM can be a relatively inexpensive way to protect mission-critical data that is not protected by DPM, he said.

Some hardware vendors, including Hewlett-Packard and EqualLogic, have integrated DPM on servers to act as a turnkey data-protection appliance. EqualLogic's new PS300E appliance, introduced Tuesday, is built on a SATA array with 3-Gbps throughput and features such as native command queuing, which can change the order of reads and writes to take advantage of where data is located on a hard drive, said John Joseph, the Nashua, N.H.-based vendor&s vice president of marketing.

The PS300E, slated to ship Oct. 1, comes with the new 500-Gbyte hard drives from Hitachi and will eventually feature drives with similar capacity from Seagate, Maxtor and Western Digital, Joseph said. Maximum capacity is 7 Tbytes per array, and multiple units can be combined for higher capacities.

Capacity can be added seamlessly without impacting customer applications, according to Don Bulens, CEO of EqualLogic. The units, in addition to integration with DPM, also include free replication and snapshot software, he said.

About 80 percent of EqualLogic's sales come from the channel, but that will eventually grow to 100 percent, Bulens said. The company has added 75 solution providers in the past six months, doubling its channel base, he said.