Backup Rivalry: Round 1

The gloves are off. The long-anticipated battle in the market for advanced Windows-based continuous data and system protection between Microsoft and Symantec has begun, and the stakes are high for partners and rivals of both companies.

Microsoft's entree into the data-protection market comes less than three months after Symantec absorbed Veritas, which owns more than half of the Windows backup and recovery market with its flagship Backup Exec product. Microsoft says its new Data Protection Manager (DPM) can complete an incremental backup to disk 3.7 times faster than equivalent incremental backup on tape. But Symantec officials argue incremental backups are going to become a thing of the past, thanks to the new continuous data protection (CDP) functionality in its new Backup Exec 10d. With CDP, every keystroke is backed up in real time. IBM's Tivoli unit also has just released software that performs CDP (see "Advanced Needs Drive Storage," page 80).

Symantec officials also argue that those who use Microsoft's DPM will need to latch onto third parties that support the product's API, including Symantec, Computer Associates, CommVault, Yosemite Software and Hewlett-Packard. "The Microsoft component is a very small subset of what we do today," says Gary Bloom, Symantec's president and vice chairman.

But if there's one thing that the two companies do agree on, it's that Microsoft's entry will provide more visibility to backup and recovery. "From a business standpoint, DPM will grow the overall market while capturing market share," says Rakesh Narasimhan, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Enterprise Management Division.

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At stake for Symantec, though, is its 50 percent share of the Windows segment of that market. Bloom admits Microsoft's entrée will certainly validate the market for data protection and recovery. But, he says, that will embolden former Veritas and now Symantec partners. "The capabilities we are showing today include technology far beyond what Microsoft can do," he says.

The CDP functionality in Backup Exec 10d is architected specifically for disk-to-disk backup, though it supports tape as well. Data from a desktop can be updated in real time, and with a "Google-like" Web interface, individuals can search for and retrieve their own files on the backup server.

"There really hasn't been that compelling a reason to go to the next version of Backup Exec, but I think there is now," says David Tan, CTO of Chips Computer Consulting, Lake Success, N.Y. Tan, who also looked at DPM, believes it will more likely compete against Veritas NetBackup, a high-end data-center replication product, than Backup Exec. "The product looks nice, but I don't know where it will be in five years. I am looking for them to integrate more components," he says.

"I don't like the scope of [DPM]," adds Greg Barry, business development manager of New York-based Power Consulting, a Symantec partner who has evaluated beta versions of DPM. Among other things, Barry says, DPM doesn't handle native SQL Server, SharePoint and Exchange backups--a function Microsoft says it will add in the future. But for that matter, neither does Backup Exec 10d. While 10d provides CDP for files, it still uses traditional incremental backup features for transactional systems. Both companies, along with IBM's Tivoli unit, say their next releases will add CDP to those and other systems as well.