Microsoft unveils continuous data protection product

Microsoft Tuesday announced the availability of its disk-to-disk continuous data backup product, Data Protection Manager (DPM). The software saves up to eight snapshots of data off Windows servers throughout the day, allowing IT administrators to restore files from disk faster and use a larger number of data points from which to recover information.

DPM installs on Windows Server 2003 and takes up to 64 snapshots of data over eight days, storing them on a generic Wintel server. Retail pricing starts at US$950 per server. Microsoft announced the product a year ago and had it in beta testing even before that announcement.

James Tarala, CIO and chief technology officer at Schenck Business Solutions in Milwaukee, said he recently purchased DPM and expects to use it eliminate daily tape backups at 11 remote offices. His plan is to replicate snapshots to three new iSCSI storage arrays at his primary data center in Appleton. The storage arrays are from EqualLogic in Nashua, N.H.

"One thing I like is the DPM product is less expensive," Tarala said, explaining that it's easier and faster to manage incremental disk backups instead of full or incremental tape backups. "From a time standpoint, one of the things that takes so much time is going back to tape to recover files."

Continuous data protection products come in two iterations: those that record every change to data at the byte level, which allows IT administrators to dial back to any point in time, and those like Microsoft's DPM, which take periodic snapshots of data, allowing recovery back to specific points in time.

Whichever model is used, continuous data protection dramatically improves how quickly the restoration of data can occur as well as the recovery point objectives when compared to traditional incremental or full backups, said Brian Babineau, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

Rakesh Narasimhan, general manager of Microsoft's Windows Enterprise Management division, said Microsoft was convinced by the move away from tape backup products that customers wanted more "rapid and reliable recovery."

Babineau said the product will be popular. Enterprise Strategy Group recently surveyed IT managers at 228 companies asking them whether they would use a Microsoft disk-based backup product. Forty-seven percent said they would. When asked if they'd heard about Microsoft's DPM, 40 percent said they hadn't, and another 40 percent said they had, but knew little about it, according to Babineau. The rest said they were very familiar with the product.

"We've got 80 percent of them saying don't know much about it, but 50 percent of those saying if Microsoft had disk-based backup product, they would use it. You can see the depth of branding and marketing muscle Microsoft can drag along with their product," Babineau said.

Microsoft said it has partnered with major backup software vendors -- such as Veritas Software (now part of Symantec) and CommVault Systems -- to integrate DPM with their backup software. Those backup vendors' products could perform traditional backups off the Microsoft DPM servers and then either store them to primary disk arrays and/or to tape archives.

Babineau described Microsoft's DPM and other continuous data protection products as simply "another feature function in the backup world." While those products now appear as a separate market, over time large vendors will add the feature to their existing backup products.

For example, IBM last month announced Tivoli Continuous Data Protection for Files. Babineau said EMC will likely announce soon that it will resell another vendor's continuous data protection product. Quantum is also is expected to release an appliance that works with its DX Series arrays.

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