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The Microsoft Data Protection Server (DPS) was announced in the run-up to Storage Expo and is due to be released in mid-2005.
About 20 hardware suppliers have said they will support the server, including CommVault, Computer Associates, Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems and Sun.
Analyst firm Gartner said users are spending more on back-up and recovery products than on any other part of their storage infrastructure.
DPS is a low-cost standalone server designed to automate back-up and recovery. It could help IT managers to cut management costs and save time in what tends to be a labour-intensive process, Microsoft said.
The server uses continuous disc-to-disc back-up to manage data from files stored on Windows 2000 Server, Windows Server 2003 or Windows Storage Server 2003 products. Microsoft also intends to make DPS compatible with Microsoft Exchange Server and SQL Server.
DPS works by taking a snapshot of the data on a server and replicating it on the DPS. Once the data is replicated to DPS, it creates a series of snapshots that reflect how a server looks at a certain point in time.
Yuval Neeman, corporate vice-president, storage and platform solutions group at Microsoft, said DPS would enable companies to carry out more frequent back-ups more easily.
"Most businesses only do their back-ups once a day, so they must assume data loss for the 24 hours between back-ups," he said.
"With DPS, businesses can recover from three of the most common scenarios: a deleted or overwritten file, a server failure or a downed datacentre."
The DPS only moves the bytes of the file that have changed, rather than the full file, which means the back-up and recovery should be faster than tape back-up and recovery.
Neeman said DPS was designed for use alongside tape back-up, which is better suited to long-term archival and off-site storage.
Gartner vice-president and research director Raymond Paquet said Microsoft's decision to offer a mainstream storage back-up and recovery system is good news for users because DPS will be integrated closely with other Microsoft server products.
DPS will be in competition with other back-up products from suppliers focused on Windows, such as Veritas' Back-upexec, Computer Associates' Arc- serve and CommVault's Galaxy.
Paquet said, "Continuous disc-to-disc back-up could shrink data recovery times to minutes or seconds, thereby improving data availability. Back-up administrators would no longer have to worry about scheduling and managing tape resources.
"However, one drawback is that DPS does not address Unix, Linux or other non-Windows platforms, nor does it yet support tape natively."
Microsoft's software has elements in common with Network Appliance's Snapvault - a system that frequently backs up data stored on a NetApp or other storage platform to a NetApp disc-based storage appliance.
Unlike Microsoft's software, this caters for heterogeneous storage environments. A sister product, Snapshot, can store back-ups online so they can be restored quickly.