Microsoft pumps up Data Protection Manager

A more scalable version of Data Protection Manager is coming, but it's still missing policy-based backup management features and granular recovery capabilities.

After a public beta and trial period with more than 70,000 participants over the past year, Microsoft is releasing version 2 of its Data Protection Manager (DPM) product to manufacturing. The new version of Data Protection Manager has improved snapshots and scalability, but it's still lacking key capabilities.

Beta users said they like the simplicity of DPM version 2 as well as its tighter integration with other Microsoft products. Ingram Leedy, managing partner of Elephant Outlook, a Microsoft Exchange hosting provider, said he has struggled in the past with backup products, including Symantec Corp.'s Backup Exec and EMC Corp.'s Replication Manager, especially when it came to troubleshooting.

"Backup has been just a nasty thing for us," he said. "At times we've had a problem, other vendors point fingers at Windows and vice versa, and it's been very frustrating."

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Leedy, whose shop is almost 100% comprised of Windows hosts running Exchange, said he's found the Windows approach to backup more intuitive and easier to use than third-party products. The new version of DPM supports disk-to-disk-to-tape (DDT) backup schemes with a wizard that requires users to enter the frequency of snapshots (full and incremental), points to the primary disk storage and to the tape library, and automates the process from there. (Compatibility also isn't much of an issue, since most disk devices and tape libraries already support native Windows drivers.) The DPM wizard also automatically generates warnings when capacity is low and "cleans up" expired data behind the scenes.

"That little wizard does everything for you," Leedy said. "Other backup software may have more whistles and bells, but DPM has been simple and reliable for us, and that's what's most important."

The new version of DPM has also come a long way with scalability. The number of full snapshots supported has jumped to 512 "express full" snapshots meant to be performed on a weekly basis. The new version of DPM can also take incremental snapshots as frequently as once every 15 minutes, for a total of 340,000 possible recovery points -- a far cry from the 64 total snapshots per volume supported in the first version of DPM. The new version can also support 300 client servers; version 1 could only support 30.

But DPM may still be playing catch-up in some important areas. According to analyst Lauren Whitehouse of the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), DPM still has a long way to go with policy-based backup management and granular recoveries.

"They've done a lot when it comes to scalability and getting data into the device," she said, "But they're still not as strong when it comes to getting the data back."

According to Leedy, Exchange 2007 has improved search capabilities within live mailboxes considerably, but he will have to wait for the next version of DPM before he can search live and backup data for a particular message or keyword. Restoring from multiple sources at once looks to be even further off. According to Bala Kasiviswanathan, director of branch and storage solutions at Microsoft, "Policy-based restore is problematic as most customers see risk in restoring multiple production servers at once."

The bottom line, according to Whitehouse, is that the starting price point of just over $500 for DPM server licenses, the simplified Windows interface and the new features, all add up to making DPM Version 2 more attractive to Windows-only small and medium-sized business (SMB) shops. (In addition to server licenses, which cost $573, users also need enterprise agents for protecting application servers at $426 each, or a standard file server agent for $155.)

"The midmarket, where Windows is focused, is also where Backup Exec lives," Whitehouse pointed out. Users are extremely reluctant to switch backup products in most cases, but "depending on how aggressive Microsoft's channel partners are, there could be some swap-outs. It's an option for Microsoft if they want to be really aggressive and take share in this market."

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