Microsoft's DPM ready for market

By Ann Silverthorn

—Last week at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Minneapolis, Microsoft announced that next month it will release to manufacturing its first disk-based software solution, Data Protection Manager (DPM), which is designed to help companies reduce the time spent on data backup and recovery. Microsoft also announced the rollout of related channel training programs and marketing tools.

At Storage Networking World in April, Ben Matheson, group product manager at Microsoft, said that Microsoft wants to be a serious player in storage to rival Hewlett-Packard's OpenView and IBM's Tivoli. "On our side is the fact that Windows is the number-one operating system for external storage, according to IDC," he said.

Brad O'Neill, senior analyst and consultant with the Taneja Group, says that there are a number of emerging mission-critical continuous data protection (CDP) software vendors that Microsoft will theoretically compete against, including Mendocino and Revivio. However, he says, "in reality, the high-end multi-platform database deployment scenarios for these advanced CDP applications are dramatically different from where you're going to see Microsoft's DPM. They simply solve different recovery challenges."

O'Neill says the more interesting near-term competitive scenario will be for the early CDP players that staked their turf on the Microsoft platform. This category includes vendors such as Lasso Logic, Mimosa Systems, Storactive, TimeSpring, and XOSoft. However, O'Neill notes that "these vendors can read market signals as well as anyone. You can expect to see them continue to add high-value functionality for specific applications, such as Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server, and to reach out to address life-cycle issues like archiving and disaster recovery, and/or to focus on the needs of particular market segments, such as distributed enterprises or SMBs. These are all areas that will take Microsoft some time to reach in a comprehensive fashion."

Since the April announcement of free beta version downloads of DPM, more than 100,000 copies of the software have been distributed; including more than 50,000 customer-initiated downloads, claim Microsoft officials. "That's way more customer interest than we had anticipated for the beta version," said Matheson last week. "The software is complete and tested, and we're ready to hand it off to our partners to distribute and sell to our customers [the first week in August]."

The estimated retail price for DPM is $950, which includes one server license and the management license to protect three file servers. Customers can also buy incremental DPM licenses, which are needed for every server to be protected.

"The pricing is in line with Microsoft's general mission—software for the masses," says Matheson. "We're trying to create a cost-effective price point and drive DPM and disk-based backup to mainstream customers."

"If you look at the future of advanced disk-based recovery, the existence of a $950-per-server solution from Microsoft is going to be a juggernaut," says Taneja Group's O'Neill. However, he doesn't think DPM will blow the lid off all its competitors in its first release, but within three years "a mature and feature-rich DPM platform will change the data-protection software landscape in significant ways."

"Everybody already seems to sense the importance—both end users and vendors," says O'Neill. Referencing the more than 50,000 downloads of the beta DPM, he adds, "That indicates more than a trivial level of market interest in this product."

An early adopter, Des Moines Public Schools (with 5,000 employees and 32,000 students), had been facing severe budget cuts for the past three years. Having run Windows Server System for seven years, Dan Warren, one of the school district's network specialists, heard about the beta version of DPM in the fall of 2004. Des Moines Public Schools now backs up 40 of its 100 servers to a DPM server, a Dell 4600 with 700GB. "The initial setup of the DPM server was time-consuming because we had to do a full replication. Now, only the byte-level changes of the files are replicated," says Warren.

Backing up each of the school district's servers to DAT drives used to take 36 hours during weekend backups. Now it takes three hours, since they back up only the DPM server to tape for off-site disaster recovery. "The DAT drives have been dying for a couple of years now. We're going to phase them out completely," says Warren.

Microsoft bills DPM as "near continuous data protection [CDP]." It shrinks the potential data loss down to one hour and eliminates the backup window. An agent is deployed to branch office servers, and the agent captures data and replicates it to a DPM server. DPM takes snapshots to enable recovery at multiple points in time. After the first full replication, data is captured at the byte level rather than creating a full replication at each snapshot.

The data on the DPM server can then be backed up to tape, eliminating the backup window. DPM requires third-party software to offload the data to tape. Bare-metal restores can be accomplished with Windows Backup or a third-party tool that supports creating system state backup.

Although DPM is designed to overcome the deficiencies and cost of tape-based backup systems, Microsoft doesn't recommend eliminating tape completely. While tape can be inefficient and unreliable for short-term storage, it is efficient for long-term storage. Microsoft recommends disk-to-disk-tape configurations. For example, data is backed up to disk and resides there for, say, 30 days, after which it is offloaded to tape. Microsoft will still rely on independent software vendors, such as Veritas, to back up DPM to tape.

DPM servers must meet the following criteria:

  • Run either Windows Server 2003 or Windows Storage Server 2003;
  • Be a member of the same Active directory as the file servers it protects;
  • The DPM server must an ordinary single-purpose server and not an Active Directory domain controller; and
  • The DPM server must be equipped with at least one logical volume and at least one additional unused disk.

      This article was originally published on July 13, 2005