I've been working with Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2006, in preparation for a longer review of the product for Windows IT Pro Magazine. It's an interesting product, offering highly manageable disk-based data-backup services at a reasonable price point. Although I'm still at an early stage of the evaluation, I'd like to give you a few details about DPM.

First, what is it? As noted above, DPM is a disk-based data-protection system that's designed to augment--not replace--the tape-based backup systems that most enterprises use. The problems with tape-based backup are legion. Tape-based backups are difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to access, and, because of the nature of the hardware, are often incomplete and infrequently made.

From what I can tell, DPM is the enterprise equivalent of one of those one-click USB-based PC backup drives. You simply install the system in your environment, configure it as needed, and get back to work. It then takes snapshot backups of the data and disks you specify at the intervals you specify. Because it's disk and network based and uses a bandwidth-friendly copy algorithm, the backups can happen as often as you want. And end users can restore from DPM without any administrator intervention. That saves time and money, folks.

DPM installation and configuration is straightforward, if a bit time-consuming. It installs a copy of Microsoft SQL Server 2000 with Service Pack 3a (SP3a) and SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services with SP1, and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0. The management console, based on the latest Microsoft Management Console (MMC) version, is clean and straightforward, with modules for monitoring, protection, recovery, reporting, and management. When you first install DPM, you need to configure which disks will be in the storage pool, remotely install a DPM agent on any servers you'll be protecting, and create the protection groups which specify a set of data to protect and how often it will be protected. You can also configure how much network bandwidth DPM can consume by using bandwidth-usage throttling.

DPM isn't the only solution in this space, of course. Symantec recently contacted me about its continuous data protection (CDP) solution, which appears to be similar to DPM, although we'll have to wait until next month to find out more information. But Microsoft's offering works well and should be generally useful--with a few caveats. You need to install it on an Active Directory (AD) member server and not a domain controller (DC), which could limit its use in smaller businesses. And, logically enough in my mind, you can't store protected data on the system partition of the server to which DPM is installed. That is, you must offer DPM other physical disks for storage. And you must install a DPM agent on each server you're protecting. DPM is 32-bit only.

But two problems are, perhaps, deal breakers for some potential implementers. First, DPM protects only file servers. It has no understanding of Microsoft Exchange Server, SQL Server, or other common data stores. Also, DPM can't replace tape-based backup completely. The product provides a limited restore window for users. For more permanent, long-term backup, you still need to use a traditional backup solution. Microsoft says the ideal DPM customer has 5 to 99 servers, a small IT staff, and no dedicated backup administrator. Larger enterprises that need a backup solution for branch offices will also find DPM useful.

DPM isn't prohibitively expensive, and it follows the Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) licensing model. If you want to implement it yourself, as I'm doing, you can get a single instance of DPM with three agent installations for $950. Partners such as HP are offering storage appliances and rack-mounted servers with DPM preinstalled as well. In the future, revisions to DPM will natively support Exchange, SQL Server, and Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server and a 64-bit version will ship in the Longhorn Server timeframe. These and other improvements will likely widen the market for this product. I have little doubt that disk-based backup solutions like DPM are the wave of the future. This might be a good time to take a look.

Virtual Server 2005 SP1 Replaced by R2
In what I consider a somewhat controversial move, Microsoft revealed last week that it was canceling the planned release of Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 SP1 and replacing it with Virtual Server 2005 R2 (for release 2). Why is this a problem, you ask? Virtual Server 2005 SP1 would have been a free upgrade to existing customers, but Virtual Server 2005 R2 will be a new product version, subject to new licensing costs.

Bah, I say. Virtual Server 2005 SP1 was to have included support for Linux, Sun Microsystems Solaris, and other non-Microsoft x86 OSs; would have supported x64-based Windows Server versions as host (but not guest) environments for improved performance; and was to ship alongside a new MOM management pack. It sounded like a great upgrade.
Now, those features will be rolled into Virtual Server 2005 R2 instead, along with other new features. And Microsoft is scheduling a future Virtual Server release--probably to be called Virtual Server 2007--for late 2006. According to Microsoft, Virtual Server R2 will ship later this year, around the same time as Windows Server 2003 R2.

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