Microsoft to Launch Software for Disk-Based Backups
by Alex Woodie
Microsoft this week unveiled plans to develop Data Protection Server, a new electronic vaulting solution for Windows servers. The company says the disk-to-disk DPS offering will streamline manual tape-based backups in midsized Windows shops, saving them time and money. The software, which isn't expected until the second half of 2005, will at first be limited to certain types of files on Windows server operating systems.
Advances in technology and changes in the business climate have created fertile ground for the growth of disk-based backups in recent years. As the world's data continues to grow at an exponential rate, cheaper Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) and Serial ATA (SATA) disks have encroached on the price-per-gigabyte efficiency of tape. At the same time, new government regulations, dictating how organizations maintain their data, have given organizations a reason for taking a closer look at their backup processes, which, in many IT shops, are human- and mechanical-intensive procedures.
There are real advantages to automated disk-based backups, but it is not right for everybody, and won't always serve as a total replacement for tape, which will always be more portable than a bunch of disks spinning at 10,000 RPM. However, since disks read and write data much faster than tape, backups and recoveries can be performed much faster with disk than with tape. The elimination of error-prone manual processes is another advantage of all disk-based backup scenarios, and, in this regard, Microsoft says users will be able to recover their own data using DPS, which will allow administrators to focus on activities with more "value add."
In the white paper "Introduction to Microsoft Data Protection Server," Microsoft says DPS is ideal for midsized companies with between five and 49 servers, shrinking backup windows, frequent file recoveries from tape (between five and 10 per month), a recovery point objective (RPO) of one hour or less, and a recovery time objective that can't be satisfied by tape. (The RPO refers to the amount of uptime a company can afford to lose over down time, while the RTO refers to the amount of time it will take a company to recover its data.) It also wouldn't hurt for the prospective DPS user to be familiar with the Shadow Copy and Volume Shadow Copy Service facilities in Windows Server 2003, Microsoft says.
DPS will run on Windows Server 2003 but will be capable of providing backup and recovery services for Windows Server 2003, Windows Storage Server 2003, and Windows 2000 boxes. The product uses software "agents" that deploy onto the production server that is to be backed up. During setup, these agents replicate the entirety of the files that are to be backed up on the DPS server, according to protection groups defined in the DPS Management Console. As the files are updated, the agents replicate the byte-level changes made to files, according to the schedule set up by the Management Console for that protection group (such as hourly or daily backups). DPS also keeps a log and performs validations against its charges to ensure the replicated data is correct.
Microsoft says that a range of recoveries can be made with DPS, including full system restores, recoveries of only certain files, and even user-driven recoveries (for Office files, for example). Since DPS is disk-based and enables random access to files, users can browse the DPS server and drag and drop the copies they want to restore (as opposed to sequentially stored files on tape, which are not viewed so easily). If the secondary Volume Shadow Copy Service option is enabled, users will be able to recover their systems or files to a certain point in time. Microsoft supports up to 64 shadow copies of files with DPS. To protect the DPS data, Microsoft recommends using RAID arrays or backing up the DPS server to tape archives.
Perhaps the idea of backing up DPS with tape surprises you. After all, isn't DPS supposed to replace tape? Not entirely, says Yuval Neeman, vice president of Microsoft's storage and platform solutions group. "We believe the ideal data-protection strategy is to keep 30 to 60 days of snapshots on disk for faster recovery, and to use tape backup for long-term archival and offsite storage," he says in a Q&A published on the Microsoft Web site. "Businesses can keep tapes for many years, storing them offsite so that they can be useful for disaster recovery, such as in the event of a flood, hurricane and so on."
Microsoft will be targeting the low-end of the disk-based network attached storage (NAS) spectrum when DPS ships. It won't, for example, be able to back up databases with the first release and will be restricted to backing up standard file formats. "Our long-term priority is for DPS is to provide the best data protection experience for the entire Windows Server System, including Microsoft Exchange Server, SQL Server, and others," Neeman said in the interview.
Microsoft has already created a decent partner ecosystem around DPS, with many ISVs, systems vendors, and storage device manufacturers signing on as DPS partners. Some of the third parties pledging support for Microsoft's DPS parade include Computer Associates, Dell, Hitachi, Intel, StorageTek, Sun Microsystems, and Quantum.
Microsoft has not disclosed DPS pricing yet. The software is currently undergoing a private beta. To register for open public beta, which is expected to start early next year, go to Microsoft's DPS page.