Microsoft's backup software not a replacement for tape

The software maker is moving toward a public beta of its backup server as changes unfold at the top of its storage business.

Microsoft is moving closer to a public test of its backup and recovery server at a time when its storage group is going through a

Many of the things that Data Protection Server really goes after, you still need the tape system [for].


Peter Pawlak, lead analyst,

Directions on Microsoft

,

major transition.

Announced in September, Data Protection Server (DPS) could be ready for release in public beta form in time for April's Storage Networking World conference. DPS is intended to be an intermediate step in the storage backup process, allowing companies to save a few months' worth of data on disk that can later be archived on tape. Individual files can be recovered from disk in a matter of seconds. It will also allow users to recover files for themselves, eliminating the need for IT to intervene when an employee accidentally deletes a file.

DPS is expected to ship later this year, and it is being polished for release during a period of intense change in the leadership of Microsoft's storage group. The company recently announced the departure of Yuval Neeman, corporate vice president of storage and platform solutions.

Rather than replace him, Microsoft decided that Rakesh Narasimhan, general manager for Data Protection Server, and Ben Fathi, general manager for Windows platform and storage solutions, will jointly head the storage team. They declined interviews for this article.

Where does DPS fit in the storage road map?

"[Microsoft has been] watching the backup and recovery market evolve to the point where end users want to have -- and need -- more of an ability to recover data more quickly," said Peter Gerr, senior analyst with Enterprise Storage Group, in

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Milford, Mass. "This is part of Microsoft's multiyear, multipronged strategy to make Microsoft a relevant provider in the storage market."

Bill North, director of research for International Data Corp.'s storage software group, said the product is further evidence of the company's desire to integrate storage and its operating system.

"They've got their hands full in some ways on the storage side, because after many years of letting the chips fall where they may, they've begun to make it clear that they're going to invest in storage infrastructure and storage management as a part of the OS," North said. "Every few months, there's an announcement of some new feature or capability in the storage management area within the operating system. They're good things that have been plaguing customers."

Not all analysts see it the same way.

"This one was a somewhat stealthy product that kind of appeared out of nowhere and appears to be being built by the same group that's doing [Windows] Storage Server," said Peter Pawlak, lead analyst with Directions on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Wash. "It's kind of a strange one in the sense that it doesn't really replace tape backup."

Some DPS functions already available

"Many of the things that Data Protection Server really goes after, you still need the tape system [for]," Pawlak said. "If you already have Windows Server 2003, you have a lot of the tools that would give you the same benefits."

For example, he said, Windows Server 2003 has volume shadow copy service, which lets companies take snapshots of their data without disrupting a storage system during the daytime. That way, you can take more than one backup a day and store it on disk.

It is precisely those storage management capabilities in Windows Server 2003 that Pawlak sees narrowing the market for DPS. "It seems to have a very narrow niche that it fits into with organizations that have older servers that are heavily loaded during backup times and would like to have some near-term storage that's readily available for doing restores if somebody deletes a file or corrupts a file," he said.

Need for DPS less obvious for some

"It's a product that serves certain needs, but I tend to question the long-term future of this thing," Pawlak said. "Why do they feel they need to get into that business? It doesn't seem as strategic as why are they getting into the spyware or antivirus markets."

Gerr, of Enterprise Storage Group, disagrees.

"They're already a relevant player and DPS [is evidence of] the intent to make them even more so," Gerr said. "They're targeting right at the pain point of most users."

He thinks the data protection software will be well received in Windows-focused IT shops. For Microsoft's current storage partners, however, life is about to change.

"I think Microsoft will maintain its position in terms of working with and cooperating with backup software vendors," Gerr said. "Longer term, over the next two to three years, it may change its position to become more competitive with those backup software vendors."

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