According to Microsoft, 42 percent of attempted recoveries from tape backups in the past year have failed. In addition, Ben Matheson, group product manager for Microsoft Data Protection Server (DPS), told me, "More than 50 percent of customers we've surveyed said their current backup solutions do not fill their needs." Such statistics, along with Gartner Group estimates that backup software represents a $2.5 billion market, indicate that vendors see opportunity for products in this area.
Microsoft has seized that opportunity by introducing DPS, a new disk-based backup and recovery product. This addition to the Windows Server System family is currently in public beta and will be available for purchase in the second half of the year.
Whenever Microsoft enters a new market, the move is controversial, so I decided to survey our readers to see what you think about this move, whether you see value in such a product, and what questions you want to ask Microsoft about it.
What Is DPS? Even after reading the overview of DPS on Microsoft's Web site, readers aren't certain about how this product relates to Windows Server 2003; as evidenced by questions such as, "It appears this feature will be a download for Windows Server 2003; or is this a new version of Windows?" I shared our survey results with Ben and asked him to discuss the relationship of DPS to the OS. "DPS is not a feature or function of Windows Server," he explained. It's a separately licensed and sold server application, like SQL Server and Exchange Server, that runs on top of Windows Server 2003."
How will the first version of DPS fit into a backup and recovery infrastructure? Ben explained, "In version 1, DPS addresses disk-based backup of file servers, the most commonly used workload."
The decision to start by supporting file servers seems reasonable in light of our survey results, which show that 41 percent of the 485 respondents use some form of disk-based backup, and 34 percent of those users are backing up file and print servers. The next most common workloads were database and email, each of which was cited by 29 percent of respondents who use disk-based backup.
Ben observed, "Your research shows that companies adopt disk-based backup to protect file servers most commonly. That's because file server backup is the biggest workload out there. It's also a workload that causes a lot of pain for customers, so we're focusing DPS on that workload first. Our vision is that we'll protect all the Windows Server System workloads. Future versions will back up SQL and Exchange. Although DPS will not support SQL Server backups right away, keep in mind that people often protect databases by doing a SQL dump. With that approach, you dump the contents of the database to a flat file, which you then back up. In this scenario, you can use DPS to protect the SQL dumps."
How does disk-based backup fit into an overall backup solution? "We designed DPS to be complementary with tape. Our feeling is that customers should adopt a disk-to-disk-to-tape scenario. The reason is simple: Ninety percent of recoveries happen within 30 days of when a file was deleted. So if customers keep 30 days' worth of snapshots on disk, DPS will handle at least 90 percent of all recoveries they'll have to do. And they can recover from disk in minutes or seconds rather than in hours from tape. That's a tremendous cost savings. However, we still think tape is important for three reasons: First, you can keep tape around for long periods. Second, it's very easy to pick up tapes and move them off site. Finally, a variety of regulations and compliance issues require offsite tape protection and long-term retention."
A key feature of DPS is that it lets end users recover files without IT intervention. Windows 2003's Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) API enables this user-level file recovery. As Ben explained, "DPS provides protection from hardware failure, as well as end-user recoveries. With Shadow Copy for Shared Folders, all your snapshots are kept on the same physical server. If that server crashes, you lose all the original data as well as your shadow copies. DPS is a separate hardware medium, a second tier of protection. So if your server fails, you can still recover from the DPS server. That means an additional layer of protection, not only from end users accidentally deleting their files (or what we call "oops recovery"), but also from when the entire server goes down. The IT administrator can do recoveries from the entire server volume."
Our survey shows that few readers—little more than 10 percent—are using shadow copy functionality. Ben provided insight into this situation: "In the past, some third-party shadow copy products weren't designed to quiesce the application when they took a snapshot, which meant there was no guarantee you'd get a clean snapshot. With Volume Shadow Copy Service or Shadow Copy for Shared Folders, because of the VSS API, we guarantee a clean snapshot."
"Why Not? They Do Everything Else" I was interested to find that the great majority of the survey respondents considered Microsoft's entry into this market to be positive. Thirty-nine percent said they would definitely evaluate DPS, and 37 percent would probably evaluate it. Less than 21 percent were undecided, and only 3.3 percent of the respondents were prepared to say they wouldn't evaluate DPS. Many people had comments such as, "Good. This will create competition and force traditional backup and storage vendors to develop new products." Several other remarks were along the lines of "A complete OS should offer a reliable backup and recovery application" or "As long as it's better than Ntbackup—great!" Of course, some people weren't so positive, commenting, "Not good. I'm not a fan of Microsoft trying to provide every solution a company needs. In this case, Microsoft appears to be competing with its own ISV partners" or "Leave it to other, better qualified vendors that regularly operate in this space."
Ben addressed the existence of other similar products, saying, "We hear from customers that the disk-based backup products in the market are too expensive and difficult to use. Proprietary disk-based backup appliances sell in the $50,000–$60,000 range for a 1TB hardware/software solution. By working with a broad ecosystem of partners and industry-standard hardware and software, DPS can provide a very powerful but easy-to-use solution for a fraction of this cost." However, when I asked how much DPS would cost, Ben responded, "At this time, it's a little bit early to talk about pricing, so we'll save that for a later date. Our goal is to be very price effective."
Questions for Microsoft The questions that readers raised most frequently about DPS concerned reliable recovery, ease of use and manageability, and support for heterogeneous environments. Ben noted, "Your feedback from customers called out the three main advantages and the business value we provide. First, we enable reliable recovery in minutes, not hours like tape takes today." For example, Ben explained, "because we use replication, DPS looks like a giant file server. So if a file is a PowerPoint on your production server, it's saved as a PowerPoint on DPS. That means your recovery is very fast because you're just copying a file format back to your source server." Ben identified two aspects to reliability: "One is reliability and fidelity of the recovery, which is our number one focus. Two is the reliability of the backup itself. It's not uncommon for customers to say they have 10, 15, or even 20 percent of their backup jobs fail daily. We address both aspects."
Ben went on, "The second advantage is continuous and efficient protection: Today customers generally back up file servers once per day, but with DPS you can continuously back up your servers. Finally, we use industry-standard hardware and software to provide the most cost-effective solution."
Addressing reader questions about whether DPS will back up heterogeneous environments, Ben said, "Right now we don't plan to support heterogeneous applications (e.g., non-Microsoft applications such as Oracle Database or IBM Lotus Notes) and operating systems, but we listen to feedback and might pursue that route. As for storage hardware, DPS uses industry-standard components (any Intel server with storage on any Windows Server 2003 product). We also work with a variety of arrays and Storage Area Networks."
Too Early to Tell? Probably because DPS isn't yet widely deployed, it's hard to get concrete information that doesn't sound like marketing. However, after talking with Ben, I conclude that Microsoft seems to be focused on the features and functionality you want. We'll have to wait to see the product at work to judge whether that focus is on the mark.
I hope this column gives you enough insight to determine whether DPS is a product you want to investigate further. Please let me know what you think. I've passed along several reader letters to Microsoft representatives and received indications that your feedback is making a difference in products. What topics would you like me to address next?
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Last Modified: March 9, 2008