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Windows IT Pro Storage UPDATE, Resources Edition

Commentary: Get to Know DPM 2006 ====
   by Paul Thurrott, News Editor, thurrott@windowsitpro.com

   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), 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 on which
DPM is installed. That is, you must offer DPM other physical disks
for storage. Also, 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.

Copyright 2005, Penton Media, Inc.

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Last Modified: March 9, 2008