DPM Casts a Wider Net with Enterprise Support Hooks

The new Data Protection Manager component in Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 now supports virtual environments, Linux servers and SQL Server clustering. It can work with third-party backup and recovery suites and appliances, but it's no substitute.

Microsoft has filled numerous holes in the backup and recovery component of its System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager (DPM), notably support for virtual environments and Linux server targets. The company rolled out the latest version in October with its release of Windows Server upgrades.

Because it's available with the System Center management suite for enterprises with Microsoft volume licensing agreements, it offers a compelling economic backup and recovery option. However, while it's used in pockets of organizations for basic server-to-server backup and replication, it doesn't appear most organizations are using DPM as an alternative to third-party data protection suites. In some instances, DPM is used as a compliment to more sophisticated backup and recovery software, experts say. Nevertheless, DPM has come a long way since its release in the fall of 2005.

DPM History
When Microsoft launched DPM back then, most providers of backup and recovery and replication software were privately nervous Redmond would obviate the need for their wares but publicly shrugged their shoulders. Although adding server-based backup to Windows Server implicitly threatened to eradicate third-party backup software, it was easy to point out DPM only supported Windows environments and was not as robust.

The first release of DPM was substantially less expensive than the Symantec Corp. market-leading Backup Exec. DPM debuted just as Symantec had shelled out nearly $14 billion to acquire Veritas Software Corp., the maker of Backup Exec, NetBackup, Volume Manager, Volume Replicator and other high-end enterprise data protection tools.

Contending it was adding DPM to the mix to bring disk-based server backup to the mainstream, Microsoft denied it was trying to cut into Symantec's new business or other partners such as CA Technologies Inc., CommVault Systems Inc. and EMC Corp. To back that claim, Microsoft released an SDK enabling DPM to connect to other backup and recovery platforms. Critics of the original Microsoft DPM argued it was limited to protecting systems with small file paths.

A year later in 2006, Microsoft upped the ante with an upgrade that added support for Exchange Server and SQL Server and later offered an API to link to other replication and backup and recovery tools that linked to Windows, Linux, and Unix backup and recovery and replication suites. Today there are more suppliers of backup and recovery software and appliances than there were eight years ago.

Now, the latest DPM release in System Center 2012 R2 can backup and restore Linux virtual machines, enable deployment in virtual environments by configuring storage as .VHD pool disks shared in a System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM) library and supports SQL Server clusters, as well as Windows Azure backup (Brien Posey discusses how to implement some of these new features). As such, DPM has come a long way since its release 8-plus years ago. Yet, despite the improvements, most third-party suppliers of data protection software aren't shrugging their shoulders -- nor do they see it as a competitive threat.

DPM Usage and Competition
Officials at a number of backup and recovery suppliers argue they aren't seeing DPM used at all and others see DPM running alongside their solutions, which typically offer capabilities that others don't provide. Robert Amatruda, research director of data protection and recovery at IDC, says when he's in the field he doesn't often see DPM widely used. "I don't see aggressive use of it," Amatruda says. "At the end of the day, you have to believe anything that's bundled and inclusive may not have all the features, extensibility and scalability of specialized software."

Take Simpana from CommVault. Randy DeMeno, chief technologist for the company's Microsoft partnership, says some of his customers use DPM and Simpana runs alongside it. "When you get into long-term storage, e-discovery, heterogeneous virtual environments, heavy e-discovery, search, Exchange, SharePoint, [IBM Lotus] Domino, various heterogeneous files, that's where CommVault comes into play," DeMeno says.

"We really do high-speed recovery," adds Mike Resseler, the Microsoft evangelist at Veeam Software. "We still don't look at DPM as competition [because] both can work better together. The reason is Veeam Backup and Replication is on the virtualization layer, DPM on Hyper-V. We support VMware as well. We connect the two and can give an effective and cheap solution to do disaster recovery."

Other tools offer better performance with enhanced data deduplication, notes Subo Guha, VP of product management at Unitrends, who acknowledges the improvements to DPM. "It's still kind of weak compared to what we see from a scalability perspective," Guha argues.

Most suppliers of data protection software and appliances acknowledge DPM can complement their own solutions. "They've got the backup piece covered and we've got the piece covered where if there's a disaster we can help get the applications up so they can use the data that they've backed up," says Tim Laplante, director of product strategy at Vision Solutions. His company makes the Double Take solution for high-availability environments with a focus on business continuity and disaster recovery.

One reader responding to a question on regarding the use of DPM says he uses it for SharePoint, file servers and remaining physical servers. "Everything else is Veeam," he says. "I've been using DPM since 2007, and it has been painful, scary and a lousy product until 2010."

Sergui Beloussov, co-founder and CEO of Acronis International Gmbh, offered perhaps the harshest view of DPM, saying it lacks the "sophisticated features of third-party offerings and is more complex to implement and manage." "When people pay for our software, they pay for the fact that it's extremely easy. Data Protection Manager is really more complicated than what a small or midsize organization would want. There's more steps, there's more things to worry about. There's more things to configure if you have a larger workload," Beloussov says.

Acronis is among a number of data protection software vendors now offering modules designed for specific components of the infrastructure including Exchange, VMware, Hyper-V and SharePoint. Beloussov maintains it's easier to protect systems such as SharePoint if they're designed specifically for the nuances of that app. Sharing that view is Steve Goldberg, a product manager at Metalogix. The company also released its first backup product for SharePoint, which it acquired last year from Idera Inc.

"There's a big difference in the job that's basically running between DPM versus our product for SharePoint," Goldberg says, noting unlike Microsoft's offering the new Metalogix SharePoint Backup 4.0 uses Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS).

"The backup itself in DPM is very long because it's not using VSS, so we're probably seeing most people not wanting to continue to take the backups with DPM," Goldberg continues "But if it's part of the plan to keep DPM in, the synergy simply is just going to be to allow reading into that backup and actually grabbing content down to the item level -- sites, site collections, tests, folders, items, and letting either end users or SharePoint administrators access those resources from the backups they've already taken." Microsoft explains on its System Center site how to back up DPM using third-party software.

Acronis CEO Beloussov still questions the need for DPM, saying letting Microsoft protect its own environment is the equivalent of letting the fox in the chicken coop. "What most people want to protect themselves against is errors and failures from Microsoft itself," Beloussov says. "Trying to protect yourself against Microsoft with the tool Microsoft supplies doesn't sound very competitive

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.


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