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Review: Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2006
Microsoft's DPM offers fast disk-to-disk backup, but users must consider how its advanced functionality stacks up to rivals.
September 12, 2005
7 Min Read
Disk-based backup is a growing trend. Small enterprises are using it to replace or supplement tape, and large ones are using it to shorten backup windows and, in many cases, reduce tape volumes (see "Escape the Tape").
When Microsoft sent its first entry into disk-based backup, Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2006 (DPM), to our Green Bay, Wis., Real-World Labs® for testing recently, I installed it on a dual-processor server with two 36-GB local drives, a 36-GB SAN drive and a 50-GB NAS drive. Then I set up several machines with the same hardware as backup targets. I utilized the file store on NWC Inc., our business applications lab, as source backup data.
More times than I can count, I have had to sit and install dozens of prerequisites just to get a simple Microsoft application up and running. But with DPM, all prerequisites except Operating Systems service packs and hot fixes were bundled onto the CD and auto-installed. Compared with installations of other complex products like BizApp Server, this one was a dream.
Like most Microsoft products, DPM has an easy-to-use interface. What's more, it give you a leg up in reporting. The "Administrator Recovery" report is a case in point: So clearly does it show how much money was saved by not having to haul out tapes, even a CEO can understand it.
Of course, the purpose of all disk-to-disk backup products is to copy your data to another location. DPM does that by running copies to a disk accessible to the DPM server, then tracking changes in the files. The product works as advertised, and as an administrator I could tell it to protect disks on any number of networked machines, as long as there was room for the full size of the disks on the backup target. I told it to protect the data on one local and one SAN drive on a machine, and to do backup to a local disk on the DPM Server. It worked like a charm.
Unfortunately, I had to dig in order to find the disk space requirements--they weren't indicated in the GUI. Despite the fact that my Drive X and Machine Y were the same size, I was surprised to find there wasn't enough space to back up my drive. I clicked on "change" from the GUI and got a list showing the size of the following was being reserved at the destination site: Replication Area, Shadow Copy Area, Synchronization Logs and Transfer Logs. I was able to adjust the values, but there's an awful lot of overhead here that could have gone somewhere other than the target disk--the logs, for example, are placed automatically on the target disk, and no mechanism is provided to move them.
That said, the performance of the backups was snappy. It's difficult to get accurate timings of completely internal processes such as disk-to-disk backups, but we ran 20 GB of data in minutes, not hours.
Timing Is Everything
You're limited in how frequently you can set DPM to backup--hourly is the smallest increment you can select. This might be OK if your rate of change is small, but most competing products allow more granularly configurable restore points. The point at which you cross from backup to replication is still to be defined, but hourly backups put Microsoft firmly into the backup space.
• Easier to set up than most Microsoft products
• No support for transactional data
**Microsoft System Center Data Protection Manager 2006, starts at $950. Available: Q4 2005. Microsoft, (800) 642-7676. www.microsoft.com/windows serversystem/dpm/default.mspx
DPM uses VSS for its shadow copy functionality. This is nothing bad, but be aware that if your target machine isn't running Windows XP SP2, the VSS "client" will be installed and running on each machine you back up with DPM after installing the agent. Microsoft says the VSS client must be downloaded from its site and installed on each machine, but our Windows 2000 servers patched up to the minute didn't require these downloads.
The system lets you do restores simply by clicking through to what you want to restore. Additionally, restore is supported at any level of backup, from complete disk to single file. I restored both files and folders with the restoration system and opened each file to ensure usability. My one complaint in this area is that each file backup is named sequentially by default, so that the first backup becomes "Filename 2" and the second "Filename 3." Although changing this is easy, it must be done on a per-restore basis--there's no location in the GUI to set it to "not restore" files that already exist as the default.
Microsoft is jumping into a crowded market, and I expected to find the product on par with the existing competition. This was not the case. After install, I looked to see about backing up Exchange and found that this release won't let you do it without shutting down the Exchange server. The same is true for any transactional system, including your databases (even if you run SQL Server) and e-mail systems. Most other products in this space already provide this functionality.
That said, DPM integrates with ADS--the product logs in to ADS and uses its facilities for authentication. This is something that other vendors have struggled with, and it's nice to see it working in Version 1 of Microsoft's product.
DPM won't protect any machine lacking an agent. I was able to install agents from the console, so DPM doesn't require you to physically touch the machines. However, the machines must be accessible over the network and be capable of authentication from the ADS server servicing the DPM server. That means DPM works only on machines in the same domain as the DPM server.
As might be expected, DPM doesn't support any operating system other than Windows, though this isn't too far behind the rest of the market. Many vendors, including giants like Symantec and XOSoft, still don't support non-Windows platforms for disk-to-disk backup and replication.
Unlike competitors such as Yosemite and XOSoft, Microsoft doesn't support bare-metal or OS restores. This is a shortcoming that should have been fixed before going to market. Data is important, but if you must install and patch the OS before you can restore the data, you're losing money during the downtime.
Only one administrator at a time can log in to the management console. Although good from the "keep conflicting commands out" perspective, this is bad news if you ever start a backup/synchronization and then leave before closing the management console. That's because you won't be able to check the status of the backup remotely, and no one else will be able to get in and close down your backup.
This product is more feature-lean than most Microsoft first releases, and it's definitely lagging behind the rest of the market, especially in terms of transactional data support and bare-metal restores. If all you need is minimal backup functionality running to disk in an automated manner, this product might do it for you. The integration with ADS and ease of use might even make it enjoyable. But if you need advanced functionality like bare-metal restores, non-Windows systems support or support for transactional data without having to shut down your database, look elsewhere.
Don MacVittie is a senior technology editor at Network Computing. Write to him at dmacvittie@ nwc.com.
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