Microsoft Takes On Backup Market

Vendor to offer automated system for small and midsize companies
It's a market that could use a shake-up. Backup and recovery still can be too expensive and complex for many small and midsize companies that rely on Windows, but the software is vital to their businesses. Enter Microsoft, with a lower-cost, automated system that it says will change all that.

The company last week revealed plans for the Microsoft Data Protection Server, its first backup and data-recovery software. It's based on a disk-to-disk mechanism that recovers data online as if it's coming from a LAN-based server instead of more cumbersome tape drives. Disk-to-disk backup and recovery will cut hours or even days out of a recovery process, without requiring IT intervention, Microsoft officials say. Data Protection Server, when used in conjunction with Active Directory, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Storage Server 2003, will make backup and recovery a continuous--not once-nightly--process. And the software won't impede desktop functions while it's operating, Microsoft says.

Many administrators believe disk-based backup is easier to manage than tape backup, says Stephanie Balaouras, an analyst with research firm the Yankee Group. "Tape has so many components to it that when something fails, it's hard to find the cause," she says.

At least one IT exec, who has been using storage management from backup-and-recovery leader Veritas Software Corp., is glad Microsoft is making a play. Data Protection Server "gives us everything under one roof, so we're evaluating our overall backup and recovery," says Richard McOsker, IS director with the Kansas City Chiefs football team. The football franchise will ultimately replace tape with disk-to-disk for online access, McOsker adds. That should cut recovery times from as much as an hour down to minutes, he says.

The system will facilitate Windows-based backup and recovery because there's no need for users to send file requests to the IT department to initiate recovery, Microsoft says. Instead, the software automatically "logs changes on continuous processes at the byte level," and users can recover files with a few keystrokes, says Jeff Price, a Microsoft senior director.

McOsker won't turn backup and recovery tasks over to just anyone; the IT team will remain in charge. "We like to keep excitement on the field, not in the office," he says.

If history repeats itself, Microsoft could--in a few years--take the lead in the backup-and-recovery market, which is expected to jump to $4.8 billion by 2008, from $3.3 billion last year. That's what happened when the software vendor entered the network-attached storage market: Today it owns half of that market, less than four years after it first introduced products.

If Microsoft gains considerable ground, it could drive down prices for Windows-based backup and recovery, says Alex Gorbansky, an analyst at consulting firm Taneja Group. "Veritas has a stranglehold on the Windows backup-and-recovery market that has led to some premium pricing," Gorbansky says. Veritas declined to comment on Microsoft Data Protection Server or its own pricing.

Microsoft got endorsements from systems vendors and partners like Dell, EMC, and Hewlett-Packard, and from data-protection and -replication software vendors CommVault Systems, LiveVault, and NSI Software. It's expected that many of the partners will deliver systems built on Microsoft Data Protection Server during the second half of next year.

But not everyone is looking to buy from Microsoft. Pricing won't change much, predicts Mike Menard, systems and database administrator at industrial-tubing manufacturer Stanley Aviation Corp., which uses disaster-recovery software from Veritas. "When the time comes," Menard says, "I'll have to look at [Microsoft's product] very closely before I'd switch."