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Microsoft delivers powerful enterprise backup tool

Data Protection Manager offers flexible data backup and restoration for Microsoft shops

By Tom Henderson, Network World
January 24, 2011 12:02 AM ET

Network World - Microsoft's flagship backup and archiving software, Data Protection Manager, has come a long way since we first tested it in 2005.

When we first visited the newly released Data Protection Manager, it was a start towards the goal of enterprise backup and archiving, but barely that. It didn't run on 64-bit machines, backed up a few Windows applications, but by no means all — not even Microsoft Exchange Server. And restoration of a dead server from bare metal was a gruesome and tedious process.

That's all changed with Data Protection Manager 2010, has evolved dramatically from the last time we looked. DPM now requires a Windows 2008 (or 2008 R2) 64-bit platform, and includes a handy algorithm concerning both user memory and storage space for the estimated size of DPM storage pools.

DPM delivers plenty of flexibility in terms of network-based backup, archiving and restoration. As with all Microsoft System Center modules, it suffers from a harrowing lack of compatibility with non-Microsoft products. That alone may sway organizations to look elsewhere as heterogeneous operating systems environments are the norm these days.

TEST: Microsoft beefs up System Center with new module | Test methodology

If, however, an organization needs a sophisticated solution that knows Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server somewhat intimately, DPM provides great support for both apps, as well as file servers and client datasets. While we found the documentation useful, much planning must be done to obtain full advantage and integrity that Data Protection Manager provides.

Getting started

DPM requires a running instance of SQL Server 2008 R1 on a separate machine. Supported storage fabrics can consist of concurrent tape and storage-area network (SAN) media pools or approaches that back up from disk to DPM storage pool to tape. We tested with an iSCSI Compellent SAN that was easily understood by DPM.

Under a single Enterprise DPM license, it's possible to have a secondary, backup DPM server that is a replica of the primary DPM server for availability purposes — a "free" backup of the backup so long as the replica server is in the same domain (or where there are transitive trust relationships between domains).

There are a few small limitations imposed but no real drama in making and deploying an alternate DPM server. One hopes that the bandwidth on the path to the alternate server is high for backup/restoral purposes as prudent practice would put the alternate DPM server in a different locale, which would result in some WAN link latency.

Microsoft claims that a single DPM server, correctly configured with adequate hardware, can support up to 1,000 clients. That's likely a very top number, for several reasons. Now that Windows XP, Windows 7 and Vista can have client backups, a healthy server with excellent I/O characteristics and blindingly fast drives ought to be able to sustain a lot of user data backups.

If a large number of machines need restoration at once (given a group catastrophe), a single DPM server won't be able to recover things with finger-snapping speed. As an example, if an infected group of files is accidentally distributed, the recovery time through a DPM server might take quite some time, as even the "healthiest" DPM servers can become I/O bound.

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