Thursday, May 11, 2006

Data Protection Manager (DPM)

What is DPM?

DPM is Microsoft’s solution to data recovery and archiving. It plans to achieve this with two offerings:

1) System Center Data Protection Manager 2006
2) Windows Server 2003 R2 Distributed File System (DFS)

The idea in nutshell is, DFS will replicate files from the branch offices to the centralized data center and DPM will backup the data on the disk. The backups would be faster on disk rather than tape. The cool feature of DPM is, it empowers the users to restore their own data without depending on the IT personnel, thereby saving enormous costs on IT support calls.
DPM will backup changed files to the disk, which should then be backed up on tape for offline storage. So we get the benefit of easier data restores by end users, but it is at the cost of additional storage on the server. Some people feel that companies always have additional storage capacity on their servers which they can easily leverage for disk based backups. Besides storage is getting cheaper by the day.

What are the requirements for DPM?

DPM can backup data centrally for Windows 2003 R2, Windows 2003 and Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4. It looks like DPM uses the underlying technology of Volume Shadow Copy (VSC). Remember, the user empowerment to restore files was first introduced in VSC.
DPM requires a minimum of two disks on the server for system files and backup files each. The backup files disk cannot be used for storing any other data. I have tested running DPM on a 2 GHz processor and 1 GB RAM machine and it runs fine.
The DPM server cannot be a Domain Controller and cannot have any other application like Exchange or SQL installed on it. However, it has to be a member of a domain.
DFS is a built-in feature of the Windows Server 2003 R2 operating system and has a new component called as Remote Differential Compression (RDC). As the name suggests the job of this function is to compress the files which have changed and synchronize them over a WAN. DFS is required only if you want to synchronize data from multiple locations over the WAN. If you have a single file server on which you want to run DPM, DFS is not required.

How does DPM works?

DPM will install an agent on the server from where the data will need to be backed up centrally. This agent can be installed only on the operating systems mentioned in the requirements section. Thus it leaves out older and non-Microsoft operating systems.
Interestingly, DPM makes copies of the changes made to a file at the byte level and does not create a whole new copy. For example, a change made to a single cell of a 2 MB Excel file, will not lead DPM to create another 2 MB file. It will just change add another file equivalent to size of the data inputted in the Excel file. This leads to DPM capable of providing multiple versions of the files for restore without taking the equivalent amount of storage space in multiple to the number of versions stored of a file.
DPM can take a maximum of 8 snapshots of a file server per day. Interestingly, if you have multiple DPM servers, in order to manage them you have to access the console from those servers and cannot manage multiple servers from the same window.
Understandably, DPM cannot backup encrypted files and folders.

Why should I care for DPM?

If you are a part of the company which has multiple branch offices with local data, chances are you will want to know more about DPM. As we all know, data in branch offices with lack of equipments and trained personnel, backups are never reliable.
Exchange and SQL backups are currently not supported by DRM, but will be in the future according to Microsoft.

How is DPM different from competing products?

There are other disk backup products in the market like TimeSpring and Veritas. Apparently Veritas can perform similar backups across operating systems from different manufacturers and is not restricted to Windows.

Is it worth it?

I will let you answer this question in the comments. However, in my testing and opinion, the product is definitely worth it for two reasons that I found best:

1) The product allows you to take a continuous backup as the contents of the files changes. It can also backup open files.
2) The other feature I liked was the ease with which the data can be restored by the end-user or the IT Administrator if the end-user is not comfortable performing the restore.

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