Microsoft and Symantec Cut SMB Tape

Dueling disk-backup applications indicate backup is shifting from tape

September 28, 2005

3 Min Read
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Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC) have officially launched competing products to address user frustration with tape.

Today, Microsoft unveiled Data Protection Manager while Symantec rolled out its Backup Exec 10d. Both products have been available in beta for months, with Microsoft claiming 60,000 downloads for DPM and Symantec 30,000 for the superset of what had been code-named Panther.” (See Veritas Uncages Panther and Microsoft Backs Up on CDP Claim.)

Strictly speaking, Symantec's Panther is now its Continuous Protection Server, available as a standalone product or part of its Backup Exec 10d -- the “d” is for disk -- Windows-based backup application.

The two products are likely to be the prime contenders in SMB backup. While a recent Replistor upgrade from EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) and the Continuous Data Protection for Files package from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) address Windows SMB shops, Symantec has the bulk of the Windows backup market and Microsoft has Windows.

Demand for these wares reflects a shift in customer preference to backup on disk after years of ponderous tape backups. (See IBM Hops CDP Bus.)Jeff Griener, IT director for Clyde Companies-- a group of construction companies based in Orem, Utah -- says his company’s growing data volumes relegates tape to disaster recovery and archiving. He finds disk backup cheaper and quicker, and easier to restore from.

“Tape is becoming difficult to use,” says Griener, a Backup Exec10d user. “It’s becoming almost impossible for tape to do the job we need.”

Microsoft DPM product manager Ben Matheson says unhappiness with tape has caused a sudden interest in disk-based backup software. “We know that customers are not satisfied with tape backup products,” he says.

According to Symantec Data Management Group SVP Jeremy Burton, “You can do some wild things with disk that you can never do with tape.”

DPM and Continuous Protection Server both do some of those same "wild" things. Both back up and restore Windows files but not applications, and they let users restore files without having to go through an administrator.One major difference: Symantec’s retrieval is done through a Web interface, while Microsoft uses a Windows Explorer pane. Symantec calls its retrieval interface a “Google-like experience.”

Another difference is in how the companies describe their new products. Symantec calls it continuous data protection (CDP) while Microsoft labels DPM “near-CDP.”

“This is not almost continuous, this is not nearly continuous, this is not not-quite continuous. This is continuous,” Burton says.

Yet it’s no more continuous than DPM, or the new RepliStor. All of the products use Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) for snapshots, and VSS only supports up to eight snapshots per day and no more than one per hour. Continuous Protection Server allows users to recover their last good version of a file or the last snapshot, which could be close to an hour ago. That’s hardly the "any point in time" recovery that CDP promises.

“Panther and Microsoft DPM are both what we term ‘near-CDP,’” says analyst Brad O’Neill of Taneja Group. “They are both based on advanced snapshot technologies. True CDP technologies have a different architectural approach for capturing the stream of granular data changes across time, not relying on snaps of data at very quick intervals.”Symantec product manager Brian Greene says an hour apart is good enough for users working with files as opposed to mission critical applications. But he admits that won’t be good enough when Symantec tries to support applications with Continuous Protection Server or brings it into its enterprise Net Backup product. “We’ll need to become more granular in the enterprise and as applications become more important,” he says.

Greene says Symantec has no timeframe for supporting applications, but customers are already asking for the ability to restore Exchange and SQL Server. According to Matheson, Microsoft plans support for Exchange and SQL Server along with tighter SAN integration in the next version of DPM, but it’s not due until late 2007.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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