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Microsoft: Storage software ready to roll

The company moves further into the storage market with new software that could displace decades-old tape-based systems.

Microsoft on Tuesday moved a step further into the data storage market with new software for backing up corporate data.

The company said it has shipped its Systems Center Data Protection Manager software, which lets companies back up data from file servers to disk-based storage servers. Microsoft says the software can help companies transition from decades-old tape-based backup systems to faster and, ultimately, cheaper disk-based systems.

"The move away from tape as a primary means of restoring data, and using tape for archiving purposes, we think is going to become very broad in the industry," said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the company's Windows Server division and the executive in charge of the company's storage strategy.

Work on the new software dates back to the origins of Microsoft's storage group, which Muglia took charge of three years ago.

Disk-based backup is considered an attractive addition to standard data backup procedures, which often involve copying data onto tape. Tape systems are seen as more economical as data volumes grow, but backup and recovery times can be slow using tape.

One limitation of Microsoft's storage software: It only works with Windows. Also, the software is designed for data restoration in the case of a failed system, not for data archiving, where companies store less-frequently used data to tape or other media.

In the backup software market, Microsoft will square off against companies with similar products, along with systems that reach out to Linux, Unix and other systems. Those companies include Symantec and storage specialists EMC and Network Appliance.

Muglia said the company will also partner with many of the existing players in the storage market. "We're entering a market where it's often the case where you are working with and competing with established companies. We can provide a much better cost equation in term of restoring data, but that does not obsolete products for data archiving purposes."

For instance, Microsoft will partner with Dell, Fujitsu Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Quantum, Computer Associates International and other companies.

The company said Systems Center Data Protection Manager costs $950 for a single server license and management licenses to protect three file servers. The software requires Windows Server 2003, and will protect servers running Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000 and Windows Storage Server software.

The storage market has been generating more interest among a number of large tech companies, which are betting that growing reams of digital information and government data-handling regulations will translate into stronger demand for hardware and software.

Earlier this year, for example, server maker Sun Microsystems said it would pay $4.1 billion to buy StorageTek, a tape backup specialist. And late last year, security software maker Symantec said it would buy storage specialist Veritas Software in a deal worth more than $10 billion.

Microsoft, too, sees storage as a growth market. Its efforts include the development of a storage operating system, called Windows Storage Server 2003. The operating system is for so-called network-attached storage devices, which are dedicated computers that typically serve up files on a network.

The company said on Tuesday that an update to Windows Storage Server, labeled R2, will enter testing by the end of the year.