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Microsoft takes disk-based backup for a spin

Company says its software for protecting data with disk systems rather than tape is far cheaper than rivals'--but challengers await.

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Taking another step into data storage, Microsoft on Friday unveiled software for backing up files on disk-based systems.

The product, dubbed System Center Data Protection Manager, is designed to tempt more companies to try disk-based backup and recovery through a tried-and-true tactic: a cut-rate price. Microsoft said that with its software and an accompanying server computer, it will cost customers less than $5,000 to protect 1 terabyte of data, compared with competing systems that cost $50,000.

"We want every company to be able to afford and use disk-based backup," Ben Matheson, group product manager for Data Protection Manager, said in an interview. "We're going to be very disruptive to the market."

Ray Paquet, an analyst with research company Gartner, said Microsoft's product is going to be less expensive than comparable products. But costlier systems typically will have additional features, he said. A major one, Paquet said, is the capability to back up data from computers running a variety of operating systems.

"If it doesn't have NTFS, you can't do it" with Microsoft's new product, Paquet said. NTFS is the file system that the Windows NT operating system uses for storing and retrieving files on a hard disk.

Microsoft said its new product will be released to manufacturing within 30 days, meaning it should be available to customers in roughly two to three months.

The software giant faces stiff competition in the disk-based backup arena. Among the companies with similar products are Symantec and storage specialists EMC and Network Appliance.

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.

Last month, 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. That deal closed this week.

Microsoft, too, has treated storage as an area for growth. Its efforts include the development of an operating system for network-attached storage (NAS) devices, which are computers that typically serve up files on a network.

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. "Some customers have told us that their backup process has gone from two days with tape to 10 minutes with DPM," Matheson said in a statement regarding Data Protection Manager.

He said Data Protection Manager works at the "byte level," in contrast to the "file level" where most tape-based software systems operate. "With tapes, you're moving the entire file every time you do a backup, and that's very slow because you have massive files such as Access databases, Microsoft PowerPoint files and Outlook .pst files," Matheson said in the statement.

Another key feature to the new product, according to Microsoft, is that it allows end users to recover their own files, reducing the need for tech support.

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