Microsoft is planning to enter the disk-based data protection and recovery market. Its Data Protection Server (DPS) will be launched next year and resides on a Windows 2003 Server. It can back up data from as many as eight Windows 2000 or 2003 machines to disk rather than tape.

The product also works with Windows Storage Server 2003 network-attached storage appliances from Dell, EMC and HP. The software works with Active Directory and is designed to enable data recoveries in minutes.

DPS is meant to supplement software that backs up data to tape. Unlike traditional offerings, it lets end users recover data on their own rather than requiring a network administrator's intervention. "The big deal is you are pushing the restore process down to the user, which is an incredible savings of IT staff," said Randy Kerns, a senior analyst with Evaluator Group. "Because it is so difficult for users to get an IT guy to do a restore, none of them will usually bother to ask to get back the file they accidentally deleted."

DPS initially works only with the Windows NT File System, but in the future will support servers running Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server, Microsoft says. This support, observers say, will let DPS be used in large data centers.

With the system, agents deployed on each production server log all changes to files that occur on the server. These logs are then replicated and stored on the DPS server based on policies the IT administrator has set. The DPS server is likely connected to a multi-terabyte SATA storage device.

DPS will compete with continuous-protection/instant-recovery products from Mendocino, Revivio and XOsoft. In these competing products, which also back up environments other than Windows, data is continually saved to disk, so that it can be retrieved from any time in the past. Unlike these products, Microsoft's DPS will only be able to retrieve data from certain pre-scheduled points in time.

Microsoft says DPS, which currently is undergoing beta tests, will be generally available in the second half of next year.