Microsoft has released the public beta of its disk-to-disk backup product, Data Protection Manager.

Originally called Data Protection Server, it was claimed to offer continuous data protection. It no longer does.

Disk-to-disk backup protects data at disk speed rather than slower tape. Backups can be completed in significantly less time, meaning applications are "off-air" for much less time. Continuous data protection (CDP) records all changes to files as they are made. Unlike backups which can only restore data to the last backup point, CDP restores data to any point in time, such as one second before a system crash. This means virtually no data is lost. Vendors such as Revivio and TimeSpring offer CDP products.

"Our whole goal with DPM is to shrink the operational costs associated with IT professionals having to manually recover lost data and manage cumbersome backup and recovery processes," says Ben Matheson, group product manager for DPM at Microsoft. "From what our early-adopter customers are telling us, DPM is doing that very effectively."

Microsoft describes DPM as its "foray into the disk-based backup and recovery industry." It may well remind people of its earlier forays into the word processing, spreadsheet, groupware, browser and media playing markets where the original suppliers were soundly trounced. In extreme cases, customer choice was effectively limited.

Existing backup vendors such as Veritas, EMC Legato, CA, Arkeia and many more now face competition from the world's largest software company in a market they have had to themselves for a long time. Growing data volumes and growing needs for data retrieval from compliance regulations have made the disk-to-disk data protection market very appealing.

The Enterprise Strategy Group wrote, in a December 2003 research paper, that "83 percent of enterprise users and 59 percent of mid-tier users surveyed have either already deployed or state that they will purchase some form of disk-based protection within the next 24 months." Existing software backup suppliers have yet to comment on Microsoft's jump into the market.

Interestingly TimeSpring built its product with on Microsoft Windows and SQL Server 2000 in Visual C# and Visual C++, using the .NET Framework and Windows Forms. Microsoft regards this so warmly that it publicises it as a case study. TimeSpring has protected its technology with six patents.