Still, many administrators strongly dislike deploying agents on servers because this approach can slow things down. I did not find the DPM agent to be noticeably detrimental to performance, most likely because the heavy lifting for DPM is done by the Volume Shadow Copy Service, an element already built into the underlying Windows operating system.

I was able to configure policies to back up a variety of machines, including Windows Vista and Windows 7 clients and Windows Server 2008 machines running Exchange Server 2007, in about five minutes using the well-laid-out administration console. While I did not test backing up and restoring SQL Server databases, Microsoft has included a way for SQL Server administrators to retrieve previous versions of any SQL database and restore it to either the original SQL Server machine or an alternate without involving the DPM administrator.

In other words, it provides self-service recovery. Restoring files on clients was very easy, and I was able to recover a system-state backup for a Windows domain controller without any fuss, although it was a time consuming process. That is likely not a limitation of DPM but a function of the restore process for Active Directory itself.

Roaming laptops

DPM 2010 introduces protection for what it calls "roaming laptops," those machines that often go for days, weeks or even months without connecting to the corporate network. Often, these laptops are unable to be backed up according to policies set by administrators, which can create a real problem when things go badly on these machines, whether they're stolen, suffer a hardware failure or otherwise are rendered inoperable.

DPM 2010 allows these machines to be backed up at a very granular level, since the administrator, and in some cases the user, can define which parts of those machines should be backed up, eliminating the need to constantly back up the entire system, because it can be so easily restored.

In addition, the DPM agent integrates with the local shadow copies feature in Windows Vista and Windows 7. This allows the user to perform a restore himself from local copies if the machine is offline, or from DPM-based copies if the machine happens to be connected to the network. These policies can be centrally managed from the DPM 2010 administrative console.

Fault tolerance

One of the criticisms of the original version of DPM was that there wasn't a good solution for making the DPM server machines themselves fault tolerant. After all, a backup of something doesn't do a lot of good if you can't get the backup to restore. In DPM 2010, Microsoft has a simple mechanism to configure failover and failback among DPM server machines, including supporting a DPM server off-site for improved fault tolerance.

The Microsoft-centric nature of DPM 2010

Microsoft is unapologetic about its position that DPM 2010 is designed first and foremost with Microsoft shops in mind. There isn't a lot of cross-platform support, indeed the agent is designed for just Windows machines, including Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and a bevy of server products. If you have a mixed-breed data center, you'll want to look elsewhere for comprehensive products.

In a larger, mixed environment, DPM 2010 could work as a backup for your Microsoft world and then help coordinate those backups with a more enterprise-minded archiving package.

OUR VERDICT

Overall, I get the feeling from using these products in my lab that Microsoft-centric shops will find these tools to be helpful and handy. DPM feels geared to a different market than the Essentials package. Because it's a heavier approach, as I've already said, DPM seems oriented toward a firm with an experienced IT staff rather than the IT generalists that typically are employed by midsize firms.

I think Essentials 2010 serves a purpose in this market segment. It adds some welcome touches to update deployment and removes a lot of the mystique around how to deploy virtualisation technology in the middle market. It can also save staffers a lot of time through better monitoring and better software installation methods. The redesigned interface is simple and comfortable, and the product's limitations are few, and all in all, it's appropriate for a product that's lighter than the full System Center suite.

On the other hand, it's not right for your business if you're already in the upper bounds of the projected user range (more than 400 PCs), if you run a very heterogeneous environment either on the client or on the server, or if virtualisation isn't at the top of your company's to-do list.

Also, DPM is a full component of the larger System Center suite, as opposed to Essentials, which is more of a "lite" amalgamation of other System Center products. But I think both are useful to an extent in midsize businesses. Enterprises should investigate DPM at a minimum for their Microsoft installations, since it integrates very well with the existing Windows operating system features and provides many self-service capabilities for users, although it lacks cross-platform support.

Pricing is unavailable at this time, but I expect to see it within a few weeks.