Microsoft just released to manufacturing System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2007 and the company expects it to be generally available in November. I had the opportunity to chat with Jason Buffington, senior technical product manager of DPM & Storage for Microsoft, prior to the DPM 2007 release to manufacturing (RTM).

Needless to say, I can't address all the ins and outs of DPM 2007 in this short editorial. I encourage you to take advantage of the resources offered in the DPM learning path "Protecting Your Data Records" at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/learning/dataprotection.mspx. You'll also want to check out Jason's blog at http://blogs.technet.com/jbuff/, especially the technical information found at http://blogs.technet.com/jbuff/archive/tags/SQL+Server/default.aspx. The blog information is especially nice in that it provides some deep internals information about how DPM 2007 works, and also provides some solid information comparing and contrasting DPM 2007 to other Microsoft technologies that map to data protection in various ways, including replication and mirroring. Jason stressed the fact that most Microsoft technologies, such as SQL Server and Exchange, have existing "availability" technology. DPM 2007 enhances rather than replaces these features. So I encourage you to read Jason's blog to better understand how DPM 2007 fits into your data protection landscape. Here are a few thoughts and comments based on my conversation with Jason.

Microsoft finally has an offering that lets customers manage their backup and restore infrastructure with tight integration for tape and disk storage. Historically, many customers have had to rely on a mix of third-party products. Third-party products have their role, and will always add value in various ways. However, it’s nice that customers might finally have the option to rely solely on Microsoft products.

If you're been reading my editorials lately, you know that I've been pondering where the lines begin and end on the backend with respect to operations and administration. Does a SharePoint expert manage the underlying SQL Server databases? Does a SQL Server DBA manage SharePoint? I love the fact DPM 2007 inherently understands all of the core server technologies in the Microsoft arsenal. It's nice that an administrator can use a single tool to protect data. It's even lovelier that DPM 2007 supports the ability to treat data from different sources as part as the same "protection group." For example, if my accounting team uses SharePoint, OS files, and SQL Server databases as part of their core functionality, and I want to restore my "accounting team" to a single consistent point in time, DPM 2007 can handle that for me. That's sweet.

A picture is worth a thousand words. It's impossible for me to do justice to the DPM 2007 interface in a few short words. I will say that Jason walked me through a LiveMeeting demo of a few common backup, restore, and protection scenarios of interest to the SQL Server community. The interface was wonderfully intuitive, making it easy to do complex backup and recovery tasks without much fuss or muss.

DPM 2007 is WAN friendly. Imagine that you have a central office with several branch offices and each branch has a SQL Server. You could take an initial backup at each branch level, FedEx the tape to the central office, and restore the backup to create an initial baseline without having to pull the full database over the wire to create the initial backup. However, Jason tells me that some customers with offsite disaster recovery needs were able to pay for DPM simply through the reduction in fees for tape courier services because it let them meet their offsite recovery needs over the wire.

DPM 2007 is a complete disk-to-disk, disk-to-tape, and disk-to-disk-to-tape solution. Interestingly, you can even recover to tape. Huh? Why would you want to recover to tape? Let's say your Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) auditors want a snapshot of your SQL Server from three weeks ago that spans a full backup, a differential backup, and several transaction log backups. DPM 2007 lets you recover the database to the consistent point in time you need, creating the database on tape for easy shipping to your auditors.

What's new from DPM 2007 CTP2? The main new features include individual document-level restore for SharePoint and enhanced functionality for supporting a bare-metal recovery of your servers if you need to start from hardware and work your way up the OS and application stack.

Historically, most enterprise and midmarket customers have had to rely on several third-party offerings to manage their SQL Server backup infrastructure. Historically, backup hasn't really been seen as the cool and sexy part of database management, not that the outside world considers database management to be hot and sexy to begin with. I think the current iteration of DPM 2007 is a large upgrade in functionality from prior Microsoft offerings. Realistically, many SQL Server customers will be able to standardize on DPM 2007 as their primary, and perhaps only, tool for managing backup and protection of SQL Server data. Is DPM 2007 cool and sexy? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Don't tell my wife, but DPM 2007 seems pretty hot to me.