Microsoft's storage push


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SAN and storage management
Microsoft is dead serious about enterprise SAN, although it may not seem so today. While never explicitly stated, Microsoft appears to realize that it must ultimately control the trajectory of the entry-level SAN and IP SAN markets. Losing control of the storage data path--from creation to archiving--could threaten the dominance of the entire Windows platform.

One of the most strategic moves Microsoft made was to bake-in the Storage Manager for SANs software with the Windows Server 2003 R2 release. The functionality is still basic by enterprise standards, as it focuses on the immediate issues of Windows-based SAN provisioning, configuration and deployment. Still, it works like a Windows product and, most importantly, it repositions SAN management as an expected feature of the server platform. Storage Manager for SANs uses Microsoft's Virtual Disk Service via an API to support Fibre Channel, iSCSI or DAS. The software enables autodiscovery of storage objects, wizard-based provisioning and iSCSI security configuration. But limitations abound. There's no hint from Microsoft of SMI-S/CIM support, it has limited heterogeneous host support (host bus adapter discovery of Unix/Linux hosts only) and no support for array-based replication. Thus, Storage Manager for SANs will only be useful for entry-level SAN and small business IP SAN users. Of course, that's precisely the market Microsoft is targeting with its storage management

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energies. Because the majority of all SANs have yet to be assembled, this is a smart move.

Additional SAN news will begin rolling out of Redmond throughout 2006; expect iSCSI remote boot support in the spring, as well as distribution partner announcements with IP SAN vendors such as EqualLogic Inc., LeftHand Networks Inc. and others. And it's not far-fetched to expect to see Microsoft extend its focus to include iSCSI targets in 2007.

Ultimately, it won't be until 2009 that a mature Microsoft SAN and storage management threat could encroach on enterprise-class deployments. Among the factors that will determine if Microsoft will find success with larger enterprises are its willingness to embrace heterogeneous data center storage infrastructures, and an ability to get above the Windows Server platform for advanced storage resource management.

This was first published in March 2006

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