Network-attached storage (NAS) products based on Microsoft's Windows Storage Server 2003--formerly known as the Windows Server Appliance Kit (SAK)--are beginning to ship. These include Dell, with its midrange PowerVault 770N and 775N, Hewlett-Packard, with its new StorageWorks NAS 2000s and startup Maxxan, which is running Windows Storage Server on its MXV320 intelligent switch.
The new NAS package offers up a host of goodies: improved common Internet file system (CIFS) performance, multipath I/O and failover in an up to eight-node cluster. It also includes Windows Server 2003 features, including Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS).
In this version of VSS, a snapshot management service, third-party vendors can write to the VSS API to make their applications "snapshot aware," says Zane Adam, director of product management and marketing for Microsoft's enterprise storage division.
"VDS," meanwhile, "is about making hardware more interoperable with Microsoft environments," says Scott Nacey, product marketing manager for HP's storage software group, and "provides heterogeneity in the Microsoft sense of the word." That is, "all the different flavors of Windows." The new version of VDS allows LUN management on Linux or Unix-based storage arrays.
These features are supposed to lead Windows-powered NAS into the coveted data center realm of NAS leaders Network Appliance and EMC. Already, Windows-powered NAS products garnered 41% of the total NAS shipments in the first quarter of 2003, according to Gartner and IDC research data.
But according to Rich Clifton, vice president of NetApp's SAN/iSAN business unit, services such as VSS are great news for their business. "We think VSS is wonderful," he says. By providing software vendors with an API into a snapshot service, Microsoft makes ISVs aware of the technology, but NetApp can continue to perform the actual snapshot. "We're better at creating the service than the interface into it," Clifton says.
That said, news that former Windows-powered NAS vendor IBM has withdrawn low-end NAS products casts a shadow over Windows-based NAS. IBM will continue to sell high-end Windows-based NAS gateways.
According to John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group, the problem vendors have with Microsoft's NAS "is that everyone and their brother can make a NAS box," making it hard to make a differentiated product. "In all honesty, Microsoft may have overplayed their SAK hand," he says.