R2, available this month as a free download at Microsoft's Web Site, is part of Microsoft's routine process of updating its software packages every two years. As a "release candidate," it is in the last phase of beta testing before widespread release to the market.
The two main storage features new to R2 are the File Server Resource Manager (FSRM) and Storage Manager for SANs. FSRM is a basic reporting and provisioning software whose flagship feature has the ability to assign quotas. Storage Manager for SANs allows provisioning on a Windows-based SAN.
In the past, Unix or Linux users wanting to use Sun Microsystems Inc.'s popular open source NFS had to use another piece of open source software called Samba to make it talk to Windows' CIFS. The Services for Unix included with R2 has a feature called Microsoft Services for NFS that eliminates the need for this go-between.
"Sun and Microsoft have decided they're friends now," said Dennis Martin of the Evaluator Group. "Now that they're buddies, we may see more interoperability between their products."
According to analysts, the storage enhancements in R2 are a response to a twofold problem: more storage outside the server, thanks to exploding data growth; and the use of primitive tools to manage it.
"In the past, the tendency has been to buy a large number of small servers, each with storage included in it," said Mike Cherry, analyst with Directions on Microsoft. "But as servers have become more powerful, people are consolidating multiple applications in a single server, pushing storage physically outside the box.
"That's what's driving people who are not experts in storage to have to start learning about it, and Microsoft has seen this."
Microsoft's storage tools, as included in R2, are basic compared to specialized software from startups or storage-focused vendors like EMC, according to Cherry. But, Martin said, it beats spreadsheets.
"[R2] doesn't do everything," Martin said. "But it will get people away from using what has been the most popular SAN management tool -- Excel. People have been managing SANs by loading up spreadsheets, and that's cumbersome.
"What Microsoft is doing is saying, 'let's put at least a basic version of storage management software into Windows so people can get at least some basic info automatically.' "
"This is the start of incremental improvements to make sure that the Windows OS can support and manage larger and larger amounts of storage," Cherry said
"Someone still needs to think about where that files need to be, about how they manage things," Martin added. "But a lot of people, especially on the lower end, manage storage simply by buying more storage. This might make them a little more proactive, and make them take some steps to actually take care of things."