CHICAGO -- Microsoft Corp. claims to have overcome its storage management difficulties and backed it up with its biggest storage play to date. The Redmond software giant announced here at the Storage Decisions 2003 conference Wednesday, general availability of Windows Storage Server 2003, the first version of the Windows operating system focused specifically on managing storage.
The Windows operating system has been tagged with a bad reputation in the past when it comes to handling networked storage, but its tendency to claim ownership over every storage device it sees and its past performance problems in NAS environments have been corrected.
"Windows 2000 was ill-behaved in a SAN environment. We've fixed all of those [problems]. Windows Storage Server 2003 can hook into any SAN, and our NFS performance is at parity with everyone else in the [industry]," said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the Enterprise Storage Division at Microsoft.
"Why are we doing this? To make sure that Windows is the best place to store data," he said.
The newest version of what was previously known as Windows Powered Network-Attached Storage (NAS), Windows Storage Server 2003 focuses on file-based storage and scales from 160 GB to more than 40 TBs. It uses features from Windows Server 2003, including Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS), Virtual Disk Service (VDS) and failover clustering.
Windows Storage Server 2003 is available in two flavors. The Enterprise Edition is a file storage server aimed at enterprise datacenters, while Standard Edition is a dedicated file and print server for branch offices and small and medium-sized businesses.
Other features include a distributed file system, eight-node server clustering and multipath input/output (MPIO) technology. Windows Storage Server 2003 will also support the Windows Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) initiator for IP-based storage networking.
John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Nashua, N.H.-based Data Mobility Group Inc., believes that, in the future, Microsoft is going to provide basic storage management functions and rely on its software partners to "add the value."
"They're going to make it easier [to manage storage]; they're not going to take all of the market opportunity. They're going to leave it to someone else," Webster said.
As one would imagine, everyone in the industry, save IBM, has hitched itself to the Microsoft storage wagon. In conjunction with the general availability of Windows Storage Server 2003, a gaggle of software vendors announced product support for the new Microsoft offering. Supporting vendors include CommVault Systems Inc., Computer Associates International Inc., KVS Inc., Legato Systems Inc., NSI Software, NuView Inc., Quest Software Inc. and Veritas Software Corp. As a result, Windows Storage Server 2003 customers can pick and choose among third party software makers for features like server consolidation, business continuity and backup.
According to Arun Taneja, industry analyst and founder of the Taneja Group, Microsoft standard OS products have included relatively simple disk and volume management tools from the beginning. But those that wanted sophisticated volume management or backup tools, for instance, always went to the likes of Veritas, Legato, CA and others.
"Microsoft's first real foray into the storage business began with their introduction of [the] Windows SAK (Server Appliance Kit) product a couple of years ago," Taneja said. "Microsoft has added functionality for snapshots and backup via products known as VSS (virtual Storage Service) and VDS (virtual Disk Service). Microsoft also has added an iSCSI initiator driver for Windows Server 2003. All this activity is suggestive of serious intent on the part of Microsoft that they intend to aggressively participate in this growth arena."
Taneja said most storage products will be purchased by end users and VARs, not directly from Microsoft, but from OEMs such as Dell and HP. "Right now the bargains are easily had in the NAS arena since there are enough players supplying relatively undifferentiated products, and the economy is still chugging along."
Windows Storage Server 2003 will be available through Microsoft's OEM partners including Dell, EMC, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Hewlett Packard, Inline, Iomega, Maxxan Systems and NEC.
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