Microsoft offers more Exchange, SAN management

Microsoft has added SAN configuration support to Windows Server 2003 and support for Exchange in Windows Storage Server. What's the deal?

PHOENIX— Microsoft flexed its swelling storage muscles here at the Storage Networking World conference Monday by adding Exchange support to Windows Storage Server 2003 and more IP storage features and Fibre Channel SAN management tools to its Windows Server 2003 operating system.

On the NAS side, the new feature pack for Windows Storage Server will let end users consolidate Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 data on Windows-based NAS systems.

Analysts say Microsoft is betting that this will encourage sales of its Storage Server. However, blurring the lines between the traditional Windows server and the Storage Server could also confuse customers and raises questions over the direction Micrsoft is headed with these products.

"Microsoft is doing everything they can to make their operating system more 'friendly' for networked storage environments," said Nancy Marrone-Hurley, senior analyst for the Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group Inc. "By adding the Fibre Channel Information Tool and the Storage Tracing Support into their OS they are making it easier for users to debug any problems that may be occurring in SAN implementations."

Microsoft's new SAN management tools are not meant to replace the heterogeneous SAN management solutions that exist today, but Marrone-Hurley said they do "give administrators an easily accessible view into transactions that occur in SANs that can help administrators solve common administrative problems."

According to Microsoft, the feature pack will be available to users from "a broad network of NAS vendors in the coming months."

On the SAN side, Microsoft has been busy fixing all the deficiencies in Windows that have prevented it from being used in SAN environments to date.

Despite Windows' past reputation for trying to own all of the storage it detects, Microsoft believes Windows Server 2003 can extend beyond NAS and play a pivotal role in SAN management. As part of its plan to help users deploy and manage SANs through Windows, the company has added a new Fibre Channel tool to the operating system.

The new FC Information Tool gathers configuration data on SAN components to aid in troubleshooting multivendor SAN environments. The tool will be available for download free of charge at Microsoft's website in May.

Emulex Corp., LSI Logic Corp. and QLogic Corp. are slated to demonstrate the Fibre Channel Information Tool here this week.

Another FC tool adds storage tracing support within Windows Server 2003 to consolidate the tracing and logging mechanisms used by storage drivers on SANs. The feature will be available as part of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003.

Zane Adam, director of product management and marketing for storage at Microsoft said the new features reflect how Microsoft is "meeting the customers' need to reduce storage costs with consolidated, simplified management of Exchange Server data on Windows Storage Server and how we are helping make SANs more manageable and cost-effective for organizations of all sizes."

On the IP storage front, Microsoft's iSCSI architecture is now supported by Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition and native iSCSI support is being offered for Microsoft Multipath I/O. Support has been improved for multipath failover and load balancing between the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator and iSCSI targets. Native Microsoft MPIO support will be included in Microsoft iSCSI Software Initiator version 2.0, available at the end of 2004.

It's worth noting that while Microsoft's public strategy is to take an agnostic view of storage management and make Windows as SAN-friendly as possible by building interfaces to existing SAN management tools, some industry insiders speculate that, behind the scenes, Microsoft's long term strategy is actually to extend its reach in SANs by designing its own SAN management applications.

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