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NetApp and Microsoft buddy up

Continuing a trend of alliances among large IT vendors this year, NetApp Inc. and Microsoft Corp. this week revealed a “formalization” of their strategic partnership, with a strong focus on integrating Microsoft’s Hyper-V server virtualization software with NetApp storage systems.

The two companies have integrated products in the past, including NetApp’s SnapManager software, which allows its storage arrays’ snapshots to be controlled from Microsoft applications in their native management console. But NetApp vice president of solutions and alliances Patrick Rogers says this is the first formal agreement between the two companies.

The new three-year agreement will see “top to bottom” integration points between Microsoft applications and the Windows operating system with NetApp storage products. Rogers said NetApp’s ApplianceWatch Pro 2.0, which added discovery, health monitoring, and performance monitoring of NetApp storage systems with Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager, “warranted a longer-term committment” between the vendors.

The two companies will be “aligning roadmaps” around virtual infrastructure, application-based storage management, and cloud computing going forward, Rogers said. According to a joint press release announcing the partnership, joint Microsoft and NetApp products will also be on display at Microsoft Technology Centers and at industry events.

Rogers and Microsoft’s Microsoft director of virtualization strategy David Greschler insisted the “formalization” of their partnership was not a response to the recently formalized alliance between Microsoft rival VMware, NetApp rival EMC, and Cisco. Those three also pledged to align roadmaps and product development going forward under an alliance called VCE.

“That’s about a closed system,” Greschler said of VCE. “Microsoft has always been about working with partners, but we’re not locked into one approach.”

Ostensibly, VCE isn’t either — EMC CEO Joe Tucci made much of the VCE vendors continuing to offer “a la carte” products as well as the “fixed menu” of vBlock stacks. “It’s completely coincidental,” said Rogers. “This strategic alliance agreement has been in process since last summer.” He added that the Microsoft/NetApp alliance “will focus on applications as well as virtualization.”

Whether competition with VCE is the intent of the alliance or not, Taneja Group analyst Jeff Boles predicted in an email to Storage Soup yesterday that that’s where the impact of this partnership will be felt.

“NetApp still remains pretty closely coupled to the VMware infrastructure, and I think if anything, even post-VCE, they’ll still be gaining ground there,” Boles wrote. “I think this is actually an incredibly important announcement from Microsoft’s perspective, because this is the one area that they are substantially weaker than VMware in. In my book, storage for Microsoft is a bigger deal even than memory oversubscription.

“Meanwhile, NetApp simplifies storage management underneath a virtual infrastructure, whether that is VMware or Hyper-V. In response to some of the storage challenges, VMware is still struggling in some areas (messing with a multi-extent VMFS volume and then figuring out where and how to protect data is less than lots of fun). I’ve seen users shift to NetApp as the storage layer to overcome some of those issues. If Microsoft gets a leap on VMware’s storage capabilities through partnership with NetApp (which at the end of the day the [EMC] Celerra guys will probably mimic), then they might be able to throw down with VMware in interesting new ways.”

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